Won’t you be my neighbor?
Oh, Mr. Rogers, how the world could use more of you. Mr. Rogers neighborhood ran for four decades, 895 episodes. So many of us had the opportunity to hear his sweet tune after school for many years and benefited the warm and fuzzy feelings because of this generous man.
But, this moment today isn’t just about nostalgia. It’s about our teens, our pre-teens, and our children. As adults we have a list of things to remember to discuss with our kids; make sure you study, practice hard for a scholarship, don’t do drugs, be careful what you post on social media. The actual list is ridiculously long, and impossible to remember all of the things we feel we should teach until we are actually faced with the problem.
Well, the problem has been brought to my attention. So, it’s time to talk about a major item from the list. Being a friend. As a part of our weekly schedules our Assistant Youth Director, DJ, and I visit our local Jr Highs and High Schools. I have been doing this for years alone, but having fresh eyes has brought about a major concern. Kids eating alone. This may sound like a dramatic build up to something that has happened for decades. Yet, for DJ and I, this has been a major topic of conversation. How do we help?
I’ve looked up countless articles on how to address loneliness, but they are all from the perspective of the lonely child’s parent. Helpful tips include getting involved in an activity, approaching your peers differently, checking in with someone with common interest, starting an active sport with a parent that may translate into school. That sure is a lot of work for a kid who just wants someone to talk to at lunch. Most of the times these students are introverted, so no matter how many suggestions we give it is almost painful for them to even try.
So, let’s talk about this differently. Let’s talk to the kids who are “too social” who get in trouble for talking in class, who always sit sideways in their desk as not to miss a conversation from any direction. Yes, it is an inconvenience to have to leave your lunch table of friends and sit with someone else. It’s even hard to invite them to your table and make sure they are included in conversation. The difference is it’s always easier for the extrovert. Breaking out of our comfort zones, being less selfish, less judgemental these are elements of being a disciple of Christ. How do we make disciples if we do not first share Christ? We need to encourage our kids to invite someone to sit with them, even invite them into the activities they are a part of. The worse thing that can happen in that moment is they say no, and “no” is not a bad word. It’s not an embarrassing word.
It’s all so easy for us, adults, to talk about because we forget the feeling of the weight of the world hanging on our every action. The feeling of how one second can take you from socialite to loser. There is not a definitive answer to this entire conversation. But, that is it, it needs to be a constant conversation. Let’s not just ask, “how was your day?” but “who did you have lunch with?” “do you ever see anyone sitting alone?” “who is that person, you should invite them over they would probably rather sit with someone.”
And, as teens they will make up answers “oh they prefer eating alone” NO THEY DON’T. Your kids might say, “why do you care?” or act like you’re getting too investigative. So, tell them it was my idea. I’ll take the blame. Tell them, this is something to care about and pray about, such a small act, a small about of time could change someone’s entire high school experience.
Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Director of Youth Ministry