Not a Walk in the Park: What I Learned as a Young Life Leader about Being a Teen Today
I’ve been volunteering as a Young Life leader in my community for the past four years and subsequently spend a good portion of my time with teenagers. Recently, in an effort to gather some data surrounding parent-teen relationships, I asked a handful of my Young Life high schoolers what they wish their parents understood better. Overwhelmingly, they agreed that they wished their parents understood how hard it is to be a teen right now.
I know. It’s easy to hear what sounds like whining from teens and roll our eyes. Yet as parents, educators, and Christians, we should consider the unique challenges that today’s teenagers face, in order to better pray for, minister to, and support them as they grow into the next generation of the church. In my conversation with these teens, the following subjects were mentioned as significant challenges they’re facing at this current moment in history.
This is an obvious but important one. To pretend like this pandemic hasn’t had any impact on our teens would be a huge oversight. This virus has single-handedly:
- Kicked many of them out of school
- Upended their future plans
- Isolated them from friends and family
- Threatened their sense of safety and security
- Forced them to think about their own and loved ones’ mortality in a serious and immediate way perhaps for the first time
The psychological effects of this on today’s teens may be greater than meets the eye. Recent data seems to confirm that the pandemic has had a staggering impact on young people’s mental health, one CDC survey showing that 75% of respondents 18-24 (the youngest group in the study) reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom, and serious suicidal ideation among this group was 25%. If young adults are being impacted at such staggering numbers, something tells me it’s hitting our teens even harder.
Social Media Mayhem
Teens live much of their lives on social media (for more info on this, check out our blog post here). While it can be a fun and positive medium for connection with their peers, it also comes with specific challenges, including:
- Jealousy/low self-esteem
- Pride/self-importance (for more information and resources, read our blog post here)
- Cyberbullying (for more information and resources, read our blog post here)
Teens often use social media to bully, manipulate, and compare themselves to each other, and is also a source of pressure to conform to worldly standards. The teens I talked to expressed the feeling that their parents have no idea what goes on in large portion of their life because they don’t have or don’t understand social media. In other words, the more parents ask about and educate themselves regarding their teens’ social media world, the more opportunity for connection, understanding, and counseling.
At any given moment, teens are bombarded with an onslaught of new and changing information on their iPhone screens. On one hand, this is an impressive achievement of mankind – technology that gives us instantaneous access to research, news, and information. On the other, with access to this information comes two significant problems for today’s teens.
- Stress/anxiety: from climate anxiety to COVID updates to racial unrest, today’s teens aren’t just dealing with the regular high school-related challenges—they’re dealing with global and existential problems beyond their ability to cope with.
- Worldly influence: Unlimited internet access comes with exposure to worldly influence. Lies of the world have crept into the lyrics of popular music, widely-accepted rhetoric, and almost every facet of the culture at large. These lies are not only contrary to Biblical truth, but downright hostile toward it. At best, this exposure is desensitizing teens to sin and worldly ideologies. At worst, it’s indoctrinating them.
Why it Matters
The purpose of this post is not to dole out unsolicited parenting advice – I myself am not a parent and in no way feel equipped to offer specific wisdom on how to best communicate with your individual teen. Instead, my hope is that by offering insight into their unique set of challenges, parents would feel better equipped to minister to their them. After all, how can we expect to be voices of wisdom in the lives of young people if we don’t first familiarize ourselves with their unique struggles? Whether a parent, an educator, or simply a Christian, we have a responsibility to come alongside today’s young people and “stir them up to love and good works,” (Heb. 10:24, ESV). My prayer is that this blog post would be a starting place for this mission.
About the Author
Jo Wilbur is a Communications Specialist at TCS and proud JMU grad who loves writing, shopping, and making new friends. She and her husband live in Purcellville and spend time together cooking plant-based meals, singing worship songs, and volunteering as Young Life leaders in their community.