Today we have a guest interview with my friend Pierrette Janes. Pierrette is 16 years old. She is transitioning from Harbourview High School in Saint John to Leo Hayes High School in Frederiction as she enters grade 11 this September.She’s posting to help leaders get a better understanding of what it is like to be a teenager today, and in particular a teenager that is trying to follow Christ.
1. When did you become a follower of Jesus? My mother grew up in a family that went to church quite often, so after she had me it was quite easy for her to continue with her beliefs and bring me to church every weekend. But her beliefs weren’t always mine. In fact, for the longest time I denied going to church because it was the easiest thing to do. At that point in my life I hadn’t really found God yet, I believed in him more like a little kid believes in Santa Claus. He was something we spoke about, but he wasn’t really there. In grade six a friend invited me to a youth group which I began to regularly attend just because they had both good food and fun games. But as a couple of the years went by I grew closer to many of the leaders and more of the youth and found myself excitingly signing up for the Halifax Tidal Impact. I’ve gone on two missions trips throughout my life, the trip to Halifax, NS and a mission trip to New York City, but surprisingly the trip to Halifax both challenged and changed me the most. Since the work we were doing was so close to home and were much like to conditions in my home city it helped me to notice how much God really does help people and also changed the way I looked at being helpful in my own community. That was the week I decided to trust in God and begin my journey with him, he’s been by my side ever since.
2. What's it like being a Christian in your school? I have been very fortunate to have been given friends in my life who are very accepting of my religion. Some of them have said at times that they don’t like going to church, or they don’t seem to think Christianity is their thing, but they’re very accepting of it being mine. Perhaps that’s why I like them so much. I know at many schools some Christian youth do struggle with their faith because of peer pressure, but in my couple years at Harbourview High School (which I am unfortunately moving away from this year) I’ve seemed to have found everyone to be quite reasonable and understanding. Mind you there have been times when I guess you could say that people have made jokes because I am someone of faith. Often just teenagers apologizing for swearing or making jokes about me always being at church, but at the end of the day it’s all harmless and not something that I’ve found difficulty with.
3. What's it like being a Christian teen in the world today? Being a Christian teen today has both its awesome moments and some real struggles. We live in a culture today that is slowly becoming more and more accepting of others, meaning as many churches modernize it’s easier for us as a church to “treat others the way we would want to be treated.” Something that for a while was often forgotten by the church. But when many people lean one way, accepting everyone for who they are, there are still churches who lean the other way. These churches and groups of people are what youth see on social media today. They see groups of people who hate on others and protest “in God’s name.” This only makes it harder to be a Christian teen because whether you’re on the internet or in real life these images are often tied to some people’s idea of being someone of faith. This can make it hard to read posts about Christians on say a social media, website like Tumblr or hard to meet new people not of faith. Technology is great in so many ways, but it can also be so bad. Youth today are just a click away from opening links to pornography, blogs about eating disorders, suicide and articles about why not to follow God. It can be hard for any youth, not just Christian youth, to stay away from these sites and pages because it’s so easy for them to just pop up while scrolling through the internet. Reading things about this can encourage teens to take similar actions and can slowly pull them farther and farther away from their walk with God if they don’t find someone to talk about it. It’s so important, and I can’t stress this enough, for youth to have at least one strong youth leader or adult in their church who they know they can trust and talk to about anything. Many youth, I’ve seen it in the churches I have been a part of, do not feel like they have that person. This not only allows them to pull back, but can make them feel unwanted and unappreciated to the point where they no longer attend church and/or youth group.
4. What's a few things you wish youth leaders understood about teenagers today? Every teenager is different. Every youth group struggles with different things. So it’s hard to give generalized advice. But it’s important to keep in mind that youth are at a fragile and vulnerable age. We are under a lot of stress and are trying to make so many decisions about the future that we can often fall into a routine that doesn’t necessarily focus on God and we need someone to pull us back. But at the same time, we like independence and don’t want to feel like we are being restrained by the people and rules in our lives. Leaders, when dealing with teenagers, need to focus on listening, understanding and giving advice that doesn’t make the youth feel as though they are being pressured to act a certain way.
5. What's a few things you wish youth leaders understood about being a Christian as a teenager today? I might be a bit biased when I say this because I’ve only ever really gone to one youth group, but teenagers have a tenancy to find the people they are comfortable with and stick with them. This can cause youth groups to be very cliquey, and gives off an unwelcoming feeling to people trying to enter. Many churches struggle with this as a whole and I think it’s something that youth leaders need to think about and discuss more. I went to the same youth group for five years and still did not always feel welcome because I had not grown up with some of the youth and didn’t share the same childhood memories in the church as they did. It is something I’ve struggled with for many years and something that had begun to pull me away from that youth group. I know that not all youth groups have this issue, but I’ve met kids through Tidal Impact, Springforth and other youth events that have admitted to having the same problem. Leaders need to be aware of this issue and help us all feel like we belong and are part of the group.
6. What's the most important thing(s) youth leaders can pray for teenagers today? Youth leaders can pray that teenagers find their place, whether they are at school or at church, and that hopefully they feel as though they have someone to rely on throughout all the decision-making and tough times that come with being this age. It can be hard to understand teenagers and what they are feeling/going through, but I promise that if you’re really trying to make a difference you’ve probably already turned a youth’s life around and made their day a little bit better.
Thank you so much Pierrette for your insight! You are helping us be better youth leaders. Leaders, I'm taking notes! Hope you are too. -Renée @r_embree