On the night of Friday April 19th, I was pulled into the Boston Bomber’s manhunt.
I was glued to the TV watching authorities search for Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev. I actually downloaded the Boston police departments scanner app so I could get real, live up-to-date information straight from the source. When the FBI found Jahar in the boat, I was so relieved.
One of the most intriguing and confusing things about Jahar is that he was a cool and charming kid with a hopeful future but he still detonated a bomb that killed 3 people and injured 264. Nobody saw the deep hurt he was masking or the monster he was becoming.
I became obsessed with researching the life of “suspect #2”. I wanted to know the driving forces that compelled a normal late adolescent to not only act on evil, but run from federal authorities? I scanned the internet reading countless articles about the Boston Bomber and I actually bought the Rolling Stones magazine where Jahar was on the cover — because I want to learn everything I could about “suspect #2”.
The more I learned about Jahar’s life before the bombing, the more I realized that Jahar’s story as a late adolescent parallels many stories of today’s late adolescents. Jahar and today’s late adolescents share the themes of: hurt, abandonment, spiritual curiosity, disillusionment and disengagement from immediate family.
Here are two things I learned about Jarah’s life that speak to the realities of today’s teens:
1. Today’s teens have deep abandonment issues. Jahar had deep family abandonment issues. Jahar’s parents were divorce and he was forced to live away from them. As a result he was extremely sad and lonely. Many of Jahar’s friends commented that he came from a very screwed up family and Jahar was the silent survivor of all his family’s dysfunction. Jahar learned somehow not to show or express his pain. Today’s teens are hurting and they are hiding their hurt. Chap Clark, in his book Hurt, states
Today’s adolescents are, as a lot, indescribably lonely. (p. 69)
Just below the surface, today’s mid-adolescents feel a sense of loneliness and isolation that betrays the confidence with which they present themselves, even to one another” (144).
That today’s teens see themselves as having been abandoned and left on their own to navigate the complexities of life. (page 146)
Like Jahar, many teens mask their pain and are pretending everything is all good. So never assume the “good kids” are always doing good. Don’t be afraid to ask kids about their hurts, doubts, insecurities and pains. You will be surprised with some of their responses.
2. Todays teens believe that few if any adults actually care about them. Jahar really only had one adult in his corner, which was his wrestling coach aka Coach Payack. In fact, Coach Payack was the one who convinced Jarah to get out of the boat. Coach Payack did what no other trained federal agent could do because he had a lot of influence with Jarah because he actually cared for Jarah. Chap Clark comments that….
Adolescents have suffered the loss of safe relationships and intimate settings that served as the primary nurturing community for those traveling the path from child to adult…The postmodern family is often so concerned about the needs, struggles, and issues of parents that the emotional and developmental needs of the children go largely unmet (50).
Today’s adolescents don’t have many trusted adults in their lives to help them navigate life, spiritual journeys and hurts. Teens need more adults in their life. The fine folks at Fuller Youth Institute suggests that five adults who are willing to commit to investing in the life of 1 teenager in small, medium and big ways. When teens have trusted, healthy, committed adults in their life, it will make a huge impact on them because they have someone to talk to and help them navigate the complexities and pains of life.
Yes. The story of the Boston Bomber is sad, heart breaking and very evil. But us youth workers must pay attention to the inside world of today’s teens because they are hurting and secretly crying for help. And if they don’t get the help they need they will find other outlets to cope and express their pain.