A prayer for teens

The seasons are changing. During the summer, we got into the habit of taking our walk after eating our supper. With the long days, we had plenty of time to walk a couple of miles. But the days are getting shorter and now if we want to walk after supper and be back home by dark, we need to eat our supper quite a bit earlier. We’ve started walking before supper. Back during the winter, we were walking before or after lunch.

Yesterday we took our late afternoon walk in the city parks. We parked our car at Storybook Island and walked up to the end of Mary Hall Park and back. It is a walk that we enjoy and have taken once or twice a week for quite a while. Yesterday, we could tell that school was back in session as we walked. One of our high school bands was practicing in the Post 320 ball park. We could see the flag team and hear the drum line as we walked by. Groups of teens were running cross country. We passed clusters of eight to ten youth running together, talking as they ran. Everyone was keeping their distance from us, but they weren’t worrying about keeping distance from each other and we didn’t see any masks, though we weren’t close enough to the band to tell whether or not they were wearing masks.

For a while, walking in the park on a warm autumn day, it felt like life was returning to normal. We could see lots of high school students engaged in their normal after school activities. Life, however, is far from normal for these teens. Some of them spent the summer being much more isolated from their peers than normal. They missed out on their proms and graduation ceremonies last year. Those who had computers and access to the Internet learned to manage distance learning last spring. Many continue to take some or all of their classes online. They are attending school on an adjusted schedule with open campuses that encourage students to go elsewhere when they are not attending class. Some of the students need to take extra precautions because they live with a family member who is especially vulnerable to the pandemic.

High school students are always part of my prayers. It is a particularly vulnerable life stage. They are in a position to make choices that will affect the rest of their lives and the lives of others around them. Teens are learning to drive, exploring sexuality, expanding spirituality and distancing themselves from their families of origin. Peers become very important to them and they are especially vulnerable to peer pressure. They are in a position to make life and death decisions. Add the ready availability of alcohol and drugs to the mix and it can be volatile.

Suicides are on the rise among teens, contributing to giving this generation a lower life expectancy than was the case 20 years ago. Suicides among teens are up 56% in the past 20 years, a shocking increase.

Teen and young adult years are dangerous times for our youth. They are making life and death decisions without much experience with death. When I have been involved with a funeral for a teen, I am used to having many other teens attending the funeral for whom this is their first experience with a funeral. The experience of grief is new to them. They haven’t yet learned how to behave in such a situation.

There are plenty of reasons to pray for adolescents.

As we walked in the park yesterday, it was easy to witness the biological growth and development of the teens in our community. They are big, most are taller than I. They are strong, running several miles with less fatigue that I experience in a walk. Their size and strength make them capable of doing many adult tasks. But they have a fairly undefined status in our society. They aren’t old enough to purchase or drink alcohol. They aren’t old enough to vote. Society does not consider them to be adults yet. On the other hand, they are given increased opportunities for making decisions. Most of the teens we saw yesterday had made the choice about which after school activities in which to participate. Like adults, teens can’t be two places at once. The teens at the band practice weren’t running cross country and vice versa. While they are making more decisions, they are also experiencing more pressures. They hear their parents and teachers talking about getting into the “right” college, about test scores and community service to strengthen their admission essays, and about choosing a career.

They balance all of this with their search for their own unique identity. Who am I as distinct from my family? How am I different from my peers? What am I supposed to do with my life? What relationships are most important? It is a life stage filled with questions and the answers are not easy to find.

God of every stage of life, we pray today for the teens in our community. You know the pressures they feel. You also are the God of freedom, acting in our lives and stories to promote human freedom. Look at the teens of our community with your ever-loving care. Guide and protect them as they navigate the precarious journey of their teen years. Remind them of the love and support that their community offers. Bless them with courage to make tough choices and grace to make mistakes without undue risk.

We know that teens need their peers, but we also know that peer pressure can be intense and the risks that groups of teens take are significant. May our teens find the freedom to learn from their peers, but may they also find adults who care and who can become role models as our teens move through this stage of their lives.

Be with each teen in our community. May they feel your presence and know your love as they journey through the perils of adolescence.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!