Teens are not Retarded (except the ones who are)

I know, I know, retarded is not politically correct but somehow a title like “Teens are not Cognitively Impaired” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. At least I didn’t say, “Teens are not Retards.” That would have been in poor taste, and I certainly couldn’t have followed it with “(except the ones who are)” without getting in a world of hot water. So, I settled for “retarded” as the best alternative. So much for the disclaimer.

Teens are not retarded (it sounds a lot better now, doesn’t it?). Despite that, much of the Church treats them as if they were. Consider this gem I plucked from my Twitter feed. It’s from a youth meeting, and admittedly I am lacking the context, but let’s just consider it on the surface: “If you make an observation, you have an obligation.” Really? Are we yet again going to tell teens what they need to do, or think, or believe, or behave? Wouldn’t we be much better served by trying to teach them how to go about making decisions for themselves? I guarantee you they are doing so already, sometimes with dire consequences. Why are we still stuck on telling anyone what they must do?

As someone who has worked as a pastor, I know only too well that many people are very good at bringing leaders problems and expecting them to solve them. I will never forget the look on my first staff person’s face when she raised a complaint during worship and I asked her what she was going to do to solve that problem. My point was that in a community setting if you are going to raise a problem you should be prepared to offer a solution and participate in executing it – but you always have the option to decide that it’s not that big a deal anyway, even if your only motivation is that you’re too lazy to want to be a part of the solution. That’s fair enough.

That’s very different from approaching anyone – from young adults to geriatrics and everyone in between – and saying that if “x” happens you must respond with “y.” Why? Because it’s a lie, that’s why. There is nothing in this world that compels you to get off your skinny, average, buff, or big fat butt for any reason (you know your butt better than I do). We are human beings with free will and we have both the right and the responsibility to make informed choices about our responses – and let’s be clear, doing nothing is still a response – to life’s situations. In fact, most of America is only too eager to leap into action before assessing the situation, especially if the action has to do with flapping their jaws back and forth. Too many of us shoot off our mouths before checking to see if our brains are loaded – which means we don’t consider the alternative responses against our values and make a considered choice. In fact, it is perfectly valid to observe a problem and recognize that I am not the one best suited to addressing it given my skills, abilities, and interests. I may be very concerned about the field of physics, but I am the last one you want showing up at the lab.

Rather than give our teens – and our children – maxims and formulas, why don’t we teach them how to make their own decisions? Why don’t we teach them to apply their values and beliefs to situations and allow them to decide for themselves what the best response is? Of course, they will occasionally make mistakes – but mistakes are how human beings learn. Can we loosen the apron strings enough to allow them to make non-lethal mistakes and move toward independence, or are we so afraid of their looming independence that we would rather continue to treat them as if they were retarded and in doing so alienate them even more than we already have?

I’m afraid I know that answer those in power in the Church would likely give. Perhaps it’s time for an insurrection.

4 thoughts on “Teens are not Retarded (except the ones who are)

  1. This is a particularly touchy subject for me as it was during my most impressionable years – teen years – that I was taught to not ever trust my self, my intuition or my mind. I was taught that there was always going to be someone to look to for the correct answer; you guessed it, a pastor. I was taught that certain kinds of thinking were “dangerous” and being an already naturally scared kind of person, this petrified me. What if I started thinking about the wrong thoughts? What craziness. I’m 36 now and only in the budding stages of using my mind the way it was intended. And my heart for that matter.

    1. It seems to me that our teen years are difficult enough without others trying to turn us in to carbon copies of themselves! Programming, no matter the kind, takes longer to remove than it does to install.

  2. I’m shocked that a pastor would be so flippant with a slur like retarded. This has nothing to do with political correctness. It’s about showing a little dignity and respect to the most vulnerable among us. If someone with an Intellectual Disability is asking us not to use retarded, why not? Bet you don’t use other slurs, yet you give retarded a pass and want a pat on the back that you didn’t say retard. Sorry to tell you but ignorance is the greatest disability of all. Bet even Jesus would be disappointed in you.

    1. Obviously, I hit a trigger of yours, and for that I apologize. However, I would like to point out a few things I believe you have not considered. The first is that I did not use the term to refer to anyone with a cognitive delay or disability. I had the privilege of working with developmentally disabled adults as well as individuals across the spectrum of mental illness, and understand their circumstance and the challenges they face better than the average person. The very fact that I mentioned my usage was not politically correct indicates that I was fully aware of what I was doing. I was not, in fact, looking for a pat on the back.

      Social critique involves the use of hyperbole and attention grabbing titles, language and headlines at times, and in my case often involves a bit of sarcasm and pushing the envelope. Often, the purpose is making people aware of how absurd their treatment of other people really is. In context, I do not believe the post to which you refer to be inappropriate. I also disagree that I used a “slur” because for a word to be a slur it has to be applied to a group of people who find it offensive. Again, I was not writing about people with developmental or cognitive issues, except to the extent that one could argue that anyone who doesn’t see teens as intelligent human beings certainly has some issues.

      Finally, your implication that I don’t show dignity and respect to the most vulnerable among us indicates to me that you have read very little of my writing and no nothing of the work I do outside this blog. Perhaps rather than rush to judgment and sling accusations you would be better served to engage someone in conversation about what they have written so that you can come to an informed conclusion.

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