Every generation has their own “where were you when” moment.
For me, it was when the September 11 attacks happened.
I was a sophomore in high school, and I remember the day with crystal clarity: listening to our principal choke back tears as she informed us in a school assembly that our country was under attack.
Watching a classmate sob wildly as she received news that her father had missed his flight—which meant his life was spared, as he was originally booked onto one of the fatal flights.
Looking around at my somber friends as classes were suspended and we simply sat on the floors in our classrooms, crying and questioning what the future would look like.
Helplessly watching a teacher—who was born and raised in New York—fret inconsolably about friends and family members she couldn’t reach.
It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, and I’m now teaching teens who were infants when America was rocked by the events of that day.
I was mentally unprepared for the comments of my teenagers a few weeks ago, when we discussed terrorist activity in the Middle East that’s been sending shock waves across the world.
As we talked, one of my students said quietly, “The world of terror is all we’ve ever known.”
Please let the gravity of that statement sink in and affect you as profoundly as it affected me.
As I asked my students to elaborate, fears erupted from their mouths. Our kids worry like I’ve never even realized.
My teenagers told me about their fears of terrorists, saying how they get physically anxious—sweaty hands and tense muscles—when their parents watch the news about beheadings and threats against our government.
They also shared how scared they are of school shootings, and admitted that they’re equally worried that it’ll be a classmate or a teacher who goes berserk on them.
They told me how they battle back feelings of nervousness and uncertainty and apprehension every day, as they cope with the fear that the world as they know it may collapse at any moment, without warning.
For those of us who work with youth, this is a primary difference we must realize about this particular generation: it’s a generation born in fear, and it indicates a deep-seated and unconscious distrust of fellow man.
You see, this generation doesn’t know when, where, or why terrorists might strike innocent people. They can’t fathom why evil individuals would barbarically decapitate and torture people who are trying to make the world a better place.
These kids also can’t understand what causes a classmate to methodically execute his peers in cold blood. They can’t wrap their brains around the reality of one of their own hunting them down.
As a result of not being able to understand the psychology of evil people, I wonder if this generation is growing up to be secretly afraid of everyone, never knowing who exactly might snap—and thus never really trusting anyone.
We youth workers know the truth—man, apart from God, is inherently not trustworthy. We know that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). Only God is to be trusted, especially in Jesus, who gave His life into death for all our sins and was raised the third day to say to his own, “Do not be afraid!” Baptized into Him, knowing what that means, living in repentance and faith, we can say confidently with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Only in such faith can we relate to our neighbors, even our closest family and friends, with something better than either foolish optimism or abject fear of man. But our youth are still learning this, and so the fear and instability of not knowing who to trust is overwhelming.
The White House has dubbed those born after 2005 as the “Homeland generation”. Though they give no detailed explanation of why this moniker was selected, one can surmise that it’s directly tied to the popular television show that deals with—you guessed it—terror and fear.
Do you realize the profundity of this mindset?
Our teenagers may be growing up secretly afraid of us. They may be unwilling to fully trust anyone, not even trustworthy and beloved adults. The implications of not trusting mankind are complex and worrisome—especially when it comes to things like finances, security, national identity, and the church. This is why we should teach our youth to trust in God and that in so doing they can live with hope and without fear in the midst of untrustworthy people. And we should help teens realize that as we trust in God and are led by His Word and His Spirit, we can be trusted. We are people they can turn to. And in the uncertainty of their world, our youth need people they can trust.
This generation hasn’t endured the same challenges that the previous generations have dealt with. In America’s past, we had few battles on our continent and thus our danger was more abstract. Our media exposure was limited and controlled by fewer voices, and our nationalism soared as we sought to conquer enemies together. Our country was proud to give up little luxuries and pitch in to help our soldiers. In the past, we had a clear enemy who attacked from outside of our country. Now, our enemy is often hiding within, disguised as patriotic Americans or even unknowingly lurking inside our own classrooms.
