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.

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