Schools out and it’s summer time– which means some of our students believe it’s time to party. Right? Beastie Boys said it best: “You have to fight for the right to paaarttty.”
Whether we like it or not, most high school students are not only exposed to but engaged in the party scene. Nearly 10 million youths, ages 12 to 20, in the USA report they have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. But there is something deeper going on that goes way beyond just getting drunk.
In his book, Hurt, Chap Clark states: “Drinking is not about drinking; it is about community”. Adolescents see being in the party scene not only as a social ritual, but also as a place where they can be involved and be accepted. At the core of every adolescent is the longing to belong.
The reality of the party scene is not surprising, but affirming. The abuse of alcohol amongst the adolescent population is a difficult problem without a simple solution.
How can a small group leader address this partying and drinking issue?
Well…it is a step by step process.
There is no perfect program or book, no overnight fix, or insightful teaching that will automatically get adolescents to stop drinking. It is imperative to remember (although I forget a lot) the transformative power that the Holy Spirit brings, not the small group leader! Here are three different techniques I used as a SGL to begin to identify and address the partying issue within my group.
First, I assessed the alcohol usage in my group. I started by asking my few questions both collectively and individually. Oddly enough, my students did not have a problem sharing their alcohol experiences and party stories with me. Another way I have done this is by giving a survey which each student answered anonymously (either in open ended or multiple choice format). Some of the questions were: Where do you get alcohol? How many parties are there in a week? How much are you likely to drink at a party? Why do you drink? Do your friends drink? Walking away from the assessment I realized that 65% of the kids in my group were “partiers” and they were partying on Friday and Saturday nights. I also spend a lot of time on their social media profiles. This gives me a firsthand perspective of what happens on Friday and Saturday night. I have access to pictures, videos, and commentary that described the party from the night before.
Second, I remind my few: we are the children of God; we already and always belong to God. We don’t have to party to be accepted. I bring attention to the value of my students’ identity in Christ, rather than putting value on the identity imposed on them from the party scene. As a SGL, it is my desire to convince my few that they need to be authentic in who they are as followers of Christ.
Third, I planned a variety of weekend activities that encourage interaction and connection between students. In fact, these activities were open so students could invite their friends. I found that students party because they love social interaction, connection, and excitement; and these weekend gatherings gave the students those outlets–without the alcohol. Basically, whatever my small group enjoyed doing, we did. For example we went to the arcade, a baseball game, the movies, the bowling alley, paint balling, etc. The intention of these weekend nights was to demonstrate what authentic, sober connection looks like (with their friends and other adults who care for them outside of the church).
There are no overnight remedies to the alcohol problem. A few of your students will drink. The problem lies not with the alcohol alone, but with a genuine longing for community. Assess your students’ alcohol consumption. Simply accept them where they are. Give them opportunities to find a place to belong apart from the party scene. Above all, remember that the change must move from the inside out. We have to trust that God is at work inside their hearts.