While I am on a book review roll, let me add one more – a quick review of Hurt 2.0 by Dr. Chap Clark.
With a first name like Chap, the book has to be good, don’t you think?!
Teens Are Hurt(ing)
According to Dr. Clark, when parents dont attach to their children (see this review), they become abandoned and hurt. Dr. Clark’s book, Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers seeks to take us to the culture the adults cannot see. Clark focuses on “midadolescence,” young people who are in grades 9-12 and ages 15-18. A well-known expert in this area, he conducted his research by immersing himself in the world of high school teens. As he “lived” among them, he systematically recorded the conversations he had, the conversations he overheard, and his observations. Together, these are the content of his book.
Clark has not given us a how-to book but rather a wake-call to help every adult recognize and struggle with what our choices have done to the children of our society. Adults, Clark would say, understand very little of the inside life of the American teenager. These same adults have made choices that affect their teens and they don’t understand the effects. The majority of the book will explore the issues resulting from abandonment among adolescents and reflect on what has occurred as a result. As a result of this systematic abandonment, youth are lonely and hurt.
In the first part of the book, The Changing Adolescent World, Clark argues that, “No things are not the same as when you were a kid. They really are different.” Clark does a good job in helping us understand this idea of adolescence. Adolescence, he would say, is the time between biological adulthood and societal adulthood. In the second part, The Landscape of the World Beneath, he has chapters on: peers, school, family, sports, sex, busyness and stress, ethics and morality, partying, kids at the margin. In the third part, Where Do We Go from Here, Clark offers a few solutions, but these are somewhat obvious. We adults need to roll up our sleeves and invest in the lives of individual young people.
What Did I Expect?
Dr. Clark is a professor of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thus, I expected a book on Christian teens or for Christian parents. Instead, at the end of the book, I am left feeling that I have read a rather somber survey of the downside of the American high school experience. His goal seems to be to describe a current cultural phenomenon. As a result, his proposed solutions, which are general and few, are aimed at how nonChristian adults can help nonChristian youth. Certainly this is an admirable goal. But without the hope of the gospel, we are left merely describing problems.
Hurt or Hurter?
A second reason I find myself wrestling this material is the passive way he presents teens. It starts in the title, Hurt 2.0. Young people are hurt. They are abandoned, lonely, and therefore escaping into all sorts of harmful behavior such as sexual activity and alcohol. They are gruff with those adults who reach out but still expect them to continue reaching out.
Yet Scripture would present these young people as having agency. They are called upon by God and society to act responsibly. Biblically, a better title would have been Hurter and Hurt 2.0. Teens are not passive victims but active individuals who can respond to the environment in moral or immoral ways. Malachi 4:6 implies that sin causes the hearts of the parents and the hearts of the children to turn away. The young people make choices too. And as God declares in Jeremiah 7:19 sinners “are harming themselves to their own shame.” They are simultaneously villains and victims.
With that caveat stated, this work helps me understand the struggles of today’s youth. And I would add it helps me understand today’s high school educated non-Christian youth. By that measure, it is very messy. Yes, I do believe that underneath the shiny exterior, there is culture that is alcohol-filled, technology-filled, and clique-filled. Yes, structures and media have served to create this culture and parents have abandoned their call to connect to their children. And yes, statistically it is much worse than early years. We are the proverbial frog in the kettle which has not noticed as the water has gradually turned to boiling. It is helpful to have a prophet cry out about the problems.
On the other hand, while acknowledging the degeneration, I am not willing to acknowledge the uniqueness. I know from visiting Corinth, Greece that the area was filled with public pornography and homosexuality. Yet Christian parents had the grace to raise their believing children in that area. I also know that even in Puritan New England, Jonathan Edwards had problems with second generation “Christian” young people. Passing the faith to the next generation has never been easy. It has always been tumultuous.
What Are We to Do?
“What are we to do?” he asks. This is the shortest and weakest section of the book.
“What is who to do?” I ask. I am not sure what the answer is for the nonChristian world. But if you are a Christian parent, then you can do many things. You can recognize the turbulence that your child will face in a high school. You will recognize his or her entry into a roiling rapids that will seek to pull him under. And you will overcome your verbal reluctance or fearful domineering and seek to stay connected to the heart of your children. You will consider structural solutions like homeschooling or volunteering at school. You will take your child out for regular donut dates. You will seek most of all to listen.
And what can the Christian leader do? The Christian leaders can seek to equip parents with these vital truths.
I found myself ambivalent about Clark’s work. Why?
I wrestled with that question for a while. Perhaps it is because of my stage of life. I am past the point of parenting teens. In addition, we chose not to send them to the large public high school. In my ministry, I don’t work with regularly teens but rather with adults and church leaders.
Second, I am not used to someone just describing what he saw. Clark is not prescribing solutions. Part of me just naturally wants to move to gospel-oriented solutions. “Don’t just describe how bad sin is,” I want to say, “But tell us what you think should be done.” That action part of me longs for some answers.
A Reporter and a Conversation
However, if I see Clark as a reporter uncovering problems so that I can know about them, then I start to appreciate this work. If I want to really seek to understand the temptations that my children will face, I will be vitally interested.
And even more, I could definitely see this being a helpful conversation starter with my public high-school teen. Perhaps I would read a chapter on what Clark observed and then, on a date with my teen, ask “This book says __________ is common in high school. Do you think that true. Why or Why not? Tell me about it.” It would show that I wanted to bless my children by understanding their world.
In other words, for the parent in the midst of shepherding highschoolers, this may be exactly what you need to shock you out of your complacency and get beneath the surface with your teen.