The Wisdom of Teenagers

Sprinkled Notes by Julie Seedorf Published in the Albert Lea Tribune on September 6, 2018

sprinkled ColumnMany kids these days don’t know the song called “School Days” written in 1907. I’m not that old, but my mom loved the song as she was a teacher. The first verse went something like this: “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days, readin’ and writin’ and ’rithmetic, taught to the tune of the hickory stick.”

Today I think the “hickory stick” would be considered child abuse if I get the meaning right, which to me meant if you didn’t behave you got the hickory stick. During the time I was in school, it wasn’t unusual for a nun to rap a child’s hand with a ruler — I was scared to death to speak in case the ruler would be directed at my hand. I know that is hard to believe since I am a chatty person but my parents at conferences always heard that I needed to speak up, raise my hand and answer questions.

In high school it wasn’t unusual for someone to have to bend over and grab their ankles if they were misbehaving, especially from one teacher. We all loved this teacher, and though it happened I don’t know that any hard feelings linger. It also wasn’t unusual to hear someone had been slapped or berated and yelled at in the principal’s office. And if those things happened, our parents were even tougher on us at home.

It is 2018, and the word on the old people street is that kids have changed. It is harder to teach because kids are more disrespectful, teachers can’t discipline and teenagers are out of control. I dislike when we lump all kids and teenagers together. I happen to love teenagers. They have always been my favorite group to work with. I love their honesty, how they keep us honest and real because they call us adults out occasionally in our behavior, and they do have wisdom beyond their years. Their world is much different than the world I grew up in. Teenagers today deal with social media, broken homes, academic pressure and also problems such as bullying, homelessness, LGBT issues, suicide, and stress.

One morning this past summer, I followed my church youth group’s media page as they traveled to the National Youth Convention in Houston, Texas. I was surprised and impressed with the posts of one young lady called Aly. She was very insightful, so I decided I wanted to know more about her interactions at this convention.

This is the post which caught my eye: 

Have you ever had communion @ mass with over 30,000 people? We have! day 5//we started off the day with Sunday morning mass, where we praised the Lord one last time with the ELCA groups from around the country. On the way to church in the morning, my mom & I met this amazing lady. She was originally born in New Jersey, but now lives in h-town. When my mom asked who she lives here with, the first thing she said with a big smile on her face was “no one, I travel with God”. I instantly knew this chat with her would be one of the most powerful things I will experience on this trip. We started off talking about how we were going to have a church service with over 30,000 young people who have come across the country. The conversation only developed & got deeper from there. Some things she said that has stuck with me are:
“I travel with God’s grace everywhere I go”

“We the people are the church, I take it w me everywhere I go”

“I just enjoy the fight (of life), if you don’t like the fight then you’re not gonna make it here very long”

“Anyone trying to take down your faith is the devil”

“I am the spirit of my dreams”

“You’ve gotta strut because Jesus is the only way in (to heaven)”

These are just a few. To most of you, this may just seem like this was just an ordinary small talk conversation. But it left both my mom & I in tears when my mom told her that I am her daughter, the lady looked @ me & said: “& shes your strength”. It made us both cry. but the EXTREMELY ironic thing about this conversation with this woman was that what she was preaching to us was EXACTLY what the speakers @ the youth gathering the previous night before were saying. The speakers just kept repeating how WE are the church & those were the exact words this woman said to us. She was so into our conversation she ended up missing her stop, but she was so content about it. She said, “That was God’s work, this conversation is happening for a reason”. @ that moment I knew I had seen God already that day. Another thing we told her was that a speaker the previous night had said, “We just need more love in this world”, but this woman told us that there is already PLENTY of love in this world right now, people just need to learn how to share it. This woman will leave an impact on me for the rest of my life

 

 

I decided to interview Aly. I asked why she chose to go to this convention. She explained her pastor wanted the youth to start helping people, learn more about themselves and God. Aly’s faith changed during confirmation classes, and her mentor was a big part of that. She learned that talking about faith wasn’t something to be ashamed of.

Aly didn’t know what to expect of the convention. The speakers had an impact. She stated, “There wasn’t a time I didn’t have goosebumps. We had speakers who addressed what we are going through in our lives and touch us every day, things we don’t address in our smaller churches and these problems are our world, too, and it helps us understand what is happening and how God connects us to love others.”

We don’t often have homeless people on the streets of Wells or Albert Lea. They are there but hidden, and that was one of the other takeaways for Aly from being in a larger city.

“People were on the streets with blankets and some had tents, just random people, women, and children, too. I learned to not be scared while doing some mission work. They aren’t bad people. They have suffered some bad circumstances.”

Aly is one teenager who chose to speak out on her learning experiences of that which is different and that which expanded her faith. There was 30,000 youth at this convention. Other churches have conventions and mission trips teaching teenagers of a different world than the one they live in. It expands their humanity, their world and their vision for the future.

