As a campus minister, I walk daily with students through the mundane and magnificent aspects of their lives. I counsel them on relationships, pray with them about vocation and calling, work with them through faith crises, and try to help them figure out whether or not a boy is flirting with them or just friendly. They come into my office with problems of all shapes and sizes, both significant and silly, but they are all problems that need solving.
Students today have weakened problem solving skills. They are increasingly unable to find the answers to their questions, resolve their conflicts, overcome obstacles and move forward in relationships, leadership and discipleship when faced with resistance or difficulty of any degree. They are very good at talking about what is wrong or hard or maddening, but often lack the ability to think creatively or strategically about how to make things right or better or a little less crazy. Students come into my office and dump their frustrations and failures out like a box of puzzle pieces and then just look at me. They expect me to tell them what to do, what to say, how to feel, how to pray, but I refuse. Instead, I begin to ask them questions…trying to lead them to their own conclusions, resolutions and epiphanies. This generation craves a quick prescription to fix what ails them, but what they need is for us to teach them how to work it out on their own.
As a mother, I am determined to raise problem solvers. From the time my girls were old enough to talk, I encouraged them to work beyond simply stating problems: “I’m thirsty, she isn’t sharing, I’m bored, I can’t find my shoes, etc.” I would affirm their ability to articulate the problem, but would then ask if they could think of a solution. Over time, they learned how to progress from distressing over the current situation to delighting in their capacity to problem solve on their own. When asked about solutions, they began to respond: “May I have something to drink, can we take turns playing with that toy, I’d like to play a game with you, can you help me look for my shoes, etc.” My hope is that as they mature they will have confidence in their ability to solve problems — sometimes with very little effort and sometimes with great determination and divine help.
As parents, mentors and ministers, we are often so eager to protect our youth from disappointment, difficulty and defeat that we rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow through the struggle. When they say, “I’m thirsty”, we fix them something to drink. When they lament that they don’t have enough money to buy the latest “iGadget” we purchase it for them. When they struggle because they don’t know what God wants for their life, we try to sketch it out for them. Our children do not learn how to ask (people or God) for what they need or how to overcome challenges with creativity, sacrifice and discipline. Instead, they become conditioned to simply announce their problem and wait for someone to fix it. Our actions lead them to believe that the world will intuit what they need and provide it, but that is not reality. Our good intentions create students that are paralyzed by problems — unsure how to move forward, uncertain what their responsibilities are and unable to handle the disappointment.
As a part of the emotional development and spiritual formation of our youth, we need to give attention to the importance of problem solving. Consider the wealth of examples in Scripture (Moses, Joseph, Esther, the prophets, the persistent widow, Mary, Peter, Paul, etc.) There is story after story of individuals working and worshipping their way through difficulties, seeking God and solving problems. They do not idle; they pray, they fast, they ask, they plan, they move, they fall, they repent, they persist, and eventually they find their way. These are the models we want to hold up for our youth so they can become the model for the world.
April Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Samford University and a Master of Theological Studies from Duke University. She is a qualified administrator of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and has been a campus minister for 11 years. She is a mother of three daughters and wife of one wonderful husband.