I can’t think of a better place to people watch than the county fair. All God’s children show up to enjoy the exhibits and food. So do their parents and grandparents and even their dogs. And I’ve come to the conclusion that many fairgoers enjoy being exhibits, themselves. Because I see enough butt cheeks and cleavage during fair week to send me searching for the nearest eye wash station.
One group that vies for best in show seems to be teenage girls. Herd’s of ‘em careen across the midway in see-through shirts and Daisy Dukes that clearly show what their mama gave them. My instinct is to click my tongue and wonder what mother would turn their child loose in these get ups. I also wonder if those poor girls chafe in the heat. But that’s another story.
When I flash back to my fair experience as a teen, it stops my critical spirit in its tracks. As an adolescent, I hopped the fence and prowled the fairgrounds with my pack of friends to search for food and fun. I’m sure I wore whatever I thought would attract male attention. And odds are I had a ciggie in my hand to boot. So I can’t exactly throw stones.
There’s definitely a conversation worth having about modesty and the over sexualization of youth culture. But when I see teens grasping for affirmation and worth, whether it’s manifested in skimpy dress or some other form, I have to remind myself that the condition of their hearts matters far more than the length of their shorts. And as a longtime teacher of teenagers, I can attest that one’s manner of dress doesn’t always correlate to their intellect, potential or even their morals.
The truth is, all of these teens – obnoxious, smoking cigarettes, scantily clad and otherwise- are created in the image of God. They have immeasurable value and potential. Their young hearts are desperate for truth. My posture towards them can’t be one of accusation and criticism. Odds are they get plenty of that from each other – they don’t need it from me.
So rather than wondering what parent lets their child tromp around in lingerie, I try to simply smile and pray those girls have adults to love them where they are and point them to Jesus. Beyond that, I need to hold myself accountable and ask who I am connecting with and pouring into.
Because there is no shortage of young girls in my life who need to hear they are beautiful and worthy and talented and valued.
The truth is, adolescence is hard. Studies tell us this generation of youth is confused, disconnected, hungry for attention and depressed. Kids are going to make age appropriate mistakes in their dress, their speech and their choices. That’s no reason to throw our hands up in despair and give up on them.
Rather than being critical of young girls expressing their hunger for attention, why not invest in them? Why not dig in and come alongside them in big and small ways? Why not offer encouragement and affirmation whenever we can?
I wonder where I’d be without the adults who spoke truth into my life. The teachers who saw past my sassy mouth. My grandmother who cheered me on and taught me to love the Word. The adults who held me accountable but did it with a measure of patience and grace. My church family who showed me unconditional love and pointed me to uncompromising truth about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Caring adults got me through my turbulent teen years. And I am grateful they didn’t dismiss me a lost cause.
So whether the kids I meet are scantily clad or wearing long denim jumpers, I want be a smiling face, not a condemning one. And as much as I can, I want to use the influence God gives me to speak encouragement and truth into young hearts and minds wherever and however I find them.