and help them build their identities
--article by Cynthia T. Toney
All educators of teens read today’s young-adult novels.
Wait—what? You don’t?
Well, I don’t blame you for shying away from some of them, due to content that encourages behaviors we’d like our young people to avoid. Fortunately, good novels with a Christian and even specifically Catholic worldview are available for our teens. If you’re willing to take a few minutes to peruse their titles, back cover copy, and discussion questions (most have these!), you can begin matching appropriate novels to your students’ needs. And educators are often as familiar—if not more familiar—with issues troubling their students than the teens’ families are.
I came across an article on the website Focus on the Family that recommends families choose a motto, such as “We aren’t quitters.” This particular motto serves to inspire children to persevere because they belong to a “non-quitting” family. That idea can be transferred to the classroom, youth group, or home-school group. A motto can provide a sense of belonging, mutual support, and group identity. Teens feel less alone and more important in the lives of fellow students.
“We keep trying.”
“We tell the truth with love.”
“We help one another.”
“God never gives up on us.”
“We are God’s beloved.”
“We are called to be saints.”
Within these encompassing group identities lies the potential for the educator to ask a provocative question such as:
“What would you change about your life if you could?”
“What kind of problem in your community would you like to solve?”
“What would you like to change in your home or school environment?”
And that’s the adult’s chance to match a novel with a teen. Not just any book, but one that might show him or her, through characters’ thoughts and actions, how to better cope with a difficult situation or offer ideas for solving a personal problem. Maybe even change an attitude.
Students’ answers to the question(s) also provide an opportunity to discover what’s really on the shy or withdrawn teen’s mind and open up a discussion. Answers can be written on slips of paper, which can be dropped into a box. One can be pulled from the box to instigate class discussion, or the educator might later respond to each student personally, in writing, suggesting books to read. As an assignment, students might write a paragraph or more about what they learned from characters in the novel they were given or assigned.
When Catholic teens read wholesome, uplifting novels and see characters like themselves who struggle, doubt, question, and seek as they do but take appropriate courses of action, they learn to do the same. They can potentially avoid behaviors that will cause them trouble—or failure.
Consider the motto “We are problem solvers.” What a positive identity! Catholic Teen Books offers a number of novels for middle-school and high-school girls and boys that demonstrate the importance of trying to solve a problem (for yourself or someone else), of not giving up, and of trying again after failure. 8 Notes to a Nobody, The Perfect Blindside, Crusader King, Rightfully Ours, Saving Faith, Standing Strong . . .
Wouldn’t it be great to send teens out into the world with the confidence that they can not only find solutions for their own problems but also help others?