REDEFINING APPROACHES TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUNG PEOPLE

By Lorelei Ocaya
Columban Lay Missionary, Ireland


As part of the on-going formation and education of lay missionaries, I am privileged to take a six-month-course on facilitating retreat for young people. The course has given me an in-depth understanding on the psyche and culture of young people in this modern time.

Lorelei Ocaya (in white pants) with the youth of Ballymun and St. Joseph
In the course, I learned that there are two major factors among other aspects that contribute and influence to the behaviour of almost all teenagers of today. Number one is the internet and/or social media. This replaces the conventional ways of social interaction. Sadly, most teenagers thought internet/social media is the coolest way to establish relationships. Researches on adolescents show that teenagers, no matter what strata of society they come from, they have access to internet. I was bewildered by the magnanimity of young peoples’ access to internet and social media. Every piece of information they want to know is laid open to them in just a click and most of them believe in these information whether they come from reliable sources or not. It is sad to realize that the games we used to play as a form of social interaction have been replaced by a gadget -- the smallest it is, the coolest it will be. Yes, teenagers might be knowledgeable about things around the globe yet very ignorant of what’s going on in their own homes or neighbourhood. What makes me more dumbfounded knowing that most parents don’t know much about what their teenagers are doing and how much time exposure in the internet these teenagers spent in a day.

Number two major factor, researches also reveal that most adolescents create some sort of ‘societies’ and/or sub-groupings to help them cope with pressures and issues surrounding adolescence such as identity, autonomy, belongingness, acceptance from peers, self-belief, achievements and role models. Aside from the traditional ‘prima donna’, ‘the rich and famous’, ‘the brainy’, ‘the gorgeous’, there are new sub-groupings coming out such as ‘goth’, ‘emo’, ‘scene kid’, ‘hipster’, ‘wiccan’. (seems like coming from underground world, but true). These societies develop their own rules and regulations to compete and dominate over other societies thus maintain power. In order for a teenager to be accepted, to belong and to gain identity, it is most likely that he/she joins in any of these societies no matter what. This is happening as early as 9-12 years of age. In a way, this is an opportunity for some to shine, to develop friendships and camaraderie. However, these sub-groupings can also be a source of bullying to young people who do NOT fit in to the categories that these sub-groupings define.

There are a lot of efforts have been done and most of them are still going on. Government programs and funding for the development of the young people were mushrooming all over the place aside from the long standing GAA clubs. They provide venues for young people to involve in community work, opportunities for personal and skills development and opportunities for them to be listened to. Different youth clubs and after school programs are established to address young peoples’ issues and problems in the hope that they will be better persons for themselves, to others and the community.

However, in my observation having lived in this place for the last seven years, issues and problems still continue and maybe become more prevalent. There are not much happening in terms of really addressing young peo-ples’ anti-social behaviours and disrespect to the environment. As I have noticed, there are more rubbish thrown out everywhere in the last 3-5 years. Most of the young people do not care the world around them, they are only concerned for themselves. For me, there is something lacking in facilitating young people to express their spirituality, what they believe in and what they stand for in terms of their religious values.

Pope Francis in his exhortation ‘Joy of the Gospel’ points out (#64)“we are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data – all treated as being of equal importance – which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.” (#74) “what is called for is an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values. I think as Christians it is imperative for all of us to pursue what Pope Francis has challenged us.

For me, there is an urgent need to redefine our approaches in helping the spiritual formation of the young people to truly address their issues and concerns. Evangelization must gear towards stimulating the minds of the young people of what is the truth, real beauty and God and/or Divine Transcendent Being. I always believe that young people has so much to contribute in renewing and building up our basic institutions such as media, schools, church and families. For me, what is needed is to make young people genuinely feel they are accepted and that they belong in these institutions so they can have ownership thus become accountable and responsible in its development process. 

 During the last retreat that we have for the LIFETEEN, I was so amazed by how honest the young people are on how they see and relate to God in their lives. They have many questions and doubts about God's existence yet somehow believe that there must be a Being that is beyong their comprehension. For me, this moment is very critical. I hope that LIFETEEN has given that venue and opportunity for young people, in St. Joseph's and in Ballymun, to be who they truly are thus believing they can make real changes in their lives and the wider society.

Lorelie (left most), with Columban partners in mission

(This article first appeared in Laycom, August 2016)

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