About a year ago the Millennial Generation (anyone born somewhere between the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s) was deemed the most “stressed out generation” by the the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, released in February 2015. The current generation of students born after the Millennials is being considered a group that is marked by a fear of failure and public scrutiny.
Of course everyone blames the rise of technology and social media for the pressure this current generation of adolescents is under. Perfectionism is expected at every turn. They have to present themselves more as the person they want to be than who they are thanks to the likes of Instagram. A constant access to every piece of information anywhere and everywhere provides them with the inability to ever say, “I don’t know,” as the answer to any question. Culture today has made it appear confusing to know who you are and how you are supposed to think about yourself.
As those who pour into this generation, the tension we see growing ever more is the need for them to have their identity settled in Christ. We know the only way to combat the pressure they feel is for them to grab hold of what Jesus thinks of them and run with that. Yet, because they are constantly bombarded with stress, it feels harder than ever as a youth worker to get them to actually STEP OUT in the truth of who they are in the Lord’s eyes.
I think now more than ever we have to be creative in how we approach the topic of identity. What can we do?
The days of merely saying to a student, “Don’t believe that,” or “Your identity is in Jesus,” and leaving it at face value are over. We must give students safe places to question these statements and find out what they mean. We have to dig deeper than assemblies and large group talks to deal with this topic. Throwing around statements make us feel better because we have said them, but our students are still left wondering what all of this means and how to apply the truth in their setting.
Stop Treating It As A One-Sided Issue
Part of my frustration with talking about identity and insecurity is that it is deemed a “female” issue. Books, curriculum, and even articles are focused on the emotions of girls and where they are in this process. Having worked with teens for over 24 years, and living with 3 of them currently, I can tell you this: both girls and guys struggle to understand who they are in Christ, but they simply focus on different things. We have to understand that ALL of our students need to grasp the depth of who they are beyond who they present themselves to be.
Avoid Reacting And Be Consistent
We discover a member of our youth group is sexting and we react. We pull together all of our ideas on the topic of respecting yourself and we lecture students for an hour. We may never stop being shocked at the new lengths students will go to feel loved, but we need to stop living in this place. The reality is that the hole in the heart of this generation is not new, their expression of it is. I felt the same things they do at 15 in wanting to belong, and be known, I just didn’t have instant access to a touch screen to express it. Let’s find ways to draw in who Christ is in their lives, what he thinks of them and why this matters in all lessons we offer, at every turn.
Students need to hear our own struggles. Do we compare ourselves to friends online or avoid taking a picture from a certain angle in certain lighting? It’s hard for all of us. However, let’s also share what we do to continually put our hope in Christ, and believe his words of unconditional love for us. How do we look in the mirror each day in practical ways and see the Creator’s created? Talk about it!
Scripture hasn’t become less powerful and God hasn’t shrunk just because we can’t avoid social media and this generation is stressed out. I would argue culture has always played a part in how adolescents perceive themselves. What has changed is that the whole world can watch it 24 hours a day. Let’s not get so focused on the pressures of our students that we forget that the power of the Word and the Cross have never wavered.
Thanks for loving students,
-Leneita / @leneitafix