A couple of weeks ago I lead a parenting seminar on apathy. I mostly signed up to lead this seminar because our own students' apathy is just killing me! Especially in spring, it seems like kids fall off some sort of emotional cliff and check out completely. I started out asking some questions . . .
Does apathy have to define our students? What is the cause? Are there some practical solutions?
Through a little bit of research and some further conversation, I had a breakthrough on what one of the main causes of Apathy is, along with a possible way forward. (For the record, I am a simple youth worker trying to understand my students and care for their hearts. If you have other insights or resources, please share.)
According to Google, Apathy is simply defined as: Lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Wikipedia says that Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, and concern. It is a state of indifference.
But then Wikipedia gave us the most revolutionary graph of all time. THE APATHY GRAPH
As you can see, there are two axes, one direction is skill and the other is challenge. Of all the words on this graph, I would use the words on the left hand side to describe our students. Apathetic, Worried, and Anxious.
What I found fascinating is that the key descriptive words for our students are all found on the LOW SKILL portion of the graph. At first I was offended for the families in our church and context. Because many of them would stake their life on how impressive and smart their kids are, how gifted and talented they are. But maybe we are valuing the wrong things.
In our context grades and sports are the highest value.
Our students are placed in competitive environments and most of them do well. They kill it when it comes to these endeavors. But it turns out that life is about way more than performing well in school or sports. (Especially since those two indicators mean absolutely nothing by the time our students are 20) Because we have aimed our kids in the wrong direction, it turns out that they are now finding themselves on the LOW SKILL end part of life.
Having skills for school or sports don't matter in the big picture. It turns out what causes life, fulfillment, joy, and peace are when students are thriving. And how do our kids thrive? Great question.
Students thrive when they have meaning and purpose, when what they do contributes to the "greater good."
SnapChat, Video Games, even school and band are completely self serving endeavors. They are short sighted and are designed to simply advance their own agenda. Because they are so self absorbed and selfish, they have made their world so small and individualistic that their life actually lacks any substantive meaning or purpose.
As people who love and care for students, I think it is time to do a little course correction. If we want to combat apathy, then please help pull our kids heads' our of their butts. For it is only then we can help our students see the bigger world and their place in it.
In order to pull this off we need a three pronged attack:
PARENTS: You are on the front lines. It is your job to observe them and be proactive. You must cut them off of self-obsessing behaviors. You must help them interact with actual human beings. This means face to face contact and communication. And you must help them be contributors to a system. Start with home, then branch out to school, community, or church. Your kids long to be famous. They won't be, so help them navigate this awful reality.
PROFICIENCY: Our students are apathetic because they believe they have nothing to offer. And if they did, it wouldn't be good enough or worth it. This generation of students are defined by anxiety, worry, and apathy. This is because they have no skills. They have NO RELATIONAL SKILLS. All of us must work together to help our kids be human. This seems silly to say, but we know it is reality. Break their phones, make eye contact, teach them how to have conversations and make friends. It is sad that this is where we are, but just because it is sad, doesn't mean it is true.
PASSION: What are our students living for? The adults in their world have been giving them the wrong things to strive for. When they graduate, get a job, get married, have a kid, retire, or die, they get to the end and are completely unsatisfied and left wanting. This is because we have given them the wrong thing to aim at. They should aim for something big and grand. School, music, jobs, marriage, are simply markers along the way. They can never be the destination! Rather inspire them towards doing great things and becoming great people, people who have deep character and much love and affection for those around them.
WE MUST WORK TOGETHER TO HELP OUR STUDENTS GROW IN THEIR HUMAN INTERACTION AND SPIRITUAL FORMATION. THEIR GIFTS MATTER, BUT NOT AS A RESUME BUILDER, BUT AS A CONTRIBUTOR TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. MAY WE LOVE OUR KIDS ENOUGH TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THESE DIFFICULT WATERS!