When our Quaker children become teenagers our meetings lose touch with them. They seem to disappear into the abyss of websites, soccer games, and iPods. I’ve heard parents say that their 14-year-old’s schedule is so full, they feel he needs to sleep in on Sunday.
I feel that our teenagers need Quaker guidance even more than when they are younger. In 2001 our meeting started a program called "Friendly Partners" to match adults in the meeting with children when they become 12 years old. Girls are paired with women and boys with men. As the first event, we arranged for the group of six adults and six youth to work an evening at a soup kitchen. We hoped the partners would set up biking, day trips, and service projects such as Habitat for Humanity to help mentor the youth.
My teenage son helped work on his partner’s boat, painting it for the season. Later that summer they went out fishing together. Other pairs continued working at the soup kitchen, planting at the meetinghouse, or beading necklaces together. The entire group participates together in the annual Boston AIDS walk. We hoped that some of these encounters would bring up wonderings and talk of God, faith, or moral issues.
Our premise has been that as teens distance themselves from their parents, other adults need to step in to show that they care. Our meetings need youth, and we must say so directly to them and mean it. Also, we as a meeting have been un-certain about when the appropriate time is to ask a young person if they want to join meeting. If the young adult is in college, with little contact with the meeting, that’s an awkward time to ask them to join meeting. Many times we had never reached out to them when they were living locally.
After a careful screening of volunteers, we asked Friendly Partners for a yearlong commitment, with a willingness to extend it in the future. Parents gave their consent for the match. Most pairs have stayed together over the years. One single mother invited the adult Quaker over to dinner to hang out, without any agenda. The 16-year-old boy surprised the adults by playing his guitar for them.
We asked Friendly Partners to meet three or four times a year and that they pray for each other in whatever form suits them. We also asked that when the youth is 17, or a senior in high school, the teen be willing to do a project at the meeting with any help needed from their Friendly Partner. For most, this has been a description of their life as a Quaker up to this point. They give their testimony at a 30-minute forum to which the entire meeting is invited.
Sometimes the pairs drift apart and sometimes the youth eschews meeting. The adult partner lets them know that the young person can call anytime or just go out and get a pizza.
What structure does your meeting have to stay in touch with its youth, even when they curl their nose up at First-day school?