In 2004 I read an eye-opening book called Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, by Chap Clark. Dr. Clark is a youth ministry veteran who is currently the editor for YouthWorker Journal. In preparation for the book, he not only researched widely about adolescents, but he decided to be a substitute teacher for a year in a public high school to get inside the minds of midadolescents (14-20 year olds).
After studying this generation carefully, Clark concluded: “In this study I found a far wider relational and social chasm exists between adults and adolescents than I had previously considered.” In other words, the defining characteristic of midadolescents today is their abandonment by adults. Students spend only 4.8 percent of their time with parents and 2 percent of their time with adults who are not their parents. Now wonder between 14 and 15 percent of teens in North America report engaging in some form of self-injury (Chapter 9).
This year Clark released Hurt 2.0 as a follow up (Baker Academic, 2011). How has the situation fared in the past seven years? In the introduction Clark says, “Since the first edition, we believe the situation has gotten worse.”
Here are a few powerful quotes from Hurt 2.0 that give a glimpse into the lives of midadolescents today:
“Adolescents have been cut off far too long from the adults who have the power and experience to escort them into the greater society. Adolescents have been abandoned. They have, therefore, created their own world, a world that is designed to protect them from the destructive forces and wiles of the adult community.”
“The young have not arrogantly turned their backs on the adult world. Rather, they have been forced by a personal sense of abandonment to band together and create their own world—separate, semisecret, and vastly different from the world around them” (Chapter 2).
“When I was able to get close enough, to be trusted, to get a glimpse of life in this world, I did not hear a few voices crying out. I heard an overwhelming chorus of longing to be cared for and taken seriously…Even the most solid students confessed that life is far darker, far more violent, far more difficult, and far more tiring than adults, including their parents, realize” (Chapter 2).
“The most common reaction I saw in teens was a sense that their parents do not make much of a difference in their lives” (Chapter 6).
“Gaming is not always driven by the desire to win but to be part of a gaming community. Similarly, drinking is not about drinking but about community. We have abandoned this generation of young people and they long more than ever for communal celebration” (Chapter 11).
These quotes tell a powerful narrative about teens today. If Clark is right, defining words for this generation are lonely, abandoned, and hurt. How do we address this? One quote by Clark stood out as particularly powerful to me. He said, “The biggest need every student has is satisfied in an adult who is there for him or her” (Chapter 13). My experience tells me that this is right. Kids have not turned their backs on adults. They are eager for a caring adult to pour into their lives and tell them they matter. Which kids to you reach out to?