Like many of you, I would have rather dismissed what’s been happening in Steubenville the past few months as an unfortunate headline from a small town of people I don’t know and carried on with my life. But I can’t. And after watching the 20/20 special on the case tonight, I won’t. Just because they are not our sons and daughters whose names appear on court documents and police reports does not mean that they are not our sons and daughters.
Those of you who only know me through this blog should know a little bit about my context for commentary. I have worked or volunteered with teenagers since I was one, my first youth internship beginning the summer after I turned 19. They have brought me joy and tears, made me laugh and made me angry, confided in me and taught me. Make no mistake: I think teenagers are amazing, that their energy and passion and potential is one of the world’s most untapped resources. Often, I find myself believing in them more than they believe in themselves. However,…
To my dear teenage friends: Nothing that happened that night in Steubenville can be rationalized away. Nor can you claim it wouldn’t happen to you or your friends. The unsupervised parties with underaged drinking? You know they happen. Guys taking advantage of girls too drunk to care at the time? You know that happens. (It may have happened to you, sad to say.) Attendees taking the time to text, tweet, YouTube and Instagram the insanity, forgetting it’s the WORLD WIDE web? That’s not unusual either. I’ve seen some of your tweets one night and noticed their disappearance the next morning when you realized it was a bad idea to put that information out there for all to see. Problem: people already saw it.
There are real world consequences to your online behavior. Sadly, many of you will read that and think to yourself, “I should change my privacy settings” instead of addressing the actual problem: your heart! Please, don’t make the takeaway from this atrocity more ideas about how not to get caught. Jesus didn’t die just for the things you get caught doing; He died for everything you’ve done in secret, too. That means those things matter. The gospel for you means that you get another chance. Follow Jesus’ advice: “Go and sin no more.”
The young lady who was victimized sexually and then cyber bullied afterward was an honor student, played soccer and grew up in a Christian home. My question to all of you is this: Where were the other Jesus followers that night? Why didn’t they come to her defense or take her home? Why didn’t they cut her off long before she was throwing up and semi-conscious? Loving God and loving others requires a willingness to stand up for the weak (even the self-inflicted weak) and to risk getting in trouble yourself in order to get a friend the help they need. If getting grounded for going to a party you weren’t supposed to go to means your friend doesn’t get raped, isn’t that a sacrifice worth making? Your generation wants to change the world, and I believe you can, but it’s got to begin now!
Parents, teachers and youth workers
Sometimes teenagers are stupid. Body parts farther south than their brains work without consulting the reasoning faculties God gave them. And other times, they *are* thinking and still make stupid decisions. It’s called growing up. Unfortunately, some of them have to learn the hard way.
That said, parents of teenagers should not bury their head in the sand and assume their kid is the exception, an angel in adolescent form. Here’s why: they’re not.
Gone are the days when you could find their diary or their porn collection under the mattress. Instead it’s all online on social media sites you have yet to explore, accessible on the smart phones in their pockets that you use to “keep track” of them. Haven’t you wondered just a little bit why they don’t post on their Facebook account as often as they used to? It’s because their parents and grandparents are on Facebook now. They’ve moved on to Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram to show their true selves. And if you don’t know what Snapchat is, you are in for a rude awakening.
The teenaged boys in Steubenville who laughed and joked and documented a girl getting raped are not any different than the teenage boys in your family, your youth group and your neighborhood. And they have no shame. One of the perpetrators in the Steubenville case was photographed with his penis on the victim’s naked chest. Did he beg his friends to delete the pictures? No. He bragged about getting a “hand job”. The number of teenaged boys in youth groups who have confessed to having a problem with lust and pornography continues to astound me. I applaud them for being brave enough to discuss the issue and seek accountability. However, for each confession there are easily 10 denials, and that’s just among the kids who go to church. Unaddressed, it doesn’t stop at lust and pornography; it escalates.
The teenaged girls in Steubenville who called a rape victim a “slut”, “whore” and a “b**ch” are not any different than the teenage girls in your family, your youth group and your neighborhood. Their jealousy and forked tongues know no bounds. They have been so brainwashed to believe that sex equals love that they respond to a drunk peer’s rape with malice toward the victim rather than righteous anger at the perpetrators. So they drink more and wear less in hopes that the guys will pay attention to them at the next party.
I know these kids are in your families and youth groups because I follow them on Twitter and see text messages they send their friends. I can name students who have been sent to alternative school for cyber bullying and for accessing porn on school computers. I see those who subscribe to and retweet accounts like “She wants the D” and “He wants the P” as though anything is acceptable so long as it’s entertaining. I’ve met their babies, attended their baby showers and discussed pregnancy tests found in bathroom stalls in the youth ministry area at church. I’ve talked to them when they’ve questioned their sexuality, confessed eating disorders and told me about the time they were molested. I’ve driven them home when they were too drunk to know where they were. And I’ve sat with them during their Spring Break at South Padre until they were sober enough to remember what hotel they were staying in.
Wake up, parents! Your kids are not perfect. They are not all felons, but rest assured they are not as naive and innocent as you would like to believe. Ask yourself these questions:
- If your teenager has a cell phone, do you know what you are paying for? Do you have access to the pictures, texts, videos and contacts?
- Do you know which social media sites your children frequent? Better yet, do you know what kinds of things they are posting?
- Are you sure you know where your teenagers are on the weekends? Are the parents they claim will supervise actually supervising, or are they reliving their own teenaged stupidity at your kid’s expense?
- Does your son know how to treat a woman without objectifying her? (Ann Voskamp wrote a great post about this. Click her name to read it.) Does your daughter know that her value is not found in the attention of boys or her physical appearance?
- Have you talked to your kids about the awkward topics, despite their groans and eye-rolling or your own discomfort? Make your home a safe place to ask questions about sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography, sexuality and bullying.
If your defense as you read this is, “We are a Christian family. My teenager is an honor student and plays sports,” you should know that many of the teens at the Steubenville parties that night were, too. Know what your kids are doing, where and with whom. They’ll call you a creep and accuse you of not trusting them. Good! That means you’re doing the job God gave you to do in their lives.
In the midst of the brokenness of this world, during the turbulent years known as adolescence and as parents try to walk the fine line between trusting their kids and training their kids, there is grace. Yes, this world is broken, jacked-up, messy, self-centered and, at times, downright evil. This is not news; the world is made up of broken, jacked-up, messy and self-centered people. The gospel is Good News because we desperately need a Savior.
We need a Savior to reconcile this world to its Creator.
We need a Savior who understands the trials of this life.
We need a Savior to help adolescents and their parents survive adolescence without killing each other (both literally and figuratively).
We need a Savior who convicts us of wrongdoing but doesn’t condemn us when we are contrite.
We need a Savior to help us love those who victimize.
We need a Savior to bear the weight of our sin, because it is heavy and would crush us.
We need a Savior to save us from ourselves.