As an area director for Young Life and step mother to two girls aged 17 and 20, LaTonya Stevenson has a good deal of experience with the challenges facing today’s middle schoolers. Last week, she shared some of her insight with us.
4word: So you work at Dallas Urban Young Life? Can you tell us more about what you do there?
LaTonya: I oversee the middle school ministry called WyldLife in the South Oak Cliff inner city area. Our ministry’s main goal is to reach the teenagers who are the furthest away from faith, introduce them to Jesus Christ and then help them grow in their relationship with Him.
We pray that by reaching teenagers with the good news of Jesus Christ in early adolescence, we can help them have fewer regrets and know what it means to live life to the fullest. To know Christ is to know true love and life.
4word: Do you think that, culture-wise, things have changed for middle schoolers nowadays versus when you were in middle school?
LaTonya: When I was in middle school, most friends of mine went to church and knew something about God. Nowadays I meet teenagers who do not care about God or the church.
4word: And how does that change affect middle schoolers’ lives today?
LaTonya: Because we had a basic knowledge of God, even though we got in trouble, we had a strong conscience based on things we learned in church. So during the school day, we knew that cheating wasn’t right.
I think that knowledge isn’t as prevalent today. Teens don’t have that knowledge of God to help them make moral decisions. For example, today during the game we played at Wyld Life, every single group had at least one person in it cheating. And they had no qualms about it. When I was growing up, if we did cheat, we tried to hide it. Now, I think that conscience is missing.
4word: What are some other challenges that today’s middle schoolers face?
LaTonya: I believe middle schoolers’ two greatest challenges are social networking sites and the deteriorated family structure. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have distracted our teenagers from the true reality of life.
This makes it harder for them to develop real relationships with their peers. These sites also give teenagers an unrealistic view of truth. They are living in a world that has convinced them that truths are lies and lies are truths.
The breakdown of the family is their next greatest challenge. Single parent homes have always been common in the community in which I work, but now it’s worse. As the divorce rate continues to increase, fathers continue to enter into the prison systems, and prescription drugs continue to raid our mothers lives, our family structure is under more attack than I have ever seen before.
4word: How can we, as mothers, help them through those challenges?
LaTonya: As mothers, it is imperative that we spend time with our teenagers, helping them to understand and develop authentic, healthy relationships. An important part of our role as mothers is listening and paying attention to our children.
More importantly, we have to set the standard and be the role model that our teenagers are looking for. The question I like to ask myself and others is: will the real Christian examples for our teenagers please stand up? Our teenagers cannot afford for us to live like hypocrites before them. They are longing for someone to keep it real and tell them the truth – in both word and deed.
4word: Do you or have you had middle schoolers? If so, is there something you learned the hard way in parenting them through those years?
LaTonya: Yes, I am a step-mom of two girls. I was part of rearing them both through their middle school years. I wish that I had talked to my girls more as a mother.
I believe it was so easy to get caught up in the doing and rhetoric of life, that I forgot to slow down sometimes and simply listen to my girls. I had so much I wanted to teach them in such a short period of time that often I did not sit and talk with them as much as I should have.
Do you agree with LaTonya that social media and deteriorating family structures are two of the hardest issues today’s teens must struggle with? What other challenges do you see today’s children facing as they grow into young men and women?