The moral world of our Orthodox teens has changed. Our teens are changing with it. I first noticed this shift almost a decade ago while discussing sex outside of marriage with a small group of teens at summer camp.
One girl rose up and strenuously asserted that sex outside of marriage was not wrong if both partners love each other. She wasn't the child of parents who had only a social relationship with the Church. She was raised in Sunday School. Her parents were active members. She was bright and articulate.
But she would not be deterred. The fact that the scriptures, the moral teachings of our Church, and the words of other responsible adults contradicted her made little impact. In her view, moral behavior was a private choice with no broader reference to any rule, tradition, or authority. Her morality was completely shaped by secular teen culture. She had an MTV mind.
She isn't alone. More and more of our young people think just like her. They suffer from a paucity of moral clarity that the generation that preceded them didn't share. The previous generation certainly had its share of troubles but they were more clear about right and wrong. The present generation is more confused.
This confusion is especially prevalent in sexual matters. One reason is that teens are fed a diet of relentless promiscuity through the teen media.
Watch popular prime time programs like "Friends." Watch MTV. Listen closely to the lyrics of much popular music. Check out the catalogs from Abercrombie and Fitch. Read some magazines geared to teens, especially girls. Almost every corner of the youth culture has been sexualized.
The sexualization of our youth has reached a crisis point. The merchants who populate teen culture have no regard for the spiritual or moral health of the teens they sell to. Teens hear almost no voices challenging the sexualized relationships the media imposes. Some parents aren't even aware of the words and images their children are exposed to. Teens can lose their way here and many have.
Confusion about morality creates a weak moral compass. Teens who are confused about right and wrong are less aware of the physical and emotional damage that doing wrong can cause. They become victims of their own inexperience. Teens with moral clarity develop a stronger moral compass. They can see more clearly the consequences of wrong decisions before those decisions are made.
Ask yourself - really ask yourself: Do I want my child adopting the values of self-gratification that the teen media imposes? Is the sexualization of children something I must accept? Do I want my child to develop an MTV mind?
Several years ago The Search Institute, a Minneapolis research group that studies the moral lives of children, isolated three factors in the lives of teens who successfully navigated the minefield of teen culture. The teens who avoided sex outside of marriage, drug use, and the other enticements that the teen media promotes had these things working for them: 1) a relationship with a stable adult in addition to their parents; 2) peers who shared the same moral values; and 3) a religious grounding.
Our society needs mature men and women with clear voices about right and wrong to teach our youth right from wrong. We can start in our own parish.
With vision and leadership our parishes can become a place that equips out teens to recognize and stand against moral harm. Adults with a sound morality who are capable of forming healthy friendships with teens can be found there. Moral friendships between teens can be nurtured there. Our Orthodox faith can be authentically lived and taught there.
When parents and other clear thinking adults muster the moral courage to stand against those forces that would corrupt our teens, we give our teens a fighting chance. Families will grow stronger and so will the parish. Our children don't need an MTV mind. They need a mind of their own. They need strong adults on their side.
Fr. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Diocese of America. Copyright © 2002 Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse