Blog/CYM Blog

Mean Teens

Last month, I had the opportunity to facilitate a session at our Diocesan Youth Conference. I walked in expecting it to be about the same as last year, as I’d done the same session a year prior. I walked out with quite a different and unexpected perspective. One, teens can be incredibly mean. Two, there is a deep need to address the Catholic understanding on sexuality and relationships.

Let’s start with mean teens. I know “mean girls” exist — I’ve been working with teens for a long time. However, this was a Catholic conference. I would have thought they had heard verses like, “Love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31) and “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). However, when teens were able to submit their questions in an online forum, I got a glimpse of “a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1) and “the mouth of fools spews folly” (Proverbs 15:2). I read posts that were simply unrelated to our topic and posts that spewed derision toward people at the conference and outside the conference.

It just so happened that my own students had been studying The Scarlet Letter and had been picking on the women who pick on Hester Prynne (the woman caught in adultery) because of their unkind and unmerciful comments. So I asked for their opinion on why teens (although adults do the same thing) do “not bridle [their] tongue” (James 1:26). There were plenty of great answers to the why: because we want to feel better about ourselves, because we want to distance ourselves from someone who is not cool or that we don’t agree with, because we are hurting and think it will help to hurt the one who hurt us. The answers that surprised me were the following: because it’s easier to be mean than be kind, because there are no consequences, and because no one has told us not to.

I think that’s a challenge for us.

But first, we need to do a self-evaluation. In a world that so quickly spews forth insults and angry opinions, are we part of the problem? Do we talk (or text) about others in a mean way?

Then, how can we help teens navigate loving their neighbor, let alone loving their enemy (Matt 5: 43-44) with their words? How can we help them realize that saying something digitally is still saying it? How can we help them to use their tongues (or words) for good: “With it [tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers” (James 2: 9-10). Saint James is right: “This need not be so.” Let’s help our teens be part of the change for good!

About the Author

Angela Hamrick

I only first went to youth group in high school because my mother made me. Little did I know that the Lord's plan for my life would be directly related to that one Wednesday evening. I don't eat bananas, seafood, or the white sauce that comes with chips and salsa.

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