When Dr. Elizabeth Corrie, associate professor at Candler School of Theology, talks about the war on kids, she’s not referring to drugs, pornography or other vices that parents fear. She’s talking about a society that has developed in such a way that adolescents no longer interact with adults, or are given the opportunity of responsibility.
The separation between youth and adults isn’t natural, Corrie contends, but is a social construct that has developed in the last 100 years. She broke it down into Four Contours of Oppression;
- The Inability of Youth to use Religious Language for Interpreting Everyday Life: Youth need access to theological texts of depth and quality, because our tradition has transformative power.
- The Domestication of Youth : Society developed the categories of adolescent and teenager in the last 100 years, and created this category where young people have fewer meaningful roles to play in society. The bargain of adolescence is dependence and education now, employment and reward later. The invention of a separate high school, and compulsory attendance (after World War II), followed by the formation of clubs and teams led to high school becoming a holding tank for youth. Prior to this youth were working alongside adults on farms and in trades. After World War II there was also the invention of the youth market – with Seventeen magazine and American Bandstand. For the first time youth were surrounded only by other youth, not adults. Young people are excluded from participation in meaningful social action. In exchange for this, they are given movies, music and video games. Another warehouse for youth is prison. It’s become easier for youth, particularly minority youth, to move from schools to the juvenile justice system.
- Lack of Meaningful Adult Sponsorship for Youth: High school created separation from family and intergenerational relationships of the farm. During the post-war boom of children schools were overwhelmed and became bureaucratized and impersonal. The family feels the strains of separation that also comes from adults working longer hours, and all adults in the home working. It is a systematic abandonment. Ephebephobia – fear of youth - exudes both a deep-rooted hostility and chilling indifference toward youth.
- Absence of Voice and Vision Among Youth: Adults actively silence or ignore youth. Youth believe they are not adult enough to have a voice. It wasn’t always this way. Most of American revolution leaders were 20 or 21 years old. The sullen teenager is a social construction, not necessarily a reality. How much have we lost when we buy into the stereotype? We’ve silenced and ghettoized young people to such a degree that we simply do not know them.
“The church remains one of the few institutions left that is or could be intergenerational,” she said. “There are seasons where young people may not be as open to their parents as another caring adult – but those same parents can be the caring adult for someone else’s child.”
Corrie encouraged those gathered that when they volunteer with youth, to not stand by the wall, but sit beside them. Invite the youth to serve on church committees and in worship. Pray for a young person. Or just say hi after church.
“I want to close by asking you to remember your baptism, but not just yours, remember the vows you took when these youth were baptized as infants: We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others.”