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Jan 16

It Hurts but It Isn’t Painful (Hurt 2.0 reviewed)

When I finished Hurt 2.0, I felt disappointed. I had bought a book on youth ministry expecting at least some kind of solution, some kind of resolution. Then I read the cover again: the subtitle is Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers and that is exactly what it had provided.

In the end, I would give it 4/5 stars. Its goal is to provide answers why teenagers are hurting and I think it does that well. It hurt to listen to the stories but the writing made it painless. Let’s review its strengths and weaknesses then look at the content which can help in youth ministry.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Book

Dr. Clark really likes kids and wants to understand them internally not just from the outside. He has dedicated years to this study and he gives a great analysis of modern teenage life: its structures, its difficulties, its focus, etc. His method is basically that of a cultural anthropologist. This may seem a little strange, but it works. As a phenomenology of teenagers, I have not read better. He understands psychology but he also realizes man is transcendent which most psychologists forget.

Unfortunately, his strengths are in fact also his weakness. When he goes beyond a phenomenology to try to explain how to help teens, his answers ring hollow; they seem little more than an implicit, “reach them where they are.”

What Causes Teenage Hurt 2.0?

Chip Clark wants to get us inside teens’ heads. His overarching themes are transitioning to be an adult, abandonment by adults, teens’ needs, and how they react.

Adolescence ends when one is independent and can define oneself (individuation as I will call it). Then you become a functioning adult. This transition is independent of age once puberty is complete. You just can’t “engage in adult society without at least a relatively grounded sense of the self as distinct from others.” (Kindle loc. 3779)

Chip Clark notes that individuation requires adult values that teens can define themselves in relation to. But they’re absent today and adults aren’t there to instil values. As one teen put it “We spend no time with adults from junior high on—maybe fifteen minutes every other day is the best we ever get.” (Kindle loc. 1076-77)

Is it any surprise that teens lack values? Dr. Clark relates some brazen promiscuity by middle-school girls that he had shared with several groups of teens. Never once had one given a moral judgment: the closest was that the girls were stupid (either for doing it or letting mom find out). Then he’s surprised! What planet is from? Elsewhere he said, “I rarely encountered a midadolescent who believed that lying was unethical.” (Kindle loc. 3312) Since adults have done nothing to instill values, why are they surprised when they’re non-existent? And plus, there’s peer pressure not to be the one who reacts differently.

Often we hope teens have already individuated themselves but they really haven’t. The result is that “Unlike at any other stage of life, midadolescence is a world of multiple selves.” (Kindle loc. 370-71) They will be one self to parents, another to teacher, another to their team, and the most real one to their friends. This is something relatively new and increasing.

High school students can think abstractly yet they seem to reason separately with each self. The parent-self may love mom and dad while the friend-self will deceive them to get to a party. Dr. Clark says that their ability itself is thus limited but I think this limitation is artificial and hence in some way a choice (albeit possibly just the logical consequence of adapting so many selves).

Adolescence has also been extended to 15 years in many cases. High school becomes difficult because the teens have some sense they should be doing something useful, yet a career is still years away. They realize that this continual preparation makes them socially superfluous to the adult world.

In this, affluent kids are worse off because everything is pre-set for them so they never leave their box without grave difficulty. In psychological tests, they come out with more problems even than high-risk inner-city kids. Spoiling kids keeps them from developing their own identity.

The abandonment of teens by adults (“systematic neglect” as he says at one point) has created a subculture that reacts like the subculture of any other oppressed group throughout history. They sense that every adult is out to get something from them.

They sense a relational starvation while at the same time they are the most relational generation ever. High school (and most of their interaction with the adult world) is anonymous, but their friends have faces. They build an identity online by collecting friends and supporting each other – be it through Facebook or games.

Teens usually build themselves into clusters at high school. These small to medium-sized groups determine every part of a teen’s life. Dr. Clark sees this as a defensive tactic based on being an abandoned or oppressed group. Since it is a coping mechanism, the highest ethics is group cohesion. He’s probably right.

High school promotes that they are mediocre: the one who does best is the one who can repeat the teachers in all subjects not a freak genius who gets 150% math but 65% in English.

Of course, teens party. We need to be aware that even there they are looking for relations and experience. The alcohol is not the center; it’s simply a tool for experiences.

His tendency to say how the world is not how it could be ends up creating more hurt for teens. He notes that many “high school” privileges were invented for late adolescence but now that is not until well into the 20s. He ponders if we shouldn’t move up things like driver’s licenses and similar things. However, wouldn’t that much more separation from the adult world would just increase teens’ hurt.

His solutions to the problems are rather superficial. He never thinks of even helping teens do meaningful volunteer work to help them mature. This should be a large part of ministry and is a proven way to help teens mature and hence stop hurting. He limits himself to generalities: “Youth need to experience authentic, intimate relationships with adults.” (Kindle loc. 4249-50) That’s so banal it’s useless.

In the end, he explains teens’ hurt well but fails to resolve it. “At least at some level, all midadolescents experience life as painful and precarious; they grow up feeling more isolated than previous generations and are therefore more stressed and lonely than adolescent populations in the past.” (Kindle loc. 3726-27)

  • Barb Blanco

    Great review Br. Matthew. I’ve seen some of these things first hand in my involvement with youth, and, like most parents/adults who really care, am trying not to be the absent one. This upcoming generation is quite different, and we do well to stay alert and in tune with them. Keep the posts, comments, advice and reviews coming! It’s very helpful. God Bless.

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