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I’ve got a few more things to post from my notes for the presentation I gave in Texas a couple of weeks ago. This one is about the fourth trait of a connected community: They establish clear limits and expectations. I think it may be one of the traits with which some Unitarian Universalist might have a hard time. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that a lot of UUs want a “hands off” approach toward themselves and their children, something like, “I left my previous church because they tried to tell me what to believe, and I not going to stick around here it there’s going to be a lot of do’s and don’ts!” But every community needs some grounds rules, and if a community is trying to be intentionally multigenerational (something I hope all of our congregations are trying to do), then there needs to be some ground rules for every generation. So here are some thoughts from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author of Optimal Experience and Flow) about the kind of context that helps children and youth thrive:
There is ample evidence to suggest that how parents interact with a child will have a lasting effect on the kind of person that child grows up to be. . . . The family context promoting optimal experience could be described as having five characteristics. The first one is clarity: the teenagers feel that they know what their parents expect from them—goals and feedback in the family interaction are unambiguous. The second is centering, or the children’s perception that their parents are interested in what they are doing in the present, in their concrete feelings and experiences, rather than being preoccupied with whether they will be getting into a good college or obtaining a well-paying job. Next is the issue of choice: children feel that they have a variety of possibilities from which to choose, including that of breaking parental rules—as long as they are prepared to face the consequences. The fourth differentiating characteristic is commitment, or the trust that allows the child to feel comfortable enough to set aside the shield of his defenses, and become unselfconsciously involved in whatever he is interested in. And finally there is challenge, or the parents’ dedication to provide increasingly complex opportunities for action to their children.
“Teenagers feel that they know what their parents expect from them.” I think the same is true of our congregations. Unless our children and youth know that we do have certain expectations of them, then they might start buying into the bad press about Unitarian Universalism: you can believe whatever you want to believe here, we’re an “anything goes” religion, etc. So I love these five “c’s”: clarity, centering, choice, commitment, and challenge. I think they provide a great heuristic (a replicable method or approach for directing one’s attention in learning, discovery, or problem-solving) for measuring the quality of our religious education and youth programs.
A quick post this morning. I’m at the Shalom Hill Farm in Windom, Minnesota, for our district’s annual Board/Program Council/Staff retreat (I’m beginning to think we should just go ahead and call it our “leadership” retreat.) I’m here with Julia and Henry David, too. H.D.’s pretty excited about the trip because Shalom Hill Farm is a working farm. There are chickens and goats and sheep and horses–what more could a two year old want! At any rate, the retreat started yesterday with a report by Sherry Warren (our district’s Youth and Young Adult Specialist, or YaYA) and Emma Olsen (one of our district representatives to the recent Youth Summit in Boston). Board member Cheryll Wallace also reported on the fantastic Transformation Team she’s assembled to move the district toward becoming an Anti-Racist/Multicultural institution. Finally, Kathy Bowen and Libby Starling led us in some team building exercises All in all, a great start to a wonderful weekend.
I just received an e-mail from the Institute on American Values, and it seems they’ve created a video version of the Hardwired to Connect report, and it’s free! Just go to click on this link and fill out the order form. Here’s the text of the e-mail:
New “Hardwired to Connect” DVD Now Available
WHY ARE LARGE AND GROWING numbers of U.S. children and young people suffering from depression, anxiety, attention deficit and conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious mental and behavioral problems?
Several years ago the Institute for American Values together with the YMCA of the USA and Dartmouth Medical School answered this question in the 2003 report, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities. Written by the Commission on Children at Risk, a panel of 33 leading children’s doctors, neuroscientists, research scholars and youth service professionals, Hardwired to Connect draws upon a large body of recent research showing that children are biologically primed (“hardwired”) for enduring connections to others and for moral and spiritual meaning.
Because of the enormous interest in the Commission’s findings and recommendations (Hardwired is now at the end of its 5th reprinting, with over 25,000 copies disseminated), the Institute has created a short, informational DVD that distills the most important aspects of the report.
Through the generosity of several donors—including the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation—the Institute is able to make this DVD available to you free of charge while supplies last. To receive a copy, please complete this order form found on our Center for Marriage and Families’ website.
Copies of the full report, Hardwired to Connect, are available from the Institute for $7.00 each (volume discounts are available).
Copies of the Commission at Risk’s working papers will be published this fall by Springer in Authoritative Communities: The Scientific Case for Nurturing Children in Body, Mind and Spirit.
This is an amazing opportunity. Order your free copy of the Hardwired DVD today (you know I already have!).
I’m continuing to post the notes from my recent presentation to teachers in Dallas. Here’s a very quick summary of the results of the Hardwired to Connect report I’m mentioned in my last post. The authors claim they are making a “New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities” (I call them “connected communities”). Their major claims are:
First, a great deal of evidence shows that we are hardwired for close attachments to other people, beginning with our parents and extended family, and then moving out to the broader community.
Second, a less definitive but still significant body of evidence suggests that we are hardwired for meaning, born with a built-in capacity and drive to search for purpose and reflect on life’s ultimate ends.
In order to offer our children the kind of environment they need to make those connections, the report lists these 10 components of a Connected Community:
- [Connected] communities include children and youth.
- They treat children as ends in themselves.
- They are warm and nurturing.
- They establish clear limits and expectations.
- Their core work is performed largely by nonspecialists.
- They are multigenerational.
- They have a long-term focus.
- They encourage spiritual and religious development.
- They reflect and transmit a shared understanding of what it means to be a good person.
- They are philosophically oriented to the equal dignity of all people and to the principle of love of neighbor.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–I believe that these 10 qualities are the definition of a healthy, vital congregation. They are, essentially, the qualities our congregations need to embody in order for us to do the work we’ve set before ourselves, especially anti-racism/anti-oppression work, moving youth ministry to the center of our collective mission, and getting over our 1% a year growth pattern so we can truly reach all those who would benefit from being part of our living tradition.
Well, I’m back in Minnesota now, but I’ve got a couple of more posts about the information I shared during the teacher training in Dallas last Saturday. I talked a bit about the Hardwired to Connect report, using some passages from a sermon I gave last year. Here’s the gist of it:
According to Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities (a report by The Commission on Children at Risk), the “mental and behavioral health of U.S. children” is deteriorating.
We are witnessing high and rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit/conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other mental, emotional, and behavioral problems among U.S. children and adolescents.
According to the report, these “rising rates of mental and emotional problems among American young people raise a red flag about how well we are nurturing our kids.”
While many American young people are thriving, many more are not, and there are worrisome signs that as a society we are losing rather than gaining ground. Notwithstanding sustained increases in material well-being and important medical advances in the ability to treat depression and other mental disorders, the rate of serious mental and emotional disorders among American children and youth has been rising steadily. Eight percent of high school students have clinical depression, 20 percent report having seriously considered suicide during the past year, and, according to the Surgeon General, 21 percent of 9- to 17-year-olds have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that will cause at least minimum impairment. A recent study of mental health problems among college students at a large Midwestern university found that over the past 13 years, the number of students being seen for depression doubled, the number of suicidal students tripled, and the number of students seen after a sexual assault quadrupled.
“Numerous studies,” says Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, “show that privileged adolescents are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse–rates that are higher than those of any other socioeconomic group of young people in this country.”