Are We Training Fleas (aka Teenagers) Not to Jump Too High?

Kara Powell | Oct 5, 2011

I have loved getting to know Kenda Creasy Dean, a member of the Practical Theology/Youth Ministry faculty at Princeton Seminary this last decade or so. She is smart, wise, authentic, deeply committed to teenagers and seminary students, and she laughs and smiles a lot.

Kenda presented some fantastic material at a Big Room session at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention this past weekend in San Diego. One of her themes was that mission is “translation” - we are translators of God’s love and grace to others.

For me, one of the most memorable parts of her talk was this video about training fleas. I had seen it before, but it’s a great reminder of how we condition ourselves and others (including teenagers), and how even when boundaries are removed, our conditioning keeps us from exploring and venturing forth.

What was most interesting to me about this video is how even the fleas’ offspring will not venture beyond the spot where the lid once was. So the conditioning lasts for generations.

All sorts of ways that we condition teenagers come to mind, but let me just focus on one: how we invite them to use their spiritual gifts. Or rather, how we don’t invite them to use their gifts and abilities.

We all know teenagers who have deep passions, skills, and abilities - ranging from computer-savvy students to brilliant musicians to teenagers who are masters at connecting with 6 year-olds. What would it look like for us to encourage those teenagers to jump? To not let the invisible lids that have prevented them from stretching their wings continue to do so?

What would it look like it every teenager in the U.S. somehow used their abilities in a new, helpful way this year? What would that mean for our country?

I’m no flea, but that makes me feel like jumping.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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