The doorbell rang yesterday, which is odd in the middle of a Saturday morning.
I answered the door and found a boy, maybe in the 5th or 6th grade, waiting on the porch. He had his bike with him, and an envelope in his hand. His buddy was back at the curb, waiting on his bike.
Assuming he was probably seeking customers for a school fundraiser, I greeted him, prepared to sign off on the purchase of a candle, a tub of cookie dough, or a discount card.
Instead, the boy simply held up the envelope in his hand, and asked, "Is this yours? I found it in the street."
I looked at the envelope, and sure enough, it was our monthly water bill, still sealed and in perfect condition other than the tread of a car tire across the front of it.
This young man had been enjoying a Saturday bike ride with his friend, had come across this envelope lying in the street, and had taken the time, on his own, to read the address, realize he was near my house, and stop what he was doing to see if the bill was mine.
Of course, I thanked the boy sincerely, and for just a moment, I wanted to say, "Tell me your name. What school do you go to? I'm sure I know your principal!" But, I didn't want to assume his parents would be thrilled that he had given his name and school to a random stranger, so I didn't ask. I just thanked the boy, shook his hand, and watched him ride off with his friend.
What a neat kid. What a cool moment. A child going out of his way to help a stranger, without any prompt from anyone. I would love to tell this story to his parents, and let them see some of the fruit of their labors.
This boy reminded me of a powerful passage, Proverbs 20:11. "Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right." Without knowing anything else about this kid, it's safe to speculate he's laying the groundwork for a good reputation in life.
What are your feelings about the youth of today?
Are you concerned about the direction you see them heading? Worried over their exposure to images and content you weren't exposed to at their age? Offended at how spoiled and indifferent they seem to be? Perhaps indifferent to them at this point?
I throw out these suggestions only because these statements represented the general adult consensus 20 years ago, about my generation, Gen X, back when we were teenagers and coming of age. It was also the consensus opinion about the Baby Boomers, who in turn fretted over Generation X.
We shouldn't be surprised now that many folks feel the same way today about the kids and teens of this day and age.
(I had to laugh to myself one evening when we were having dinner at another couple's house. The wife was telling a harrowing tale from her afternoon commute, involving "some stupid teenagers" in another car. Funny; the woman telling the story was barely 30 years old. Just 15 years ago, someone might have said the same thing about her.)
But, yes, speaking from the perspective of a school administrator, I can say I have concerns of my own.
I've seen 13 year-old girls coming to school with their necks dotted with hickies. Young men stating boldly that they are willing to die for One-Tre Crip, Two-One, Eastside Locos, or whatever gang they happen to be claiming. Students exchanging profanity with their parents. Young teens keeping their forearms covered to conceal the cuts they've made in their own skin. I've seen a 15 year-old give the finger to a police officer. I've pulled marijuana out of kids' pockets and driven to seedy locales to find them skipping school.
Yes, there's a lot happening in our world and with our youth that should cause us concern.
But that's not the whole story.
For every horror story I could tell you about malice, mischief and mayhem, I could give you ten examples of fine and faithful young people, lovers of God, respectful of authority, desirous of honest success, intolerant of disorder, gentle to the weak and a comfort to the hurting, joyful in the face of hardship.
Future authors scribbling in their personal notepads. Future engineers asking tough questions of their Math teachers. Future counselors grieving over a parent lost at war. Future parents swearing never to repeat the failures of their own moms and dads.
And besides this, there are the remarkable cases of troubled young people who find their way back again, who are restored to a path of responsibility, and prove all dire predictions wrong.
Will some of my students end up populating our prisons? Yes, if statistics bear out, a few will.
But, the vast majority will grow up, leave childish things behind, raise families of their own, and lose sleep with their own grave concerns over the youth of 2030.
And, I earnestly believe this will even prove true of the hoods, hooligans, and honyocks from the stories I told before.
So, what are your feelings about the youth of today?
A better question: Are you engaged in any way with the youth of today?
Yes, if you're a parent, you're raising your own children, and no other priority comes even close.
But, are you engaged in any way with the youth of today?
I don't mean using their slang or wearing their clothes. They don't need more buddies; they need to be molded and led. The critical quality, however, is that they need to be molded and led by adults who at least try to understand them. People who are willing to establish relationship first, then let leadership have its influence in due time.
Volunteer. Tutor a student. Get to know a neighbor family.
Find a way to connect. Find a way to understand.
The easy and meaningless thing to do is to write off our youth as disappointments and failures. Every generation, in its youth, has been judged as such by its elders.
The meaningful and sometimes difficult thing to do is to resist that temptation and engage.
Will you judge from the sidelines, or be salt and light?