One of the big issues all young people face is developing their sense of identity. The teenage years are particularly difficult. Teenagers start asking themselves the question ‘Who am I?’ For children it seems to be much easier as their identity is firmly linked to their parents. Their parents reinforce their own values in ways such as dressing them or encouraging them to learn a musical instrument, or sporting activity.
Parents help to establish a child’s identity and often children will link themselves to their parents’ identity and passionately defend it.
I still remember playground conversations that went along the lines of:
“Well my dad is a policeman so he can arrest your dad!”
“Oh yeah, well my Mum is a lawyer so she could get him out!”
“Well my dad is a plumber so he can charge your parents $500 an hour to fix their pipes!”
However, as we grow and mature we begin to step away from our parents little by little and form our own identity. We do that by forming connections in our world. Like our parents did for us with soccer, dance class or church on Sundays we start to make our own choices on what those connections will be and they help to form our identity.
To form those connections, I believe we subconsciously seek answers to questions like:
- Where do I feel valued?
- What makes me feel good or loved?
- What makes sense in this world?
- Where do I fit?
- What is my place?
- What is my purpose?
Basically, our young people are asking:
What is the overarching narrative that is defining my world and who am I within it?
Our children are growing up in a world that is constantly presenting answers to these questions for them. But as parents we realise those answers are not always the best. They come through the media, both traditional and social, through peers, and also through the young person’s own physiological and psychological processes.
The answers can lead to confusion in regard to things like their self esteem, confidence and sexual identity. They contribute to stress levels, depression and anxiety. Young people try different places to find the information they need to answer the question, ‘Who am I’.
They are looking for connection points.
Social scientists have shown that the more points of connection a child sees in their life the more confident they will be about who they are.
So what can we do to help a young person form a Godly identity?
Highlight those points of connection.
At Cedars we place a significant emphasis on the education of each child being achieved through a partnership between the home, the school and the church. We work together.
There are practical connections through guest pastors at our Chapel Services, students attending youth groups and programs being shared between church and school like the Shine Program, Leadership Development opportunities and mission trips. We encourage our parents to be involved in committees, classrooms, sports teams, etc. All of these things show the child that there are connections in their world, those connections make sense, and this helps establish the metanarrative of their world and their place within it.
At Cedars, we are specific and intentional when we speak into our students’ identity. We have a number of characteristics that we endeavour for all our students to possess. We state that a Cedars Student is; Educated, Pursuing Excellence, Compassionate, Resilient, Faithful to God, Disciplined and Respectful. When we see these character traits displayed in students we identify them and celebrate them. We know these are values that are shared between the school, the church and home.
So what can we do to help our young people as they form their own identity?
Keep the overarching story they are hearing in their life positive. Help them to see the connections they need. Surround them with positive influences so that when or if they stop coming to us, at least we know they are with people who share the same view of the world as we do and the positive and clear message of who they are and what their purpose is drowns out the negative stories or answers to the questions mentioned above.
We love partnering with parents and the church on this challenging but absolutely worthwhile endeavour.