The same day I read through the verdict and conviction of Jerry Sandusky I had my youth group over for a cookout and movie night. Cookouts and hanging out at my house are a frequent occurrence. Basically any time one of the students gets bored of sitting around their house, they ask if they can come over. The text messages go out and before you know if I’m flipping burgers for 10-15 hungry teenagers. We used to have a rule for my house: “What happen’s at Ben’s house, stays at Ben’s house”. It kind of gave the kids freedom to talk openly, ask questions about life, and relax without the fear of judgment or me telling their parents “Jane is asking a lot of questions about homosexuality”. That day however, the “What happen’s at Ben’s house” rule seemed strangely inappropriate.
It’s not easy to minister to kids and teens anymore thanks to all the Catholic priest and Jerry Sandusky scandals of the world. Even taking a student out for ice cream to “see how things are going” is hard. Too much time trying to connect with a student is now creepy. Parents and other adults start to wonder about you.
What these twisted individuals do is not only steal the innocence of children, but also the innocence of every youth pastor, guidance counselor, teacher, social worker, coach, etc. who reach out to help improve the lives of kids and teens. Will we overreact and eventually come down to a society wide buddy system where nothing is private? Every interaction will be videoed, recorded, and supervised. Long gone are the conversations at Taco Bell where you find out if things are going better with their parents who are on the verge of getting a divorce.
So how do you respond when a teen who is having problems at home and school asks “Can we talk”?
What do you say to a parent who comes to you and says “I really wish you’d spend more time trying to connect with my son”?
My consolation is that for every one Sandusky there are hundreds of pure hearted individuals helping those who are hurting and in need of a friend. Too many times we let the headlines overpower us with a reality skewed towards corruption and evil. We rarely celebrate those who provide all the goodness in our world. Legislation responds to protect the many from the few.
Despite it all, I have to remember the conversations of young men and women who come back to me and say “Thank you for caring”. The thought that there are thousands of people who make a difference and will continue is what gives me hope. I hope that before people overreact and begin to change too much of what kids need in this world (strong adult role models) that we would take time to remember the teachers, coaches, and pastors who were there for us. They were there when it seemed like everyone else was out to get us. And they saved us from taking a very dark path in life.