For the past couple of decades we have pushed and pushed our kids to be the best at whatever it was they were pursuing. The best student, the best athlete, the best _________. We knew that we were doing it for their good, so we made a lot of decisions, the "best decisions" we could make (for them, of course), and got them into the school of their choice, on a sports scholarship, on grades, or by whatever special grants or scholarships we could find in a related field of study.
Members of Gen Z are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet. (1 ) Former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz, believes however, "this generation of highly accomplished, college-bound students have been robbed of their independence because they have been raised in a petri dish for one purpose only: to attend an elite college that ensures their and their families' economic and social status."(2) Instead of being coached to think for themselves and to develop their natural curiosities, we've over-protected and done the vast majority of their thinking for them rather than helping them to develop their independence and critical thinking skills. This is especially detrimental when it comes to their faith An issue we explore in our blogpost: How Can you tell if your teen is questioning their faith?
So what has happened? They've learned that you play sports not because they build character and teamwork and are a whole lot of fun, but because you want to try to get recruited for a college team or to get a scholarship. You study art or music not because you wish to refine your understanding of human nature, creativity and culture but because it will help you look smarter. Community service, then, becomes a way to buff up a resume and to check off the right boxes instead of an opportunity to make a difference in another person's life. This is a fact not overlooked by a study showing that high achievement expectations and academic pressure from parents have been implicated in rising levels of stress and reduced well-being among our teens. Not surprisingly the best "outcomes were among kids who believed that their parents valued kindness as much as or more than personal achievements."
"The best "outcomes" were among kids who believed that their parents valued kindness as much as or more than personal achievements."
The clear message: When parents push achievement over compassion and decency, it sets the stage for stress, depression, anxiety, and poorer grades, which can be seen as early as the sixth grade. “Even when only one parent emphasized academic performance, grades were poorer,” says study co-author Suniya Luthar, PhD, professor of psychology at Arizona State University.
The underlying sentiment is that when we teach our children that outcomes are more important than the process, they aren't able to enjoy learning for its own sake. Everything becomes about the final result. We have raised a generation of kids who are taught that appearance is more important than substance and that outcomes are more important than character. The issues that often accompany college life, hooking up, experimentation with substances, and the like just make the emptiness feel deeper.
Deresiewicz writes: All the values that once informed the way we raise our children - the cultivation of character, the development of the capacity for democratic citizenship, let alone any emphasis on the pleasure of freedom of play, the part of childhood where you actually get to be a child - all of these are gone. (2) (p. 50) What has happened is a feeling among teens of lost purpose. Good grades, making the team, getting the honors, "there has to be something more important than these things? Right?"
Ok, So Now What?
There are THREE questions that can help our teens to discover a more long lasting and more meaningful life as well as to develop the critical thinking skills they so desperately need.
Who Am I?
All around us, culture is screaming at the top of its lungs: You are what you wear, what you buy, how thin or buff you are, how many like you (on Insta or Snapchat etc.) - or for the college bound - where you go to college. Our students need to learn that they are important not for reasons of appearance but for reasons of actual substance and moral character.
We happen to use the Bible to support these values, but their will learn by what we DO, not what we say. That is why it is so important for us to LIVE OUT these values, instead of just talking about them. Our students are keenly aware of what hypocrisy looks like and it's a huge turnoff for GEN Z'ers and Gen Alpha. They will take their cues from us as we peruse social media, process remarks we make about our co-workers, and in general from our ability to embrace the journey God has for us.
Regardless of what you feel or what others have said, it's not too late to help them to find out who they are in the light of God's Story in the redemptive work of humanity. Even if they are already in college, use the time they are home to help them further discover God's plans and desires. But be prepared to do more listening than talking. You will find that eventually many of our teens want to know what we're thinking but not if it feels like we have an agenda.
Where Do I Fit In?
If we believe that the only thing that matters is college and job status then how can we not end up frustrated, angry, anxious, and depressed? Where we want to go with our lives is going to be linked to the question of: What leads us to fulfillment and happiness? For most of us the answer is passion. We all know we are in the right jobs when how long we work at something is driven by interest and not only about earning a paycheck. The truth is that we are all going to have to work hard to succeed in life, and if that is the case, let's us at least try to work hard on things that matter and that we care about.
