more than our brains

In a flurry of last minute Greek Exam studying procrastination, my eyes landed on this little post on the Fuller Youth Institute Blog. I want to give Kara Powell, the executive director of FYI, the full benefit of the doubt, but I'm still struck that this article reduces teenagers to their IQ scores and parenting is reducted to the task of raising scores. She says,
As a parent and youth leader, I’m so encouraged by what this study suggests.  Previous brain research has made it seem that most all of brain development ends at about age 6.   If you weren’t reading and/or stretching your kids’ thinking between birth and Kindergarten, it was too late.
If there was a club for “Parents Who Read As Much As They Could Do Their Young Kids But Wish They Could Have Done More,” my husband and I would easily become members.  So this theme in recent neurological research means we all still have time.
Time. While this study doesn’t cite the causes of IQ development, I’m guessing that children and teenagers often become more critical thinkers when adults take the time to talk with them, listen to them, ask them questions.  And then repeat the cycle:  talk with them, listen to them, ask them questions.
What can you do in the next few days to try to go deeper in conversation with a child or teenager?
I cannot believe that she would agree with the implication that we engage young people in conversation with the sole purpose of raising IQ scores, yet the implication is there. Unhindered and seemingly unseen. We put so much pressure on children to perform and on parents to raise performing children, true selves are lost underneath all of the assessments, scores, and participation ribbons.

Even while the church is attentive to research and to educational theory and to sociological trends, we must never lose sight of the deepest truth that defines our ministry to all people, young and old. This truth is that we have each been created in the image of God and however we may have mucked that image up, it is restored through the person of Christ. This communal identity shapes, forms, and informs all that we do. Scores, assessments, and studies have little bearing on us because in Christ we are made complete. Garnering a higher IQ score won't make a teenager a better student, a better human, or a better image bearer.

Brains and bodies matter because they bear God's image and form Christ's body, but the minute we begin to prioritize brains over bodies or bodies over brains, we lose sight of the fullness of our humanity. In ministry to young people, we must resist the temptation to reduce them to their accomplishments, their promise, their future vocation, their athletic prowess, or their failures. Each person in our churches, in our families, in our classrooms is an image-bearer worthy of our time, patience, consideration, and love. Regardless of whether or not our efforts will produce measurable fruit.

As I return to my last minute exam cram session, I go freely knowing that the few points I might earn from these moments of review will not define my person in God's eyes, in my church's eyes, in my family's eyes, or in my friends' eyes. I will do my best to the glory of God and will set aside my ambition and anxieties to be the best. For those ambitions and anxieties dishonor the image of God created and restored in me. May we all continue struggling towards this freedom.


Sarah said...

Thanks for this, Alaina. I whole-heartedly agree with you. Even in my own family, I've observed how something akin to this emphasis on performance, even when it is well-intentioned, can have a deeply negative impact on children and youth that lasts well into adulthood. Part of what terrifies me about the thought of having kids someday is that I want to encourage them to be their best, to be all that God has created and equipped them to be, yet I realize my own preoccupation with performance can pervert that desire even at its best. I think I need to be able to rest in the assurance you've expressed quite a bit more myself.

eileen said...

This is a very important thing to articulate. I have been thinking recently about the ways that my own obsession about my performance can negatively impact by ability to be present to somebody else--which, incidentally, is the whole point of acquiring this particular degree. It's so easy to let the suspicion that we're just *not enough* impact our ability to *be enough* (with God's help).