In a world where Kylie Jenner’s lip injections serve as a controversial news story, many adults find themselves scratching their heads when it comes to meeting the needs of the young people in their lives. Although there are certain truths to the adolescent experience that transcend the generations, there is no doubt that the current generation of young people face some challenges that are completely unique to them. In his Growing Leaders podcast, Dr. Tim Elmore explores the unintended consequences that young people face as a result of the abundance in their lives. Young adults are feeling overwhelmed and stressed because of the excesses of living an abundant lifestyle.
Here is what I mean. In preparing to write this piece, I spoke with a number of middle school, high school and college-aged youths regarding the challenges they feel they face regularly. I was surprised to find that almost none of them said the trite “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” or even that they were tempted by alcohol. However, every single individual felt that they were under extreme pressure all of the time. As I took time to unpack these responses, I noticed what Dr. Elmore noted to be true: young people face conflict as a result of either abandonment or abundance. Based on the responses I analyzed, I could see almost immediately that abundance tended to be the core stressor in the lives of these teens.
1. Having It All Is Stressing Out Our Young People
Our young people today can connect with each other better than any generation preceding them. Social media, particularly Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat and Tumblr, allows them to be socially accessible for every second of every day. Since this media is accessed via phone and phones are often used as morning alarms, this means that young people even compromise sleep to be socially connected. Not only are teens connected all the time, which is incredibly stressful, they feel pressure to impress their followers and friends. Every social gathering is documented with photos, and even the grooming before the social gathering often is documented with the infamous “selfie”.
Many of the young people I spoke with struggle with anxiety related to their Twitter and Instagram accounts. Some have spoken with professional counselors pertaining to this issue. They feel constantly watched, judged incessantly and some of them have been legitimately bullied via social media. “FOMO” or “fear of missing out” is a real thing. The fear that one might miss out on the most incredible social experience looms over the minds of young people while they doubletap Instagram photos. They have an abundance of friends–hundreds or even thousands of friends and followers, but they lack the deep, meaningful friendships they need to ride the bumps on the road to adulthood.
2. Too many opportunities.
As if the social calendars and pressures weren’t enough, young people today can, for the most part, do anything they want–and this is preached to them before they’re in Kindergarten. While playing an instrument, participating in multiple club and school sports and joining the forensics team are all admirable and healthy things, the abundance in scheduling is wearing down our teens. Each activity brings with it its own social clique, i.e. “These are my volleyball friends” or “these are my band friends”.
A certain level of responsibility comes with each realm in which our young people exist. Seeking out opportunities to get tutoring in AP Biology is enough responsibility, but then add to that an aggressive football coach and a big game on Friday, a Trigonometry test on Monday and a band rehearsal after school. Oh, and many of these teens have jobs. This abundance in scheduling causes young adults to feel a false sense of perfectionism; either that, or they end up doing a lot of things not very well. One individual I spoke with said that she feels insurmountable pressure to have an outstanding college application, and she felt that almost immediately after coming to high school. Almost every student I spoke with currently feels burned out, and they were on summer vacation.
3. Too many safety nets.
Between social pressures and extracurricular activities, it’s no wonder our young people feel worn out and disillusioned. However, the pressures continue. Parents have constant access to grades and academic reports, meaning that they have the ability to ride their children incessantly about academic responsibilities. Parents are calling universities in record numbers inquiring about their child’s grades, general performance, social issues and the like. All this does is take the responsibility teens were learning through hockey, the clarinet and Spanish club and throw it out the window.
When working as a peer assistant for a course at my university, I found that, sometimes, highly successful high school students were unable to transition to college life, simply because they were unable to handle their free time. Mom and Dad weren’t around to encourage them to join a club, and they weren’t playing organized sports anymore. They had never developed self-regulation because there was never any time for it in the past. On the other hand, I also noticed that a handful of my students still checked in with their parents on a daily basis regarding their assignments and responsibilities, which poses the opposite problem. If driven by the wrong motivations, the abundance of safety nets and parental support actually creates a false sense of responsibility in young adults.
*(For the record, many of the parents I have worked with have set healthy boundaries with their children and allow them to take responsibility for themselves and their work.)
This is a bleak outlook for our young adults. The combination of being overly socially connected, feeling like they have to commit to everything, and experiencing life through bubble wrap has our young people feeling like they are not allowed to fail at anything or even doubt anything.
Where does this leave the Church? In the midst of our young people’s abundant lifestyles, is there room for another event, another community, more activities and more?
Obviously, our young people need an intervention. This is where the Church must step in and take responsibility for just being the Church. The Church cannot simply function as one more activity or Facebook Group, but rather, the Church must do its job. The Church is not merely an event, activity or social fulfillment, but rather, the Church is an alternate reality to the cultural overabundance that our society faces. Instead of trying to look more like America’s cultural ideals that are so badly pressuring our young people, the Church must retain its identity as the proclaimer of Christ Himself.
It’s clear that our young people (any people, for that matter), especially those in the Church, so quickly forget who they are. Like James 1 says, they look intently at their faces in the mirror and immediately forget who they are. In some cases, it’s an inflated sense of self and a failure to acknowledge one’s need for saving. On the other hand, these young people are feeling so defeated by their failures. Young people need the Church to give them the harsh reality of God’s Law and the authentic love and security of the Gospel.
Knowing this, how can I best love the teen in my life?
- Know the teens in your life, congregation, and community. Each teenager faces unique challenges, so establishing a relationship with a teen allows him/her to share their struggles
- Listen. James 1:19 advises readers to listen before talking. With some young people who aren’t ready to share their struggles, the listening might have to happen over a long period of time while the relationship is being cultivated. Simply allowing teenagers to be themselves around you is a great first step. Sometimes, young people are seeking advice, and other times, they simply want to be heard. Discerning the difference is key and comes with listening.
- Remind them of who they are. If the teen in your life is in the Church, remind him that he is baptized, that he belongs to the Lord. God called him by name into his family. Remind her that her identity is wrapped up in Jesus, who overcame death. Remind your teens that they fight their battles armed with the blood of the Lamb. If you work with young adults who are outside of the Church or who aren’t connected, tell them that they are more than their shortcomings, failures, and flaws. Their lives are valuable because God sees them as valuable.
Avoiding an abundant lifestyle will always be a challenge. It’s not glamour and entertainment that will draw our young people into the alternate reality of the Church, but rather the love of God in Christ and the love they experience in fellowship with other believers. As we seek to disciple and mentor the young people in our lives, we must lead as those who are daily being brought out of the mire and muchness of the world into God’s favor.