Is it time for adults to be quiet and let students speak?


After the awful tragedy at Parkland High School and all of the news, walkouts, and protests, I have found myself unsettled with the conclusions that many people are drawing.   Don't get me wrong, I love when young people recognize they have agency and are willing to look outside of themselves and enter the challenging world in which they live as they find their voices.  

In fact, as a lifelong youth worker, it is my joy when students begin to find their voice and begin to make their faith and their convictions their own.   It has been encouraging to see students try on activism, to wrestle with the deeper issues, and to be congratulated by so many people, especially people in power.  

However . . . 

The consensus seems to be that this is a moment for the children to lead.  But, as a youth worker, I am not convinced that this is the right conclusion to what we have seen unfold over the last six weeks or so.  

I think (or am thinking out loud) this isn't time for adults to be quiet, for adults to shut up, or for adults to secede the conversation.  The call back to other "youth" lead movements just don't wash.  

Let's take a look at the civil rights movement of the 1960's.  Martin Luther King was in his mid 30's when he gave the "I have a dream" speech.  And the congressmen who wrote, debated, and ultimately enacted the civil rights bill were mostly in their 50's.  Long before 1969 and the summer of love that sparked the Baby Boomer heyday of civil disobedience (which was about not going to Viet Nam, not civil rights) adults were wrestling with weighty issues and moving the political process forward.  

There were incredible leaders from all sorts of backgrounds.  But none of them were 17.  

In fact, there is no social movement that has ever had any lasting impact that has been lead by minors.  I concede that some movements and the protesting of college kids do move the political needle a little, but college kids are not kids.  They are actually young adults.  High School kids are that, kids. 

This is not to say that what has happened at their school or in their community doesn't matter or that they shouldn't express themselves and demand change.  

And, this is the point, our kids deserve better from us adults.  

Repositing pictures of students protesting is simply a form of virtue signaling, and just makes us feel like we are on the side of good.   Here lies the problem.  We have decided that activism and virtue signaling as we use wedge issues to paint our political enemies as monsters will change things.  This is a lie.  This will not change anything accept coarsen our conversation and poison the body politic.  

Our kids deserve the adults in their communities to act like adults.  Adulting is not buying a car or moving out of your parent's house.  True adulting is recognizing that you are no longer the center of the universe and that it is time to live for something bigger and longer lasting than your own life here on earth.  Adults should be in the business of protecting our kids, protecting their lives, helping them develop character, and launching them into the big bad world with a worldview that seeks to bring healing and wholeness wherever they go. 

In our little community, I am horrified at how adults have dropped the ball when it comes to protecting our kids.  We won't pay the money to protect our schools, we won't fight the battles to close our campuses, we won't change our policies so we can reduce the drugs on campus, and we won't limit our kids' time on social media even though every study on the planet links time spent on social media with higher rates of anxiety and depression.  

Culturally, we as adults have failed our kids.  Giving them another trophy for parroting a position you happen to agree with is simply another trophy.  When they realize that the adults simply are patting them on the backs and real change isn't going to happen, they will only become more disillusioned with the process and with the adults who have come before them.  Meaningful change does not happen through sloganeering or demagoguery, but through dialogue rooted in goodwill and facts.  

Our kids, now more than ever, need adults to not just empower them, but to protect them.  May we as youth workers, as adults who love and care for kids, do our part to leverage our political capital in our communities to protect our kids and to advocate for our kids.  And when it comes to national politics let us be reminded that 50% of the country disagrees with you, so writing them off as evil is not a good starting point or a way to model what civic discourse looks like.  

We are helping raise future leaders, so let us do our part and help lay an awesome foundation so that as these young people, as they gain in influence and power will weild their power better than the generations before them.  #lordhavemercy