I am a youth worker who does this. Very often.
Mike Yaconelli once said the best thing any youth pastor could do is put a picture of themselves as a Junior Higher up in their office as a reminder. I haven't literally done this, but I will often stop and put myself back in my 7-12th grade years just to remember how I viewed life, what I was involved in, and where my focus on God was.
More times than not, I cringe. I was I also take great comfort in thinking about where I was at that time, and where God has taken me since. It's a little moment of assurance to remember those years, and the fact that I turned out okay.
"I turned out okay." You ever said that when thinking about a troubled teen. It can be a very comforting statement. God's meticulous providence and grace are much bigger than we often let them be. Students can and will make huge mistakes in their life and still recover/rebound. They are kids and there has to be room left for them to be kids. "I turned out okay" can be a statement of assurance that God is God and we are not.
At the same time, I have heard situations where "I turned out okay" makes me cringe more than my memories of Junior High. It can be a very dangerous statement when used in an apathetic or flippant manner. Some thoughts on what make this statement dangerous:
- Are you avoiding responsibility? When we see a teen in crisis, there may be the temptation to avoid conflict or the pain of challenging a teen's mindset. If you are a youth worker, it's your responsibility to shepherd your flock. If you are a parent, it's your responsibility to parent your kids. There is a time and place where you can and should step up and say, "I can't let you go down this road without speaking up" or "I'm not letting you get away with this stuff."
- What about the mess they're choosing right now? Why do we so quickly forget that God's path is the best path to take in the here and now and not just so we can get to heaven. Keep in mind that a teen living in rebellion/ poor choices/ unhealthy actions is living in SIN. SIN is painful and messy whether the SIN-ner wants to recognize it or not. Sure, they may turn out okay, but there's still pain in the moment and scars in the long run. Which brings me to my next question...
- Did you really turn out okay? I mean, yes I'm blessed, seeking after God, and He's very alive in my life. At the same time, I'd be lying to say I'm not still dealing with the consequences of some of the bad choices and patterns from my teen years. So my life is turning out "okay", but there are situations I walked through that turned our far from "okay." Why would I not want to offer assistance to those potentially heading into "not okay" situations?
- What if they don't turn out okay? Maybe you turned out okay, but there are those who haven't. 12 years at the same church gives me a decent amount of case studies to show that not everyone turns it around. There's been some amazing turnarounds. I can think of a former student who will get baptized on Easter that is an AMAZING story of someone who is "turning out okay." Yet, there's some other, nearly nightmarish stories that are, at this point, far from "turning out okay."
- The former student who is in prison for dealing meth.
- The former student who was murdered two months after graduation in a drug deal gone bad.
- The former student with three children from three different men.
- The former student who hates the church and his parents, because, he tells me, nobody reached out to him when he's hurting.