Do We Infantilize Teenagers When We Call Them “Kids”?
This past weekend’s Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego had a lot of highlights for me: fantastic speakers, great seminars, fascinating conversations over meals and in the hotel hallways.
One of the more provocative statements for me was Dr. Robert Epstein’s encouragement at a “Big Room Session” to stop calling teenagers “kids”. As as a scholar, teacher, and the author of Teen 2.0, Dr. Epstein is deeply concerned about how our culture minimizes the competencies and responsibilities for teenagers. He asked the 2,000 leaders gathered in San Diego to come up with a different phrase for teenagers than “kids”. He said something to the effect of (my paraphrase): “Kids are goats before they hit puberty. After goats hit puberty, we don’t call them kids anymore; we call them goats. We need to stop calling humans who have hit puberty the term that is equated with the pre-pubescent form of a goat.”
I’ve been calling teenagers “kids” for a while. Why? Because they told me to.
In the mid-1990s as I was doing youth ministry, I avoided the term “kids”. I thought it was too young of a term for a teenager, so I called them “students”. Then I asked them which term they preferred and they actually wanted me to call them “kids”. They thought “students” sounded too “school-ish”.
So for about 15 years, I’ve been calling young people “kids”.
But Robert Epstein has me wondering. And in the 72 hours since I heard his presentation, I’ve found myself avoiding the term “kids”, and even correcting myself when I use it.
What do you think? What do your students think? I’m going to ask some of the students in our youth ministry about this this week.
These are exactly the sorts of questions we’ll be looking at during the Extended Adolescence Symposium in Atlanta hosted by the Youth Cartel on November 21, 2011. Dr. Epstein will be there, as will Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, the well-known scholar who coined the term “emerging adult”. Together, we’ll be looking at the extension of adolescence, and whether or not it’s inevitable, as well as whether or not it’s helpful or hurtful in our families and churches. I’ll be moderating what is sure to be a provocative discussion (especially given that Dr. Epstein and Dr. Arnett don’t see eye to eye on certain issues) and would love to have you join us. The Symposium is right after the next National Youth Workers Convention so you can do both with only one plane ticket.
Thanks for all you do for kids/young people/teenagers/students!
Posted October 04 2011 by