What Do Teens WANT To Change About Their Lives?

Teaching teens on a daily basis has given me a pretty good beat on what they’re going through.

Every once in a while, my youth throw out a nugget of information that causes me to pause and scratch my head and examine their words more closely. And, being a writer, I never cease to discuss it with them and take careful notes.

Recently, my middle schoolers were casually talking about their daily routines. In listening to them, I was struck by the vast complexity of their lives and the ceaseless plodding they do to and from class to practices and rehearsals and games to performances to homework and family time and social events.

As I began to question my students about how they felt about their schedules, I heard an outpouring of frustration about stress and busyness.

Curious, I asked a question that electrified the room: what would you actually change about your life, if you could?

Challenging an entire classroom full of teens to actually think about what they would change about their lives was thought-provoking. Their responses give a fascinating insight into the state of our kids’ minds.

Here are the top responses my students confessed they would change about their lives, related to family time and expectations. I’ll share some of their other thoughts in my next post.

I would change my parents’ expectations.

It’s nothing new that teens wish their families expected less out of them. While this complaint might be as old as dirt, what this generation is actually saying belies the true angst simmering under the surface in their lives.

Teens today feel enormous pressure from their parents to be well-rounded, successful young adults. While this isn’t a bad goal, the conflict comes when we emphasize participation in too many activities at once.

Instead of producing well-rounded kids, I fear we’re producing well-roasted kids—students who are so fried and overwhelmed that they’re ready to give up before adulthood has even started.

I challenge you to think of a student who doesn’t participate in after-school activities, whether it be music, art, sports, classes or courses. Out of the thousands of kids I’ve worked with, I can’t think of a single one that isn’t busy outside of school in some manner.

As one of my middle schoolers put it, “If it were up to me, I’d drop out of after school stuff completely. The stress level in my life is so high, with all of the things going on every day, that I just wish I could slow down for once.”

Interestingly, almost the entire class agreed that they, too, would drop out of nearly every activity their parents have them enrolled in.

How can we help our teens deal with this? We can encourage our teens to talk honestly to their parents about this subject, and to keep our own expectations of our students in check. We can intentionally create youth events and moments that are relaxing and recharging, not overloaded and draining for our teens. This is also a chance for us to help our teens learn how to tackle the stress in their lives in productive ways, setting them up for a lifetime of healthy habits.

More importantly, this is a chance for us to share about how our identity rests in Christ, not in what activities we do, awards we earn or grades we get. As 1 Peter 2:9 beautifully reminds us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

I would simplify my family’s schedule.

“We all have our problems when we come home,” said one of my seventh graders. “That means when other things do go wrong, we all feel like we’re going to go off the deep end instantly. I wish we could talk about our stress together, as a family…and I wish we weren’t so busy that we always feel like we’re at the end of our rope.”

My middle schoolers unanimously agreed that they would drastically simplify their families’ schedules. They view the constant frenetic pace as a major cause of friction in their relationship with their parents, their relationship with their siblings and the health of their parents’ marriages.

What’s the best way we can respond to this? It’s important that we help our students learn to process their obvious stress in a healthy way. We have these young teens captured at a uniquely influential time in their lives, where they are still setting up habits that will stick with them for most of their adult lives.

Additionally, we can support families and students alike by not adding to their demanding schedules, but helping out however we can—whether that means not hosting another needless meeting, not planning an event at a busy time of year, or even changing your programs to be more family-friendly. In our openness and honesty to deal with something that affects the entire family unit, we can offer hope and encouragement instead of more stress.

I would spend more time with my family.

The silver lining of our teenagers desiring to spend more time with their family is that it indicates how deep their loyalty and appreciation of those they love truly is.

Unfortunately, this desire to spend more time with family should be a wake-up call for many of us. It is not something we heard kids saying twenty years ago—it’s a unique trait of this generation.

As one of my seventh graders told me, “If I could change anything in my life, I would have the ability to sit down and actually relax with my family. I would especially like my parents to relax and not be running around because they’re so busy.”

Another student agreed. “I wish my family could spend more time together. I worry about how busy my parents are, and how they handle that stress. Often, my parents will flip out on me for no reason because they’re so stressed and they’re taking it out on our family.”

How do we help our teens with this one? Again, this is an opportunity for us to focus differently in our youth ministry programs and events. Building healthy, Christ-centered families should be a priority for every single Christian leader out there. You can encourage families to spend time together in God’s Word. Give families resources that will help them implement a family devotion time.

What can you do to get families more involved in the church? Perhaps you can have a family service event, or family dinners, or even a family mission trip. Think outside the box and do it. Our kids are crying out for it.