As technology has advanced, people’s voices have expanded and more diverse populations have come to our country, and our identity as one nation has gradually been eroded. Today, we’re battling a more fragmented society with technology that brings all the evils of the entire world into the palm of our hand. Because of the prevalence of social media and technology in today’s generation. Our students are faced with the bloody and horrifying violence of the news every day mere inches from their faces, on phones and tablets. They can’t escape from it, even as they try to do something as innocuous as chatting with friends online.
Think of the sinking feeling we get in our gut when we turn on the news and hear about it. Now intensify that feeling and try to understand how an undeveloped brain feels about it. It’s pure dread to our teens.
Perhaps this is one reason why we’re seeing such an influx of clinically depressed and emotionally ravaged young teenagers. They perceive the world around them falling apart, yet they are expected to strive for perfection every day. They’ve had high standards set for their futures, yet they don’t even know if the world will be around in a decade.
Older generations are perplexed, admitting that they never grew up with the depth of fear that our children today are dealing with.
We often overestimate the emotional maturity of our teenagers—after all, they seem so adult-like in so many ways.
Reality paints a different picture, though. Our teenagers are worried about their classmates and teachers. They fear the future. They’re pained about the world around them. They’re physically stressed out and constantly on edge as they await bad news.
As adults, our tendency is to hug our children close to us in dangerous situations. However, perhaps that’s part of the bigger problem. Our kids are being kept stunted and dependent on us for longer than past generations, which is disabling them from feeling capable of handling these fears.
It’s not a matter of not wanting to expose our children to evil. It’s a matter of preparing our children to face the evil that they will unquestionably encounter in their lifetime.
As Christian leaders, our greatest challenge is to have the courage to be responsible adults. Our primary task is to see to our teens’ salvation, to teach them Law and Gospel truths. The world is broken. We are broken and sinful, and it is only through repentance of our sins and the work of Christ that we are healed and redeemed. In teaching this, we are able to prepare youth to meet the challenges of the world. In the words of Tim Elmore, “We must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”
We can’t ignore the problems in our world by turning off the television, but we can wisely process the news with our children.
We can’t just snap at our kids to “get over it” and discount their fears, but we can demonstrate self-control and understanding to a generation that worries incessantly.
We can’t just spout off that it was different in our day and we managed to survive just fine, because this is a new world and the old way has already disappeared.
Every teenager I’ve ever met wants a trusted adult to confide in. Whether that means crying, venting, or processing matter-of-factly, it’s desperately needed. Fellow Christian leaders, we have the privilege of being beacons of hope in these dark times.
Youth leaders, pastors, and parents alike, we must pay attention to what commands the attention of our youth and be ready to discuss it with them at every opportunity. We need to help our children process and cope with the overwhelming amount of information that relentlessly drifts into their brain waves.
Most importantly, we need to comfort our teens with Christ’s unchanging love and His hope. In this generation steeped in fear, our teenagers will never know peace outside of Jesus. It is only through faith and trust in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins that we can know this peace. This is the truth we must navigate teens toward.
Take every opportunity to share words of courage with this generation, such as those found in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Remind youth of Jesus’ words in John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is where our confidence and our hope comes from! Despite everything going on in the world, Christ reigns and His Word is preached. His Kingdom is at hand! Evil has already been overcome.
Our fervent prayers need to be surrounding this Homeland generation as it continues to grow up. These kids need strength and self-control that many generations before them have never exhibited. They’re navigating a world brimming with evil, and they need wisdom and understanding as they wade through these dangerous waters. We need to teach them to see everything unfolding around them in the context of the pivotal event of all history, the death of Jesus on account of our sins and His resurrection, on account of our justification, where God’s Good has finally overcome all evil. He is Risen! Therefore I will not be shaken. Christ is well; therefore, so am I, in Him. For He rises and says, “Be not afraid!” (Matthew 28:10).
My prayer is that our children can someday recite the words of Psalm 71:5 to their own children, as they explain how God has been their Rock and their stalwart comfort in times of trouble:
“For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.”