When I asked Aly what else helped move her faith forward one of her answers was CRAVE. CRAVE describes itself as a party with a message of purpose. CRAVE was started after a friend of the co-founder died of suicide. CRAVE came to our community this summer.   One of the comments of one of the speakers still stands out in Aly’s mind. The statement was from a former drug dealer and he said, “My first job was being a drug dealer, and now I don’t deal drugs, I deal hope.” It reminded her people are going through struggles in faith, in living and relationships, and there is hope. She hopes to carry that hope into the future.

I like to listen to what teenagers have to say about the way we adults interact with them, so I asked what our small-town churches can do for our teens today. Aly suggested our small-town churches need to address the subjects our teenagers are struggling with today, which were addressed at the ELCA youth gathering.

After listening to not just Aly, but other teenagers, I feel we, as adults, need to address these issues from the pulpit and offer tools and support for them. We need to offer acceptance rather than judgment, so they feel the church is a soft place to fall in times of trouble — a community of all ages to guide them through their challenges. We need to not sweep what is happening in today’s society and what we perceive as large-city problems under the rug and never talk about the elephants in the room. We have the same issues in smaller communities; we may choose to ignore them because of fear or lack of understanding or hoping by ignoring they will go away.  Teenagers are not alien or bad; they are teenagers with vast wisdom — which may be different than an adult but wisdom non-the-less — and they want to be heard.

Teenagers may not always go about getting our attention the right way, but underneath the lashing out are real feelings. We need to see beyond the actions and hear the unspoken words. They are our future.

“We need space to discuss unspoken, uncomfortable dark truths.” —Janet Mock

Believe What You Believe?

san logoSomething About Nothing

My column from the Albert Lea Tribune July 30, 2018

This message has been trending on social media: “Crazy … it worked! After reposting this to all my friends, my newsfeed showed a whole new batch of friends’ posts I haven’t been seeing.

“Here’s how to avoid hearing from the same 25 Facebook friends, due to Facebook’s new algorithm. If you are reading this message, do me a favor and leave me a quick comment… a “hello,” a sticker, whatever you want, so you will appear in my newsfeed! Then, copy and paste onto your wall so you can have more interaction with all your contacts.”

I know this is false and does not work, but I have seen it so many times the part of my brain which feeds sensible thought changed and I began to believe that possibly this was true, even though I had checked it out with factual sources. After all, could so many intelligent people be misled? My truth was starting to change. Maybe I needed to try it because there is the chance it could work in spite of what factual sources state.

This happens in our lives too. If someone tells us we are stupid or ugly or are a failure and it is repeated often enough, one begins to change what we believe about ourselves. There are studies that support this theory.

How many products do we buy because the commercials appearing during our television viewing time repeat over and over again? We buy products too good to be true because we watch the hype merry-go-rounded until we believe using a certain vitamin will take away our bunions. In fact, ask yourself how many times during the commercial break on a television show you have seen the same commercial twice or even three times in a few minutes. Think about it — would fake products be selling if somehow we weren’t enticed into believing they can cure the incurable or make us want that which we always stated we didn’t need?

It also makes a difference who is speaking. Back in the ’50s, Verne Gagne was selling a certain type of vitamin. My parents bought it because Verne was popular, and in those days people tended to believe those who were in the limelight, whether they used the product or not. It was all about who was giving them the pitch. Were they trustworthy? And how did they know they could trust them?

In 2018 our brains are hit every single second while we are on social media with messages to buy, believe or fix something. They burn into our brain over and over again so much we began to believe that which is not true, such as the Facebook message above. And then we tend to not believe the sites, news people or others that actually report the truth. We do not take the time to investigate.

Is it a form of brainwashing? I feel it is.

An article on BBC.com by psychologist Tom Stafford posted on Oct. 26, 2016, is titled: “How liars create the illusion of truth.” He states, “Repetition makes a fact seem truer, regardless of whether it is or not. Understanding this effect can help you avoid falling for propaganda.”

These days, we seem to be arguing about Facebook posts, statements in the newspapers, what politicians and celebrities say as to the validity of the truth. We accept what is printed and posted and shouted as the truth without actually investigating where the statement is coming from or whether the person making the pitch is actually who they say they are. We accept it as valid, depending on what we believe, and we may believe the statement because of what we have been fed either by someone in our lives personally such as “you are stupid” or by what we do and see out in the world. We believe without question if the point of view that is fed to us aligns with what we concur. But I think we have to ask ourselves if we believe what we believe because we investigated and came to a sensible decision, or if we believe what we believe because we have seen it over and over again in front of us so that it is burned into our brain and has changed the way we perceive things — or if we believe what is being said because of it being passed down by someone who had the same values as us. And we don’t question who or what the source is or if it is valid because we think the same way.

I am as guilty of this as anyone else. I have to ask myself if I believe what I believe to be true because I have based my decision on facts, or if I have followed along blindly because it feeds that which I already believe whether the source is fact or fake. I also have to ask myself why I trust the speaker. Are they known to be truthful, or do they tell me what I want to hear for their own gain? After all, as John Steinbeck stated,” It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming.” I guess I will believe that.

