Reason to Engage #1: Step into the Uncomfortable

converse-2072415_1280Reason to Engage #1: Adults Should Be Willing to Step into the Uncomfortable

Why would any adult who cares about, raises, counsels, teaches, or works with kids watch the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why?

Because you care about young people. Because you know it’s hard to be a kid today (and a parent). Because you know kids need to be seen, known, and not left alone.

Kids need to be seen, known, and not left alone.

This show dramatically presents various realities students of all ages experience. It helps kids to see fictional characters dealing with some of the treachery and risks they are familiar with already.  It gives them a voice and a context (“Why is this happening to me?”). It models, for kids who silently struggle, the need to confide in someone. “Healthier” or more caring peers may be inspired to take risks to support and engage struggling friends or classmates. 13 Reasons Why intends to set up helpful, if awkward, conversations and relationships.

Reason #1 to Engage: Adults involved with kids should be willing to do what the adults in the show were not willing to do—the uncomfortable. Step into the darkness. Engage their culture. Let them know you see and you care.

girl-1103878_640The show had impact on me as a parent and a counselor. Watch the show and you will see parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, and counselors involved with the kids, the school and the community. Powerful soul-shaping dramas occur under their watch and they neither see, do, nor say much if anything. They are unengaged. Aloof.

If a teenager falls down in mud, most adults wouldn’t hesitate to step into the mud to try and help them back up again. Would it be uncomfortable? Messy? Inconvenient maybe? Sure! But it would be worth it.

Yet when it comes to tough issues, many adults are hesitant to engage. Or we may just be so disconnected we miss the opportunity to engage effectively. No matter how uncomfortable it may seem, it will always be worth it to engage vs. disengage from a teen’s pain.

When it comes to tough conversations many adults are hesitant to engage.

The show 13 Reasons Why is an indictment of adults and peers who could’ve done so much more. If just one person had done something perhaps tragedy could have been averted. While it may be tempting to criticize the show’s creators for crossing unnecessary lines and potentially harming kids, we should also look at ourselves and ask, “What am I ignoring, avoiding, naive about or fearful of addressing?” 

While gaining admittance into the world of kids (and earning their trust) is no easy feat, we have to admit we could do much more.

What a Ministry Taught Me About Engaging Adolescents

I came to believe in the person of Jesus Christ and His work through the ministry of Young Life. These are a few of the concepts that launched Young Life in 1941:

  • The majority of adolescents will never willingly enter the doors of the church (let alone other “grown up” arenas), nor are they likely to seek out adults for help and guidance unsolicited.
  • But adolescents deserve to hear and experience God, in flesh, who knows and cares, and who gets the darkness in each of our worlds or sub-cultures, and wants to help us navigate that darkness.
  • That means that caring adults, of all ages, have to “cross over” into the adolescent culture and “win the right to be heard” by demonstrating consistent presence, support, awareness and a provocative curiosity.

As a high school student, I responded to Young Life, specifically because some adults cared enough about kids to repeatedly and thoughtfully engage the adolescent culture to build relationships. Eventually, I began to lower my defenses and let them in.

Yes, the show 13 Reasons Why is dark, difficult, and at times excessive. I’m not condoning every message or portrayal in the series. But if adults want to reach those who need love most, who need Jesus most, we must engage.

If adults want to reach those who need love most, who need Jesus most, we must engage even when it is uncomfortable.

Leave the comfortable, the familiar, the known to help those who may be lost. Step into the “mud.” Enter the darkness. It’s what Jesus did. Why should we do any less?


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