Dr. Chap Clark’s 3 Ways to Enter the World Beneath

They won’t care even if you told them!” Teens told the researchers.

Teens are hurting and feel systematically abandoned so they have retreated to a world beneath –hidden from adults. This is what researcher and youth ministry practitioner Dr. Chap Clark discovered in a participant observer study of teens, published as Hurt and Hurt 2.0.

How do parents and other concerned adults show that they care by entering into the world of adolescents? Clark did it and gives us some ways to do so ourselves.


Clark’s study began with him becoming a substitute teacher in a high school and telling students that he was writing a book for adults about what teenage life was like from the student point of view.

All of us can remember a high school teacher, or a coach who really listened to students and worked with them on committees. They treated teens as members of a team. They didn’t stop being an adult but through being part of their world they earned the trust of students and eventually teens would open up about their home life, relationships, and their problems.

Participating in their world may require volunteering. It means being in the right place at the right time. It means shared experiences like camping, or hiking, shopping trips, or chaperoning.

Even if it is your own child you have to establish trust. Youth For Christ is famous for the statement “earn the right to be heard.” Since there is something secretive about the texting, snapchat world of teens, any access by an adult needs to be valued.

The exciting thing for adults who are trusted to hear the stories and share in uncensored emotions of teens, is that word will get out that you can be trusted.


And when Clark says communicate he means listen. Students do not feel that they are being heard or taken seriously. How do they react? –They mumble what parents want to hear and go back to their electronic devices.

It can be difficult enough to communicate with your own son or daughter. To get some level of conversation going with teens that doesn’t sound like an interrogation may require doing something together as mindless as watching the walking dead.

Openness to talk can come through in unexpected moments. My daughter drew me into a conversation with one of her friends a few times. I was shocked but happy to be trusted in this way.


Clark takes issue with the “popular myth that many of us have grown up with: the idea of a single role model. He stresses that “Every adult must attempt to add to the cumulative message of protection, nurture, warmth, and affection. (182)

To me, what he is saying, is that every student is a “group project.” According to Clark, “It takes several if not dozens of consistently supportive and encouraging messages to counteract the effects of systemic abandonment.  By far the best way to help our young is being a chorus of support and a choir commitment.(183)

I have seen some excellent churches do exactly what he is talking about. The youth are honored each week. Instead of sharing the horrible headlines of nasty things teens have done this week, the pastor scours the community newspaper and mentions students who have been celebrated for civic, academic or athletic achievement.

As we have moved away from close communities and large families with lots of aunts and uncles, both sets of grandparents, we need friends of the family to affirm each youth.

To compensate for the extended family, some churches include the children and teens of small group members when they get together. The parents in the small group make it their responsibility to get to know the other members’ kids. They say hi to them at church and in the community. There is a sense that these other parents become like aunts and uncles to the kids.

Another way that Clark wants adults to advocate on behalf of youth is that we break the silence about the hurt that teens experience from “systematic abandonment.” Speaking out for the needs of teens, helping other parents to speak up as well, and being a voice in the community championing the cause of teens, will help them to regard us as people who actually care.

Going Under?

These are just broad strokes to touch upon some of the ideas in Hurt 2.0.  I encourage you to read Chap Clark’s book that provide an eye opening look beneath the surface to see the world of teens. It is very much worth the time to read. At the same time we can work on finding ways to participate with students, listen when they are ready to talk, and be a voice in our sphere of influence to find ways to connect teens with caring adults.




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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com