Diets and Dodgeball
Just a little over a year ago I turned down a contract for reenlistment. I had been preparing for months to go back into the military and it was possibly the best shape that I have ever been in. I would run, swim, and perform a multitude of body resistance exercises every day. When I didn’t return to the military I felt like I didn’t have any motivation to continue my workouts. I would still run here and there, but never really watched what I ate…until this past week when my church started a new “scale”ing back initiative. I have been counting my calories and measuring and recording everything that I eat.
Once I got over the two day munchies period and my incessant craving for buffalo wings I was able to see how unhealthy I had been eating. I constantly felt the need to eat and I was constantly full. I am not talking about a good, satisfied full…I am talking about belly bulge kind of full. I was just consuming because I could. I had allowed myself to get to the point where it just felt natural. I think this is where a lot of our students are at. Allow me to give you an example.
I love dodgeball! I would argue that almost every youth worker and student does. It is a genuinely fun game. Seriously…who doesn’t like throwing stuff at middle schoolers??? It’s pretty much therapeutic. A little over a week ago I held a dodgeball tournament for my students. I promoted this event for almost a month and did not have a single student sign up (even though over 50 students came). I planned the best I could, but did not know how many youth would show up.
You might even be thinking, “What on earth does your story about dieting and your story about dodgeball have to do with eachother?” Allow me to explain. I bet what I just described is not all that surprising to you. It seems to just be the M.O. of today’s youth, but this is not the way it was when you and I were students. Commitment was a big deal. In fact I remember my parents not allowing me to quit the band because I had committed to it (I stuck it out…and hated every second of it). Today, our students are constant consumers. They are rarely ever unplugged and able to focus fully on one thing. I think this is why many of them seldom commit…it is like they are always waiting for that Facebook invite to an event that is bigger and better.
I have been trying to describe this cultural trend for a while, but was lacking something to compare it to. I was finding it difficult to express…until I went on a diet. When I look at many students I see the same attitude that I had about food. I constantly felt the need to eat until I was completely full. I was not willing to eat and enjoy my one meal because it just didn’t seem like enough. The fullness that often left me sluggish and tired is what I see in the face of this generation. Many of our students are far too over stimulated and are consuming to excess. They view life as a buffet and have trouble just enjoying what is before them…like hitting their youth pastor in the face with a dodgeball!
So what can we do? I have been thinking about this for quite some time and still do not have any groundbreaking ideas. I don’t think that there is any quick fix to over consumption and over stimulation. We can’t just cover it in Duck Tape and Gorilla Glue and expect it to be fixed. Obviously technology is one of the biggest factors in our youth’s noncommittal and seemingly indifferent attitudes, but is not all bad. There is nothing wrong with encouraging them to go on a “tech diet”, but we can’t expect them to totally unplug. With this said I think we can meet them where they are at and use technology wisely to reach out to our youth. Another thing we can do is engage the parents. The best and most effective tool that I have found for student commitment is keep the parents informed.
Finally, and most importantly, I think what we as leaders must do is set the tone for the kind of commitment we would like to see. Leaders must lead from the front, and lead by example. We need to set standards for our students and create an atmosphere that promotes an expected outcome. We must not express our desire for them to commit and unplug only once, but often…and in many different ways.