The hypothesis of the study –– that adolescents make finer distinctions between levels of risk and reward than adults do –– contradicts much conventional knowledge about young people and risk taking, according to Reyna.
Those Risky Teenagers
“I’ve got a challenge for you. My theory is that those who are really dedicated to following Jesus, those who take some risks for their faith, will be rewarded. I can’t promise you what that reward will be, but I’ve learned that God will meet me there when I take a risk for Him.”
She heard her youth pastor say that. And she needed it to be true. What he didn’t know that night was just how on-the-fence she’d become about the whole “Jesus thing“– as her friends called it. Youth group had become a place to see her friends. But in this small town you see your friends at lunch just as much as you see them at youth group. Plus, the repetition of games and songs and a Bible teaching was getting on her nerves. She likes it all, sure, but it’s pretty much the same thing every Wednesday night for the past 4 years. She’s growing up and everything in her world is maturing, eating baby food while blind-folded just doesn’t feel as grown up as it did in seventh grade.
It wasn’t just youth group that was getting boring, so was following Jesus. Her youth pastor quips, “You were practically born in the nursery” and it’s kind of true. So much of her childhood is rooted in being at the church, being with families from the church, and doing things with her church friends.
But she’s wondering if it’s all true. Is a life with Jesus really better than a life without? Her friends at school who aren’t part of a church don’t seem all that different than her. She prays before a test and they don’t… and they get about the same grades. Her friends parents and her parents are basically the same, just without all the Christianese during their arguments. And Jesus sure isn’t helping her dating life… she’s just as lonely with Jesus as her friends seem without.
So when her youth pastor challenges her to take a risk, show up at a Bible study at the crack of dawn, and trust that Jesus will reward her… she has decided to take them up on that bet. She’ll show up to that Bible study, make her mom drag her there, and she’ll see what happens.
But the challenge is two-ways. She’ll take the risk. But if Jesus doesn’t show up at that coffee shop over the next few weeks… the only rationale thing left to do is bail. Bail on the Bible study. Bail on youth group. And bail on Jesus.
“I’m going to take this risk. But this is it. If Jesus doesn’t show up, I’m done.” That’s what she thinks as she writes her name on the sign-up sheet.
I love the study quoted above because it’s testing what I know about teenagers. They aren’t hardwired to take ridiculous risks, as so many studies claim. The teenagers I know and love make rational, hard decisions every day. Evaluating risk doesn’t seem to be a problem, but making decisions is hard because they lack experience, culture isolates them from adults, and parents struggle to connect.