I was an undergrad in the early-mid 90’s and Search Institute’s “positive psychology” approach to youth development was the rage. Rather than focusing on the problems of our youth and the discrepancies in our services to youth, they were committed to uncovering those characteristics (of communities, families and individual youth) that lead to positive and healthy development. Their findings have become know as the 40 developmental assets. The more assets you possess, the better chance you have at a bright future.
I loved this approach to studying and working with youth. It led to many years of exciting ministry in two different locations where the church functioned as a partner with the broader community in working with and for our youth. But I think it is time for the pendulum to swing our sights back to the dark side . . .
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count data suggests that much of the progress made in the 90’s has since stalled or even regressed. The Children’s Defense Fund’s “State of America’s Children” seems to agree as stated clearly by Marian Wright Edelman before the U.S. Senate this past Fall. Both of these studies measure multiple indicators of well-being for our young people.
“According to the CDF report, children in America lag behind almost all industrialized nations on key child indicators. The United States has the unwanted distinction of being the worst among industrialized nations in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, in teen birth rates, and in child gun violence” (From the “State of America’s Children” website).
Simply put, things are not good for our kids.
And yet where is the Church? What is our response? Do we have a role to play beyond Christian education? What does it look like to truly do ministry “for the sake of our kids” and not simply for the sake of the Church’s future? It is time that our concerns and conversations move beyond post-confirmation retention, beyond intergenerational fun nights and beyond all things trendy and emerging. Our kids are suffering.