So if we have been able to model authentic faith in which we've truly trusted and followed the example of Christ, it will be much easier for them to see the importance of this as well. In the end our students make decisions based on the free will that is given to each person. SO if we've led by example and taught them we can put our hope that they will also se the value. Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise, but rather a principle when it reminds us to: Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.
WHAT difference can I make?
This last question is the vehicle that will get us to where we are going in life. If the most important thing for a student is his grades, then he is willing to sacrifice things he values in order to get good grades or to even cheat thinking that the ends justifies the means. It's the same mentality that leads students whose goal is to "enjoy life" or "living my best life" to cross boundaries they've set for themselves. For example, if pleasure is my goal, then sex before marriage is just something my parents talk about. However, if one's goal is to Honor Christ above all, then not only are you more willing to respect her “no” but you are also seeking to deny self in the moment as well even if she says “please.”
Our students often take shortcuts because the longer harder path is just that, longer and more difficult. Maybe they are afraid of stumbling or being seen as someone who stumbles. A fear of failure is more imminent with kids who have grown up in a vacuum of no suffering, being protected from disappointment, and failure. Kids NEED those things so that they are equipped with the right tools in how to mitigate the fallout.
The WHAT puts the “who am I” and the “where do I fit in”, into place. It’s the structure for the other two questions to be answered. For the Christ-follower, the WHAT comes first. When The Who comes first, we are left wondering “what difference can I make here?” And the question of purpose feels pointless. Why am I doing this if it’s not ultimately going to matter that my path led me here. The FIRST TWO QUESTIONS are quite simple and the problem is, that we spend far too much time focusing on those this so the third is elusive, even though that it the one that matters most.
Here’s an example: If I know that I can make a difference in the lives of children as a follower of Christ. My being a basketball player is a part of who I am, not who I am in whole. Being a follower of Christ informs my being a baseball player, so all that I do as an athlete gets it’s directions first and foremost from my relationship with Christ.
If getting into OSU medical is the most important thing for me, then I spend countless hours studying, hoping, testing, and if I make it…whew. But if I don’t make. They are devastated, because EVERYTHING they’ve worked for is now, lost. Or to the athlete whose competed their entire lives only to get injured Freshman year, or Junior year…ruined because their entire identity has been wrapped up in this one thing.
That is part of what’s devastating our teens and riddling their lives with anxiety, depression, and even suicide at alarmingly higher numbers than ever before. But for the kids whose highest purpose is Christ, when he/she doesn’t make it into the program, they are Abel to reframe their thinking: God must have another plan.
In their book: 3 Big Questions that change every teenager, Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin put handles on how to lead teens through this conversation of purpose and meaning beyond good grades, beyond being the best __________ they can be.
The authors go through these three questions at length and even give suggestions on how to follow up and have meaningful conversations that can lead to real life change. The book is based on research from a diverse group of over 2,200 teens. In an age when our students struggle to find satisfying and life-giving answers, they need parents and adults who are willing to "lean in" in with caring and empathy.
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3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager!
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Gen Z (younger millennials) were born between the 1996+ to around 2010, they’re digital natives, have a huge buying/spending power and are have an inner aspiration of co-create culture (Visioncritical.com, 2019). Generation Z, also known as Post-Millennials, the iGeneration, Founders, Plurals, or the Homeland Generation is the demographic following Millennials. They are characterized by having been born between the mid-‘90s or later, to be on their way to becoming the largest generation of consumers, and they already represent a buying power of $150 billion dollars. Compared to previous generations, Gen Zers have never met a world before without boundless digital access, making their attention spans relatively lower due to their lives heavily marked by Internet usage and continuous information updates.
Gen Alpha: Generation Alpha, Gen Alpha or the ‘children of millennials’ is ‘’the first generation born entirely within the 21st century’’ (Digiday, 2019), are ‘’the most technological-infused demographic up to date’’ (McFadden et al., 2019) and ‘’according to McCrindle, an estimated 2.5 million alphas are born globally every week’’ (Flux Trends, 2019).