After a recent Life Night, a Core Member and I were talking about the lack of respect that a particular teen had for the speaker that evening. That general lack of respect seems an overarching theme of our youth today. I commented to him that we have to earn their respect; there is none given until earned. We certainly cannot expect to be respected simply because we are the youth minister or Core Member in their lives. Interestingly enough, our basic expectations or rules at my parish have all come down to respect. We want the norm to be respect for God, respect for each other, and respect for the space we use.
Whereas you and I may think this should be relatively easy, it is not for so many of our teens. The other day as I was listening to a conversation between a couple of youth, I remember thinking how even in basic conversation they do not know how to treat each other with respect. Their words were so harsh, so biting, and so un-loving. As Catholics, we know that one of our most fundamental teachings is the respect and dignity of all life.
In the early fall, I was in a presentation that talked about how the Internet and social media have impacted this issue of respect. I mention this not to be anti-Internet (after all, this is a blog), but to simply state what is reality. As we, of all ages, interact online, the playing field is leveled. We can chat or comment with whomever, regardless of their role or position. Sure, it’s great that we see everyone as equal, we are all created in the image of God, but, this type of equality also seems to strip away the uniqueness and dignity of persons.
This virtual world transfers into everyday life for our youth; they treat their real world the same. Certainly the rise of the social networking is not the only cause of the general lack of respect; Socrates is credited with writing (around 400 BC): “Our youth love luxury, they have bad manners; contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” We need to encourage our youth to learn how to respect themselves, their friends, their peers, their elders, and the myriad of others with whom they interact.
As Core Members and youth ministers, we must model this behavior. It is a good idea to do a mini-self evaluation about how we are doing with respecting those around us:
- Pastor—do we respect our pastor? He has been placed in authority to shepherd the people of the parish. Whether we agree with every decision he makes or not, do we respect him as someone who is serving and leading our local church community?
- Friends/Peers/Co-Workers—hopefully we have an easier time respecting our friends than the youth do, but how do we do when it comes to respecting our co-workers? We might not agree with some of their choices, but they are still made in the image of God. Do we treat them with respect?
- Youth—although the level or type of respect we give to them is different than how we might treat those in authority, we still need to treat them with respect. Do we treat them as children of God, even when we are most frustrated with them? Do we model the same respect we desire to see in their behavior?
There are many other areas of our lives in which we can do a quick evaluation about how we respect those around us, but these three areas are good ones to get us started. May we model the respect we hope to see in the youth we minister to.