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Keep 'Em Talking! does just thatkeeps kids talking. It's designed specifically to generate and energize discussions through simulated, real-life dilemmas. What you can do with this book is create opportunities for young people to understand how their faith works within the complex realities of everyday life.Virtual Complexity The dilemmas in Keep 'Em Talking! create a virtual reality of discussion generators. Each dilemma is designed to stimulate discussion around the kind of real-life tension that most decision making requires. So because most of the significant decisions we make in life are made in the crossfire of conflicting values, the discussions generated here are full of electricity and passion. Each dilemma brings young people to the place where they do their best to take stock of their motives and valuesthen decide not what they should do in a given situation, but what they would do. Each of these dilemmas is based on the author's three decades of working with teenagers. The situations are textured, complex, and realisticthe perfect testing ground for young people's faith. No discussion is easyespecially on such gritty subjectsbut the dilemmas in Keep 'Em Talking! can make discussions easier. High schoolers are at the age where they begin to understand how faith in Christ hardly simplifies some decisions, but rather makes them more difficult. Adding God into the decision-making mix, young people discover, seldom makes the “right” choice a clear one. But seeking God's voice can be invigorating and exciting, and adolescents are motivated to hear the whisper of God or see his fingerprint in the choices they make. Built-In Energy Tension is the natural electricity that results when faith and reality clash, when conflicting values meet, when hard choices must be made in the trenches of broken lives. And tension is what each dilemma in Keep 'Em Talking! purposely creates. If you believe in God, if you've decided to follow Christ wherever he leads, then all your decisions are at odds with prevailing cultural values. Moments of such decisions are filled with significance. Because faith matters, your decisions matterand when there is much at stake, there is a resulting urgency or energy during the decision making. Faith adds suspense to each moment of our livesand mystery can be a great catalyst for discussion. The dilemmas in Keep 'Em Talking! create tension. Each strategy here has been included because of its potential to create a dilemma or situation with conflicting issues, which require young people to think through the alternatives and consequences before arriving at a decision. Tension is created when values overlap, making a simple black-and-white response impossible. Most decisions in the real world require sifting through layers of values before a choice is made. For example, say a girl is asked to lie for a friend so the friend can be with her boyfriend. The girl is torn between her friendship, her respect for her friend's parents, telling the truth, and making it possible for her friend to lie. Diagramming this scenario could look like this: Where these values overlap, you'll find tension. A decision must be madea decision that favors one value at the expense of other, often equally weighted values. The question is usually not Which value is the right or wrong value? but rather Which value will have the priority alongside all the other values? Not only does such simulated tension help young people deliberately think through their day-to-day values, but it can also create an atmosphere of growth. Somewhere teenagers (particularly churched teenagersnot to mention churched adults) have picked up the idea that church is where you learn all the right answers. Of course the Christian faith provides a foundation upon which young people can deal with the particulars of life. But they must learn how to weigh and decide those particulars themselves. For that reason, the discussions in this book do not provide answers, but rather pose questionshealthy questions that cause growth. Healthy Openness There is no growth without an atmosphere of openness. That doesn't mean that the leader is always neutral, but that the leader is willing to let all points of view be at least aired without criticism. You don't teach children to ride a bicycle by criticizing them when they fall. You encourage, help, and show lots of patience. When young people are trying to figure out what life and faith are all about, they need to be encouraged and affirmed, not immediately corrected. They need to feel safe in their learning. Safe environmentsthe kind that foster rewarding discussions among teenagersare characterized by at least three characteristics: • Open-ended discussion. Never bulldoze your group toward a conclusion. Of course, the group should stay focused on the subject, but don't feel that you must resolve all loose ends in 45 minutes. Discussion is squelched when young people feel pressured to resolve all issues. To the contrary, the emphasis ought to be on arriving at as many options as possibleso that when the decision is made, it is made with all the options (even “wrong” ones) clearly understood. • Freedom to say what you think. Young people often feel penalized if they say what they really thinkespecially if what they think disagrees with the public position of a church or church leader. Small wonder that adolescents are reluctant to express their actual feelings, or even carefully think through all their options. Just remember that giving your students the space to say whatever it is they believe does not imply that you either agree or disagree with their ideas. It simply means that you approve of their right to introduce their ideas into the arena of discussion. • Learning as a laboratory. Of all people, teenagers are the most inclined to think out loud, experiment with different options, try on exotic ideas, and see how they fit. So because your students merely verbalize a particular point of view does not mean they're investing any real belief in it. Let your discussions be laboratories where young people can freely experiment with any and all ideas.