Protests and purpose

12 October 2019

When we see protests on the news, how can we use them to help children and young people grow a sense of purpose and determination?

From time to time, we see people rising up in protest. A couple of years ago the Spanish region of Catalonia has erupted into furious protest after attempts to hold a peaceful (if illegal) referendum resulted in violence between the police and the people trying to vote, with over 900 people hurt as a result.  Earlier this year we saw Extinction Rebellion protests and then the student climate change rallies. There for most of 2019, there have been ongoing and sometimes dangerous protests on the streets of Hong Kong.

If you are watching the news with your teens or older children, stories about protests might be a great opportunity to talk about determination – what makes those people so determined to carry on protesting even if it seems hard to get governments to listen, when you might get arrested or even when it’s risky?  What makes people do what they do?  What are you determined about?

Years ago I read of some research undertaken in America. In one particular city they were concerned about the rising rate of pregnancy in teenage girls and when they spoke to the girls about why they had become pregnant, they discovered that many of them simply wanted a baby because they had no other vision, no other big picture of their future.  So rather than telling girls to change their behaviour, the project set out to empower them with that missing big picture –  that they could have a career or get to college – that inspired them and gave them something to aim for, and as a result, significantly fewer girls became pregnant.

And of course, what drives protestors is their big picture, their hopes and dreams: maybe of freedom, or of turning back the impact of climate change. These passions drive them on, inspire them and fuel their activity and commitment to the cause, even when what they are doing doesn’t seem to be making a difference.

And having a big picture of their lives is vital for our children and teens too, and part of our role as parents, extended family and church community is to help them discover that. So we can talk to them about their hopes and dreams.  What do you want to be when you grow up?  What gifts do you think God’s given you to use for him?  What are your hopes and dreams? What do you think God’s particular plans for you might be?

And then we can find ways to help our young people explore their hopes and dreams, help them to firm up that big picture.  So take a budding naturalist on that bat walk in the woods; introduce your aspiring engineer to someone at church who is also an engineer; buy your future worship leader a guitar; ask your would-be teacher to teach you a new skill, take your teen on a climate change protest.  And don’t worry if suddenly it all changes!  Your children and teens are experimenting and exploring all that God has made them to be, and with your help, they can discover God’s big picture for them, a picture that will give them the determination to follow wherever that leads.

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