Talking to kids about Kony

Jodie McNeill

Given the frenzy around Kony 2012, there's not much more to add, especially after this great piece yesterday by Jim Wackett.

However, in the midst of this social media circus, it's worth giving thought to how we should speak to our children and youth about this issue.

Here are seven things I think we should note when talking to kids about Kony 2012:

1. Don't show the video to young people

Remember that this video is quite graphic at points. It should carry an 'M' rating, at very least. It shows mutilated faces, and shows the raw emotion of a young boy dealing with the painful murder of his brother.

This is not the kind of thing to beam up on the big screen for your junior-high group this Friday night, unless you are very careful to censor and debrief with precision.

If you were showing my Year 8 and 9 daughters this video in my youth group, I'd want the opportunity to give permission before letting them see this confronting video presentation.

2. Show the video to young people.

Even though it's graphic and alarming, it is good for the bubble-wrapped generation to see that the world is still full of evil.

Helping kids see that there is more to the world than Westfields and iPhones is an important message for them.

It can also be a real catalyst for global prayer, which is a great outcome if you can achieve it in your youth group.

However, probably better they watch it in the comfort of their own home under the supervision of their parents (see point 1).

3. Don't tell the youth what to do

Youth don't want simplistic answers. They want to be treated as mature, analytical young adults. They are not convinced by simple, saccharine solutions to the almost insoluble problems facing humanity.

You might have an opinion about whether or not the organisation Invisible Children is following the best possible strategy in bringing healing and justice to those affected by Kony's war crimes. But, there are others out there who hold a completely-opposite-equally-strongly-held opinion, and it's worth helping them hear that, too.

So, tell the youth to search Google, follow the links, and talk about what they come up with. This is an important skill for them to learn as young and growing Christians in an evil and complex world.

4. Tell the youth what to do

At the same time, youth need answers. Maybe they might not listen to their parents much anymore, but they'll be sure to be listening to someone else about how they should react to the Kony phenomenon. Maybe you're the old person they choose to listen to for wisdom about their complex world?

Tell them what you feel and why, and give them wisdom if their conclusions are way off. If some seventeen year olds decided to sell their belongings to buy a one-way ticket to Uganda and a semi-automatic rifle to join a militia against Kony, you might want to give them some insight as to the possible consequences of their decisions.

5. Don't be cynical

As an aging Gen X'er, I was quick to stop and analyse the social media phenomenon. I was stunned at how fast the viral message spread, and stood at awe with the skill and expertise shown by the creators of the campaign.

I also quickly entered into the debate about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the attempt to use these resources to see the arrest of a man whose impact is now only a shadow of what it was a decade ago.

But the youth don't really care for the cynicism of the old fogey who just sit around debating things. They want action. They see a genuine need and they want to get into solving the problem right now.

Cynicism only alienates us from the youth who need our wisdom.

6. Be cynical

It's good for the optimistic, wide-eyed youth to realise that they should be careful about what they consume online and that they should take a deep breath before clicking 'like' for yet another 'cause'.

Helping them understand the complexity of the issue can help them realise the complexity of life, and prepare them well for years of wise living.

It's also good for them to know that they can't change the world by wearing a bracelet, even though it can be a powerful means of communication.

7. Bring it all back to the cross of Christ

In the end, Kony 2012 is all about dealing with an horrific injustice. It pulls on all of our heart strings when we see the havoc this evil man has allegedly perpetrated. We want to see him brought before a court and tried and punished.

However, it's not a bad idea to remind young people that the ultimate injustice happened at the cross of Christ... the innocent was punished, the guilty were set free. Help them see that the most important thing that can happen to a person is to be forgiven of their sin, and that even bringing all of the evil men and women of this world to justice on earth is not as important as the world hearing of the forgiveness that comes through Jesus.

When all is said and done...

Youth are confusing and confused. Simple answers don't cut it. We old fogeys need to enter the ambiguity if we are wanting to engage with the mind of the younger generations.

Recognise that the youth follow their feelings more than ever before, and will be strongly impacted by Kony 2012. Don't underestimate that. But don't leave them to their own (mobile) devices. Lead them with wisdom and point them to Jesus 2012 and 2013 and...

Jodie McNeill is part of the team at Youthworks.

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