When I was in HS my nickname was, the “Goody. Goody.” I hated it. It made me feel small and like I just wasn’t part of the in crowd. If you have no idea what that phrase means then you were not the one in your own High School who was categorized as an “innocent.” We are the ones in High School who don’t seem up on the newest song, youtube video, video game, television show or movie. This of course is not true. We have many favorites in all sorts of categories but we may have fallen into that group of kids who aren’t allowed to read certain book series about magic or vampires. The reality is on the outside looking in we just don’t appear very edgy which of course means we also are not thought of as a cool kid. Now this may be the student of which every youth pastor and parent dreams, but somehow you feel like an outcast when a bunch of peers give you the title.

Recently, several cases have made the news of teens sending nude photos to each other and basically collecting and trading them like a form of baseball card. In the past week I have talked with two youth pastors from different areas of the country (and not in the states that made the news) where this is happening as well. There are a rash of youtube videos called, “Shrek is Love Shrek is Life,” that students think are funny in which the idea alone, much less the visuals will make your stomach turn. Let’s suffice it to say, it’s not the Shrek of Dreamworks. These sound like extreme cases but I talk to church leaders often locally and globally who are wondering how to deal with these topics. This doesn’t even touch on the popularity of graphically violent and sexual television shows, crazy movies and lyrics to songs which make you go, “HUH?”

We youth leaders have a tendency to believe the more wholesome a student, the more they will get pummeled out in the real world. At the same time we are asking them to stand out and be different from those who don’t know Christ. Really which is it? I think it’s time to actually encourage the pure of heart to stay that way.

How do we encourage the innocent it’s a good thing (and the rest it’s not so bad):

Encourage Them

It stinks to get made fun of. I know one girl who will tell me, “I have chosen to sort of live under a rock. I don’t need to see or do things that are inappropriate. It also doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with that.” The tension is about fitting in. Many students who make the choices to look or engage in these sorts of things just want to be able to follow the conversations of the hallways. YET, the question is one of the heart. Who does it really belong to? If it’s the Lords it may mean you know about what’s going on but don’t engage in it. Let them know that’s actually a good thing.

There Are Always Consequences

Those students in the news are currently in court cases exploring whether they will be charged with felonies including possession of nude pictures of a minor. If this happens they will potentially become registered sex offenders, yes as teens. When we make a choice to explore the “naughty” there is always a consequence. Once you read something inappropriate or see the movie, those images are stuck in your head. You can reclaim your heart but you don’t have to lose it in the first place.

Give Them An Outlet

Let them have a place where they are allowed to be oblivious of pop culture sometimes. In an effort to connect, we like to discuss the latest and greatest in youth programming. I am not talking about ignoring culture. Just maybe it’s ok to let them have spaces where they are allowed to just be free and innocence is embraced. So for example before you have an ice breaker this week asking, “What’s your favorite horror movie?” think about the fact some of your students may have never or choose never to see one.

It’s a fine line to walk on being aware of the world and staying naive to the details. We talk a lot in our group on how to navigate all that is bombarding us, choices and accountability. Jesus was entirely aware of the culture around Him, but he had no desire to be undone by it. He wasn’t ever one of the “cool kids.” It wasn’t easy, but I am so glad that He maintained His lack of sin. It changed everything. If this is who we are teaching them to follow, then why are we so reticent to let them be exactly like Him? Let’s help them learn to navigate this world, but they don’t have to be part of it. Not really.

Innocence Good or Bad?