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4 factors in teens’ cries for help cited by specialist Walt Mueller

LITTLETON, Colo. (BP)–A youth culture expert who visited Littleton, Colo., after the Columbine High School tragedy said adults need to recognize much teenager behavior stems from cries for help.
“The attitudes and behaviors we see aren’t aimed at adults,” said Walt Mueller, founder of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, based in Elizabethtown, Pa. “They are cries for attention, affection, love, understanding, relationship and truth.”
Mueller came to Colorado three weeks after the April 20 massacre that claimed 15 lives, including the two student gunmen, to lead a pair of meetings in the Denver and Boulder areas. Titled “The Cries of Culture,” they provided insights to parents, teachers and youth workers.
“It was wonderful,” commented Rob Norris, director of missions for the Denver Association of Southern Baptist Churches, which sponsored his appearance. “The things he talked about were meaningful to me because I’ve still got three teens at home. He has the pulse of what kids are looking for — truth and stability in their lives.”
Mueller organized the Center for Youth Understanding in 1990 after 16 years in youth ministry, including college campus outreach. An evangelical Presbyterian, in the mid-1980s he started teaching a 12-week Sunday school class helping parents understand young people.
The class, which aimed at enlisting adults in cross-cultural ministry, was so popular it drew attendees from many other churches. Mueller said the response helped lead to the formation of the center, which publishes a quarterly newsletter. Last year, Mueller led seminars that attracted total attendance of 14,000.
A crucial mistake many Christians make is to “demonize” music, movies, video games and other things attractive to teens, Mueller said. When that happens, people become critical and aren’t motivated to help, he said.
“We try to take a balanced, biblical approach,” said Mueller, author of the book “Understanding Today’s Youth Culture.” “We want the church to be like the Good Samaritan, to go over and minister to them and meet their needs. Teens may act like they don’t want us involved in their lives, but they desperately do.”
In Colorado, Mueller listed four primary factors he sees as cries for help and practical steps adults can take:
1) Changing families. Many young people’s lives are marred by brokenness and divorce, he said.
He challenged fathers to examine their schedules, adjust them to make time for their children and show an interest in their activities and lives.
He also encouraged couples to evaluate the health of their marriage and pay attention to each other before “it’s too late.”
2) Music and media. This is the most powerful force filling the void left by those who fail to be diligent parents, Mueller said.
In reality, the youthful attraction to these influences is a search for meaning and direction, he said. Teens are seeking to answer questions about personal identity, God and the future.
This is why parents must give their children time and listen carefully, he said. “If we’re not there to understand and direct them to truthful answers, they will seek them from music and media.”
Teens’ two major complaints are parents don’t listen and don’t understand, said Mueller, the father of four children ages 6 to 15. They interpret that as rejection, which becomes resentment and then rebellion, he said.
3) A crisis of character, expressed through moral relativism. Many act as if there are no standards of right and wrong or acceptable behavior, Mueller said. But that is really a cry for a sense of truth, he said.
Parents need to grasp the importance of demonstrating truth through their daily relationships, he said. “They shouldn’t just tell them right and wrong, but live it out for them. The best approach is to live by biblical standards of right and wrong.”
4) The cry of hopelessness. While this may sound foreboding, it’s actually good news because children aren’t finding the answers to problems from non-Christian sources, Mueller said.
Yet, if parents and others in the church don’t deliberately and aggressively reach out to kids, they won’t have the answers, he said.
“Fear and insecurity has a lot to do with it,” he said of the actions of killers Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. “It’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s not gun control, media or music. It’s all of these.
“I was saddened but not the least bit surprised,” Mueller said of the attack that shocked the nation. “It’s only a matter of time before it happens again.”
Among factors he cited as creating a tough world for young people:
— Daily, some 3,000 children see their parents’ marriage end in divorce.
— Tonight, 40 percent of the children will go to bed in a home without a father.
— Pressures, challenges and choices not known by previous generations. For example, by the time they graduate, 80 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls will have had sexual intercourse. Each year, more than 1 million girls in the United States become pregnant and more than 2.5 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases occur among adolescents.
— Rates of substance abuse are skyrocketing. More than 80 percent of today’s graduating seniors have used alcohol, 42 percent smoked marijuana and 52 percent used illicit drugs, Mueller said.
— Suicide rates among American high school students have quadrupled in the last four decades.
If there is a beacon of hope, Mueller saw it in Littleton, where a group of youth pastors from a range of denominations had been meeting prior to the tragedy. That cooperation helped stimulate a deep and meaningful response that was a shining example of ministry, he said.
“That struck me more than anything else,” Mueller said. “That’s one thing I communicate as I travel — let’s not be territorial. Let’s network and cooperate in our ministries.”
The Internet website for the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is www.cpyu.org.

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  • Ken Walker