Young people need new role models and a new definition of a positive lifestyle.
When most of us think back to our teen years, we think of a world where school was comfortably predictable, ‘bills’ and ‘mortgage’ belonged safely to the vocabulary of parents, and free time really meant free time. Yet it seems that what were supposed to be the best years of our life have now become some of the hardest.
Just last week, a report from the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health raised the red flag on the “sexual health crisis” facing Britain’s teenagers and warned that young people are increasingly “defining their lifestyle” by alcohol, drugs and risky sexual behaviour. This, the report said, was being encouraged by the “positive media coverage” of celebrity behaviour involving sex, alcohol and drugs.
The pressure on young people is enormous, whether it is to succeed, to be beautiful, to have the latest gadgets, or to fit in. Then there is the added confusion that exists in trying to figure out just where you belong and why on earth you should bother – with anything. Yet the coping mechanisms seem to have changed over time. While teenagers used to play loud music, drink a little bit or swear occasionally to vent their frustrations it seems the solution today for most teenagers is to indulge in even more alcohol, even more drugs and even more sex. The line of excess has been well and truly crossed.
pulled out the leaves but not the root.
The IAG report suggests a holistic and joined up intervention, bringing together all major related agencies and governmental departments to work on a strategy that will “disco urage” young people from using drugs and alcohol, which it hopes will in turn reduce the number of risky sexual encounters they enter into.
But my fear is that this will simply end up like my own childhood attempt at weeding – an exercise in cutting off leaves without actually taking out the root. It might work to an extent, it might work for some time, but it won’t take away the problem completely. And so long as even a little bit of the root remains, there is always a chance that the root will grow back again and all the leaves with it.
strategy of discouragement suggests simply showing young people all the bad that could result from their wanton behaviour, no doubt a well-put together and well-meaning package of startling statistics on a list of yucky STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Even if that shocked some young people into sobering up, however, I suspect many will remain largely indifferent so long as they see no better or more appealing escape from the pressures of daily life and whatever meaninglessness or worthlessness they might be feeling.
It is easy to get lost in the leaves because there are so many. Yet, whether it is alcohol and drug dependency, depression, or licentious behaviour, the root is one and the same: many teenagers simply do not know that they were made to love and be loved by God. They are the prodigal sons of the modern world on a mission to fill their hearts yet missing the one thing that could truly bring meaning to their lives.
I am not naïve enough to think that the Government will adopt a wholly Christian solution to the problem tomorrow, but it would do well to incorporate at the very least a spiritual element into any strategy to deal with the worrying dependency on alcohol, drugs and sex so prevalent among teenagers today. The faith communities, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, simply do not have to grapple with these issues to the same extent.
abstinence’ and ‘chastity’ are no longer feared or ridiculed but embraced as viable alternatives to the dominant safe sex approach to the STDs crisis.
If young people are defining their lifestyles according to alcohol, drugs and risky sexual behaviour then we Christians have a challenge on our hands to present them with an alternative lifestyle of faith, grace and the heavenly love that we share with God and our brothers and sisters. And if they are being encouraged to live hedonistic lifestyles by today’s celebrities then we have an even bigger task to come up with some new role models. Thankfully, we already have a great one: Jesus Christ.