Oh, and I won’t be offended if you don’t believe me. After all, this could be all fake news.

This is the link to the article I quoted if you are interested: BBC Article

Don’t Let Fear and What-If’s Change Your Behavior

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

posted the week of July 9, 2018 in the Albert Lea Tribune and The Courier Sentenel

 

Growing up in a small town I felt a sense of safety most of the time. It was during my childhood I learned about the “what-ifs” of life. It was taught to me unknowingly by my mother. She had no idea her anxiety about the evils of the world lent itself to my childhood fears.

Of course I was scared of the dark. What child isn’t? That was not anything my mother worried about. She worried about my health — what if you eat that and you get sick? She worried about my having an accident —what if you go with another family and they are in a car accident? And she worried about someone snatching me even if in those times kidnapping wasn’t a well-known problem.

We lived by the railroad tracks, and it wasn’t uncommon for hoboes to stop by and ask for money or food. They would often talk to my uncle when he was across the street with the horses or cows in the pasture. I was never allowed out when they were near. I was told they might kidnap me, and my parents would never see me again.

Gypsies were someone else to be afraid of in those days, at least from what I garnered from my mom. I was told they stole kids and did terrible things to them. I was terrified. I remember one time when I was home alone with my wheelchair-bound grandmother — I was around 9, a woman who dressed somewhat like I thought a Gypsy would dress, came to our door. I was afraid to go to the door. I opened the inside door but left the outside door latched.

The woman wanted to know if my mother was home. Of course I didn’t know what to answer. She wasn’t, but did I tell the woman that? The woman tried to get me to come outside, but I refused. She finally went away, but I was scared the rest of the day with visions of me being pulled out of the house and stolen.

Another time while in kindergarten, my mom wasn’t on the corner where she usually met me to walk me uptown to my dad’s store. I was terrified, because of the anxiety of what-ifs that mom wasn’t there. What if she had an accident? What if someone kidnapped me off the street?

Having been taught by a loving overprotective mother about what-ifs, my life continued and still does to this day to be fraught with scenarios when presented with something out of the ordinary or scary — scenarios that the majority of the time never come to pass but in my mind they are bigger than life and make me react out of fear to a situation, rather than thinking it through and coming to a sensible conclusion.

Right now I am in a book study which helps us confront our what-ifs and it is helping me immensely overcome those messages. But the vibes and messages of what-ifs and fear unknowingly sent to me in my childhood by my mother have had lasting consequences.

The other evening I attended a community meeting. A Level 3 sex offender is moving to my community onto a street with many children, close to parks and near the school. The community meeting was to give us information to make our community stronger and to alert us what to watch out for when it comes to our neighborhoods and children.

I thought it was well presented and felt the monitoring system in place was well thought out, along with the fact, well known in a small community, we all know what our neighbors are doing before they know it. We look out for each other. But the level of panic and anger outweighed any information attained to help us deal with the situation.

The “what ifs” were rampant. “He’s going to rape someone.” “What happens when he kidnaps one of my children?” “My son won’t be able to ride his bike safely to the pool anymore.”  “My children won’t be safe in their own yard.” “He’ll grab a child and put them in his car and we’ll never see them again.”

The tears fell, the anger built and some were out of control with their accusations. Some blamed our law enforcement for letting this person move into our community but the law is the law and they had no say in the decision.

I experienced something similar when my children were growing up in a different community from where I live now. The difference is the person hadn’t been caught yet and lived next door to me in a very old house. As neighbors, we watched as the men in the house enticed middle age school children to their home. I watched one day as one took a knife to another’s throat. The entire neighborhood was concerned, and we worked with the local police. This was a person detrimental to children but because he had not been charged, etc. we received no warning he was moving in.

Our neighborhood banded together. We calmly talked to our children. We took to the street. By that I mean, the kids went out into the street to play and we adults went out with our lawn chairs when we saw activity we were suspicious about at the house. We could track everyone coming and going because we were having neighborhood picnics. Soon, the neighbor moved because we were interfering with his activities. Soon after he moved he was arrested.

Were we angry? Yes. Were we scared for our kids? Yes. Were our kids scared? No. They were not scared because we worked together and the neighborhood did not show our children our fear.

We have a Level 3 sex offender coming to our community. We should be worried. We should be upset. We should have a plan, and we should be watchful. What we shouldn’t do is let our fear and what-ifs change our behavior so we teach our children that fear. Our fear should not be so out of control that it makes us act irrationally because that could have dire consequences not just on our future, but on the future of our children.

We as a community have to work to put safeguards in place to make our children safer and stronger. We need to work with local law enforcement to change laws in our community and with our legislature so offenders are not put within a close distance to day cares, schools and parks. In the meantime, new community residents need to know that small town residents watch out for one another. They care. Remember the “Sesame Street” song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” In my community we know the answer to that question.