(scroll down the page for my latest health update)

I just found this one in my unpublished drafts folder; not sure why I never posted it (note that the time references are from just under two years ago)

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Not having written anything new for awhile, I’m forced to draw upon the recipients of most of my waking thoughts & efforts these days: kids.  Elementary and Middle School adolescents, more specifically: those little bundles of noise and awkwardness that fall between the ages of 11 and 14.  In my years of trying to help guide them through some weird, weird years of their life, I’ve found a pretty lovable, quite misunderstood age bracket, from which many various trains of thought have arisen lately…

Over the years, I’ve come to find that many people (particularly politicians and other adults who don’t really spend any time with adolescents) consider themselves “experts” on teenagers and their schools, and what’s in their best interests.  As a result, I’ve seen a few myths that continue to resurface from time to time, despite teacher, youth pastors, and other youth-minded adults knowing how completely ungrounded in fact they are:

(Myth #1) “Kids need long school days with few/no social breaks and little/no physical movement”: Remove those two elements (social interaction and physical movement) from the equation, and you’ve basically doomed kids to fail.  Their brains need social interaction: it’s not an obnoxiousness thing, it’s just how they work at this huge growth stage.  And, speaking of growth, their bodies are doing some weird, weird things, and need to be in motion more than 3 min. an hour.  This is not a waste of time; it’s an investment in the rest of their day.

(Myth #2)The Youth Center”: There’s this concept that states, if kids have stuff to do all the time, they’ll turn out just fine.  Today’s kids are not bored; they’re hungry.  Hungry for relationships.  Hungry for meaning.  Hungry for adults who listen to them, care about them, and let them be themselves. 

Many have this idea that creating a central place where kids can spend their time, filled with activities (“homework help” usually comes up, too) will solve all our problems in society.  When it comes to changing a kid’s life, relationship always trumps facility.  That’s why places like Boys & Girls Club work so well; they’re founded on positive, encouraging relationships with patient, caring staff.

–“(church version) The Youth Choir”: This church version was thrown at me on more than a few occasions, where the general congregation wishes to be “entertained,” while still keeping the kids busy and all that good stuff.  I’ve seen a few of these work really well, but am generally not a fan of adding more commitments to kids’ schedules…

(Myth #3)Kids Need Sports”: See “Youth Choir.”  Whose interests are served by youth sports?  Are we really just looking for a good way to help kids burn off steam?  Or do we just kinda like the idea of having our kids be the best athlete on the floor at any given time?  Once these younger adolescent athletes turn into high school athletes, the Monster takes over (in the form of year-round practice and tournament obligations), only adding to the mounting stress levels of this overtaxed generation.

(Myth #4) “You need to be a kid to work with kids”: When I worked as a Church Youth Minister, I saw many ministers come and go in nearby church youth ministries.  Some were good, some were ridiculous.  And some were great, helping youth see the true potential in their own lives, and helping them walk into an adulthood of genuine growing faith.  I pretty much always found these foks to be the ones who had moved past adolescence themselves, embracing the quieter tone of adulthood and its separation from younger years.

(Myth #5)The Failing School”: Every time the topic of school reform comes into play, the politicians start talking about forcing “bad schools” to “shape up.”  I’ve worked in schools, private & public, in many different districts, and have yet to see a school failing to meet its basic obligations.  No, they’re not all great, but in this day and age, you’ve got to really try to keep freshly-trained educators & administrative professionals from educating their students in the best way they can.  *A more productive discussion to this end would involve the very politicians who push for “merit-based pay” and higher learning standards, going toe-to-toe with the powerful teacher unions in an effort to let the best teachers do their jobs, and letting the old, tired ones move on to other pastures.

(Myth #6)More School = More Learning”: Pres. Obama’s new (ed:new in 2009) Education chief has been quoted as saying he’d like to extend the school year to go through the summer.  His reasoning, and the reasoning of other similar voices, are that American students are falling behind the rest of the world, and we need to cram more “useful information and marketable skills” into their heads (to paraphrase a common mantra in the Christian schools about what the public schools have limited themselves to).  Meanwhile, American school students graduate with an approach to creative, innovative problem solving not found anywhere else in the world.  Plus, the same kids who can’t concentrate because they’re hungry, or because Mom & Dad just split up, or because they just really don’t give a darn about themselves anymore, aren’t going to learn anymore by sitting there, continuing to not learn, for an extra 1-2 months of the year.  This is such a bad idea, I can’t even cover it in one paragraph, and yet, it keeps coming up now & then…

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And, finally, one of the highlights of this age group is the poor filtration system between brain and mouth.  From a single source in the past few weeks…

(following a random reel of cartwheels) “Sometimes, I just really feel like doin’ stuff…”

– “A woman’s natural instinct is to gossip.  Just like a dog’s natural instinct is to pee…”

– (following my saying something about our kicking some butt) “It’s OK; you can say ass…”

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