The first few lines of John Donne’s famous poem, No Man Is an Island, reads as
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
I think the same should be said of teens in your small group Bible study.
When teens come to Bible study, we are quick to forget that they are not isolated persons, free of the influence of others. Instead, they come to Bible study with all the influence, experiences, and challenges they accumulate every day throughout their whole lives. They are not islands. They are part of so many things bigger than they are. To minister effectively to them, leaders must bear in mind that teens belong to these greater systems:
- Parents. No one they will ever encounter in their entire lives will have the influence on them that their parents have. Parents shape the lives of their children more than anyone else.
- Family. Siblings and their birth order influences the lives of teens. The number of children in the family shapes the family’s use of resources such as finances and time. Beyond the nuclear family, grandparents influence teens in many ways, but especially through the influence they had on their own children and their parenting styles. Many teens experience a powerful bond with grandparents.
- School. The impact of six hours a day, five days a week, for nine months a year, school is likely the second greatest influence on teens. The modern school places teens in cohort groups with limited adult contact. The influence of same-age peers becomes dominant.
- Extracurricular Activities. Our culture values the experiences of teens in extracurricular activities. These include opportunities like team sports, community service, scouting, dance, self-defense classes, or academic-related clubs. Some say that church is extracurricular as well, but while church is often treated as extracurricular, I would treat it separately.
- Media. Media is a constant influence in the lives of teens. They are seldom apart from their media: TV, streaming video, movies, gaming, social media, music, and print media, all delivered through digital screens from the size of a watch to the huge flat screen in the family room. Since teens consume media through multiple sources simultaneously, they can easily accumulate more media exposure hours than they spend in school each day.
- Community. Where teens live brings into their lives both opportunities and threats. Some communities are rich in opportunities for teen development. Other communities are dangerous.
- Work. Older teens may decide to work; some teens are forced to work. While we think work is generally a positive developmental experience, often teens work in poor situations in jobs that do not actually train teens for significant adult work. While some teens contribute to the financial well-being of their families, most teens have full control over their paychecks which are typically spent on frivolous and non-essential items.
- Church. Since the 1960s, church has declined in its influence in all our lives, much less teens’ lives. Church operates from a weak position in even the lives of well-churched teens. Most parents think church involvement is fine, just as long as school, work, and extracurricular activities are addressed first. Church is an incidental. With church in this position, there is little time or priority given it.
Thinking of the influences in teens’ lives seems overwhelming to small group leaders, but don’t miss the obvious: they are in your small group! Teens usually attend church and small groups because they want to know about the Lord, be with their friends, and respond to caring, loving adults. Viewing teens as a sum of the various influences in their lives will help leaders guide them in Bible study. Understanding them will equip leaders to make disciples.
Next week let’s reverse engineer this issue to seek how leaders can help teens bring their own influence to bear in the various arenas of their lives.
Scripture: Read 1 Timothy 4:12. How can you use the world of teens to help them become examples in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity?
Dig Deeper: Read articles you can find on the website for the Center for Parenting Youth Understanding, www.cpyu.org.
Now It’s Your Turn: What other life arenas can you identify in the youth in your small group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.