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I have now watched several teenagers slowly grow up and leave my house to start their own lives. They have each wanted to speed up that process, to hurry up and become who they were going to be. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, bestowed at Baptism and strengthened in Confirmation, give them exactly what they are looking for to be adults.
First, teens want competence — the ability to navigate the world on their own. That’s Wisdom.
Especially at election time, we see the push teens have to be part of the adult world, and we see the limitations that keep them back. They want to watch adult movies, use adult language and comment on the big issues. But they aren’t ready.
If they pray for it and cultivate it, God gives them what they want in Wisdom. This gift helps them to see the created world from God’s perspective, moving their heart toward his purpose.
They need this as a gift of God (we all do), because the world often substitutes delusions for wisdom. Teens’ eagerness to have a grasp of everything makes them susceptible to ideologies, “One size fits all” answers to problems. Wisdom corrects that.
Second, young people want to enter the “adult” world’s concerns and conversations. That takes Understanding.
“When you are young they assume you know nothing,” Taylor Swift sings in her new song “Cardigan.” Young people can relate. They want to understand how the world works, and to be taken seriously.
What they long for is Understanding, which gives insights into higher things. It lays bare those things which were hidden from us before, especially the spiritual truths that anchor our minds in God.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways,” said St. Paul about his spiritual maturation. The ultimate goal he gives is a clue to what our teens are looking for: To “understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”
Third, young people crave authenticity while simultaneously being inauthentic. They need Knowledge.
Teens live in a paradox in which they have a revulsion for what is “phony” or “fake” while at the same time wearing masks of sullenness or superficiality to hide their true selves and avoid being wounded by life.
What they really want is Knowledge. That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit that helps us share God’s judgement of the world, ourselves, and others.
Teens (and the rest of us, too) tend to toggle between thinking of themselves as wonderful or terrible. Knowledge corrects their pride by reminding them that they are mere servants in God’s vineyard, and corrects their self-loathing, reminding them that they are made in God’s image and likeness.
Fourth, young people want to change the world, and they are anxious to know how. Counsel tells them.
A “hunger and thirst for righteousness” comes naturally to teens. They are incensed by racism, sexism and injustice, and want to change it. We should be too.
What they need first, though, is Counsel, the gift of the Holy Spirit that provides moral clarity and gives shape and purpose to their dream of doing great things.
Counsel helps them see with clear eyes where justice really lies — and helps them not to be satisfied with counterfeits like virtue signaling, activism, partisanship and sentimentality.
Fifth, young people want autonomy. They want to be in control of their own lives. They need Fortitude.
Young people are tired of always being told what to do and how to act. But at the same time, they keep finding themselves in situations where they need to be rescued by their parents. The two phenomena become a vicious circle of too much independence followed by too much dependence.
What they want is the gift of Fortitude, courage based in God. Fortitude helps prevent false self-confidence and replaces it with the self-possession that comes from knowing God has their back.
Sixth, young people want to belong. They want to find a home they can rest in. That’s Piety.
Teens’ strong drive to belong to a group can lead them into bad places — cliques, social media addiction, or even gangs. It can lead them to good places like sports teams, clubs and youth groups, too.
The best place it can lead to is Piety. Pope Francis said Piety is not external show, but “our belonging to God, our deep bond with him, a relationship that gives meaning to our whole life and keeps us resolute, in communion with him, even during the most difficult and troubled moments.” It “makes us turn to the Father as his children” and to his people as “our brothers and sisters.”
Seventh, young people want to know their limits. They need Fear of the Lord.
This last one isn’t as obvious, but it’s true. Give young people free rein and they will be dissatisfied and unhappy. Give them clear rules that are not arduous but are firm, and they will thrive.
This is a longing for the Fear of the Lord, awe and respect for God and an understanding of the boundaries his Lordship places on life.
It helps us see that God is not a tyrant who thwarts us, but a protector whose law helps us thrive and deserves our respect.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Teenager, Jared Flickr.