The world that we’re living in today is, in many ways, a vastly different place to anything we’ve seen before. The level of technological developments and digital progress has led to a world that is seemingly more connected and more advanced than before. The result is that our young people are growing up in a world that is quite different to anything that previous generations have experienced. The ease at which information can be accessed provides great opportunities for learning. Young people these days are greater digital natives than ever before and can access technology with the greatest of ease. I’ve seen many toddlers who can easily use an iPad to access their favourite apps and babies who’s early vocabulary includes phrases such as ‘ok google’.
This increase in technology and ease of digital communication provides infinite opportunities for young people, particularly in education. This is fantastic yet there is also a great downside to this digital age. Time and time again research shows that, although we are theoretically more connected than we have ever been before, young people are feeling a greater sense of isolation. I think we have often mistaken digital connection for genuine relationships and we find young people are crying out for genuine, face to face relationships.
At first, we might think that this is a phenomenon that affects secondary or tertiary aged young people, but the importance of genuine relationships transcends any age barrier. In Growing Young a landmark study in youth ministry out of the Fuller Youth Institute in America they highlight the need for institutions, in this case Churches, to fuel “warm communities” where young people genuinely feel valued and understood. Andrew Root, another American theologian and youth ministry practitioner, highlights the importance of forging “deep and real connections with young people so that they feel valued and understood”.
As I’ve reflected on these learnings myself, and how that might impact on what we do at Newington, I’ve found myself coming back to the Pacific Islander idea of Talanoa. In my involvement with Pacific Islander churches, through my involvement in the Uniting Church, I’ve been introduced to this idea of Talanoa and it has resonated with me more and more. It literally means ‘sitting on the mat’ but in practice it means spending the time to just sit together, to talk, to listen and to journey with each other. By doing Talanoa with each other we develop a better understanding of different perspectives and experiences and we develop genuine relationships with people.
I think this poses a genuine challenge to those of us who work with young people, be it as educators or as pastoral support. In the midst of all the demands of education, how might we provide the space to just ‘sit on the mat’ and listen and learn from the young people in our midst. But similarly, it’s a challenge for us in our family lives with young people, be it as parents, grandparents, family or friends. How might we balance the demands of our work and home lives with the need to provide space to listen and understand our young people?
As a Chaplain, I come back to the example we have from Jesus who’s focus was on developing real relationships with people. And it was through that, that those around him and by extension us today, saw the embracing love of God for all people.
My hope is that all of us might be able to find that space to develop genuine relationships with young people in our midst; perhaps over the holidays or as we come back to term. I also hope, and I think I know, that we’re already doing this in whatever our context we can. Because, although our digital world provides us, and our young people, with infinite opportunities nothing can replace a genuine, face to face, personal connection.
Let me wish all our Lindfield families a happy and safe holiday break and I look forward to another great term.
Pastor Richard La’Brooy