Editors Note: This is the first article in our new series on “Helping Teens.” In this series, BCC counselors are unpacking how we can all care for teens who are facing different types of trouble.
Teens are heading back to school soon, with some adults feeling that the greatest danger facing our teens is the rising COVID variant. However, long before COVID, many teens were already facing serious troubles.
Simply reading the headlines describing one crisis after another, you can see that we are facing multiple challenges in reaching the hearts of the younger generations. In one sense, teens are going through something new in facing a pandemic.
Like past generations dealt with WWII, the Sixties, or the HIV Crisis, today’s teens are dealing with all kinds of trouble, but often feel helpless and don’t know what to do about it.
The book of Proverbs described adeptly many of the troubles faced by young people. Proverbs speaks in memorable sayings about the influence of foolish friendships, the enticement to chemical temptations, the allure of sexual activity, the excitement of violence, and the tendency to reject wise warnings.
If you were to listen to your local news and scour through teen-related social media, you would quickly realize that most of the same issues that the writers of Proverbs sought to share wisdom about haven’t changed. They are part of the temptations of immaturity, and greater access to knowledge about the world hasn’t changed the basic temptations teens are facing.
Think about the last 50 years in the life of American Teens:
- The gains we made in reducing tobacco use are now being undone by a troubling rise in teen vaping.
- The “Free Love” of the sexual revolution has led to a generation suffering from sexual exploitation and confusion.
- The economic prosperity has led to destabilizing entitlement in some, and desperate poverty in others.
- The divisive rhetoric of leadership has led to destructive anxiety rising in teens who find it hard to trust.
- The autonomy afforded by technological advances has led to relational isolation and loneliness.
- The allure of unattainable happiness present in social media has led to insecurities, discontentment, and skyrocketing suicides.
While there is nothing entirely new under the sun, there are some new challenges that today’s teens face.
Some look at today’s young people and perceive they are a lost cause or not worth engaging: “They just stare at their phone.” However, God challenges those with maturity to seek to develop the next generation.
This generation does pose some new challenges and may take greater efforts to understand, but God calls us to this challenge. Giving up on this generation of teens would have tragic consequences for our churches.
So if we are going to reach this generation, we need to have the right priorities.
Teens Need Wisdom More Than Information
Today’s high school and college students have more information and research capabilities at their fingertips than ever before. If you have teens in your classroom or home, you realize that adults are fact-checked in verbal disagreements in real-time.
However, having more information, even reliable information, hasn’t led to a generation of wiser young people. Having access to massive amounts of information has also led to having access to massive amounts of disinformation.
Our teens know the mindsets that are trending on Instagram more than how Jesus talked about these same types of mindsets.
How did Jesus reach the young people of his day? He showed them a better way, a way full of wisdom.
Matthew 13:53–55 – And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there,  and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? (ESV)
The wisdom Jesus shared was unique, but it came through patient and intentional teaching.
Teens Need Hope More Than Confrontation
We can find plenty of things about teen culture that we could critique. Perhaps they do rely on technology too much, minimize the dangers of sinful habits, and lack strong relational skills, but where does that leave them?
It often leaves them feeling alone, stuck, and wondering if the future can ever get better.
Rather than taking the stance that previous generations are superior to younger ones, let’s cultivate an ability to speak hope because of who God is and what He has done.
How did Jesus confront those who were caught in sin? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. To the hypocrites, he hard harsh responses. However, to the young and immature, he invited them to a better perspective and a relationship.
Consider how Jesus encouraged the faith of young people who trusted him in ways that many adults never do.
Matthew 11:25–26 – At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (ESV)
If we fight through the skepticism of this generation, they can respond in hope-filled trust just as a child in Jesus’ day did. However, if we spend our energy cursing the darkness and belittling today’s confusing youth ideologies, we may fail to point them to the hope that can transform the darkness into light.
Jesus didn’t expect people to “clean up” to come into a relationship with him; he met them where they were at with hope. He allowed the truth he modeled for us to shine a corrective light into the dark places that needed confrontation.
Teens Need Love More Than Fear
Ever heard of teens suffering from FOMO – “the fear of missing out?”
Today’s teens live in a world full of many different types of fear. All the information today’s teens have access to unfortunately leads to a life full of comparison.
While fear is a big stick that motivates many, using fear as a motivator only leads to further bondage. Many older generations articulate that they are worried about the younger generations, but this worry is not a healthy place to reach today’s young people.
Teens live in a world full of fear already, but many would say they don’t feel loved.
What stood out in the ministry approach of Jesus? In stark contrast to the religious leaders who encourage a “do more and try harder” approach to their spiritual life, Jesus was a friend of sinners, sought to meet needs, and was known for an approach that was full of compassion.
Jesus didn’t belittle the situations the anxious or mock their concerns, he showed them how only in God were the deepest longings of the heart truly fulfilled.
Matthew 6:31–33 – Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (ESV)
Jesus’ answer to fear was: because he is full of compassion, he will take care of his children’s true needs. The more we represent a life of full confidence in God’s provision, the more our teens too can trust God to be the source of the love they so desire to experience.
Teens Need Conversations More Than Lectures
If we were to stereotype a typical teen and parent relationship we might imagine a closed door, closed hearts, and closed ears.
While many teens are unwilling to listen, it’s usually because they haven’t felt listened to and don’t care to participate in one-way conversations, otherwise known as lectures.
When relationships are tough, many adults resort to lectures to prove their point, but rarely do these lectures ever result in the desired change.
Particularly, conservative Christian parents can often be guilty of this because they have such a high commitment to share God’s word as truth. While this goal isn’t bad, it can easily become imbalanced and ineffective.
Jesus modeled for us that sharing truth is best done through relationships.
John 15:4–5 – Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (ESV)
Jesus reminds us that only in our relationship with him can we accomplish what he calls us to. When we are close in our walk with God, we experience an intimacy with him that leads to great productivity and joy.
When teens are struggling with porn, sexual identity, anxiety, anger, suicidal thoughts, and strained family relationships, they need a conversation partner, not a lecture. They need to articulate the fears and feelings that they may have never felt comfortable sharing before.
Through this series, our goal is that more teens would experience conversations that bring hope, wisdom, and love from adults who care. We want to model how to talk with teens, not just about them. As a counseling center, our counselors care deeply about this generation because Jesus cares deeply about this generation. We pray you will too.