Ecclesiastes 1:9 – “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
In 1980, I entered the ministry working with teens in Waco, Texas. In 2018, I am still in ministry working with teens in Ridgewood, New Jersey. So what has changed in working with teens? Though technology has changed dramatically in these 38 years, the issues and obstacles that teens deal with seem to stay the same, which seems to echo Solomon’s words that there is nothing new under the sun.
As kids transition to be teens, they continue to deal with the reality of more stress, less time, immediate gratification and invincibility. Though they are lived out differently by each teen, those are their core dilemmas in this world. So what do they mean and how do they affect them?
More stress is something that teens deal with in relation to themselves, their parents and authority figures in their lives such as teachers, coaches, bosses. I believe this stress is brought on by not allowing teens to be teens and expecting them to act like adults too quickly. They are clamoring to be treated like adults but physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially they are not fully developed.
Solomon writes again in Ecclesiastes 11:9 – “You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see …” God gives permission to them to enjoy being a young person, even as they grow into maturity physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They can pursue their dreams while they are young because of the vigor that God gives them. Our culture forces them to grow up too fast and cause undue anxiety and stress on them. We need to let teens be teens and come alongside them with grace and truth in this season of life rather than lord over them.
Less time is something that they deal with in trying to fill up their schedules with “things.” I believe this is in response to the stress and pressure that is thrust upon them. They have FOMO (fear of missing out). This is lived out in relationships with their peers but also in wanting to stack their resumes with stuff just to fill out a page. They are constantly on the go with school, work, sports, friends, youth group, church and family.
We need to help them to “be still and know God.” Psalm 46:10. They desperately need Sabbath rest in their lives, where they can receive the grace to cultivate their relationship with Jesus Christ and rest in Him for their fulfillment, identity, and joy.
Immediate gratification is something that they deal with in the here and now, right in front of them in the lives that they lead. Immediate gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment. Basically, it’s when you want it; and you want it now.
There is often little thought to waiting for delayed gratification, and the consequences that accompany the act of feeding all our desires in the here and now. While this is an age-old problem, teens especially today have only known immediacy with microwaves, internet, 24-7 news channels, Google, and cell phones … everything is right now! I believe that this also comes from the previous two issues of less time and more stress. They want to experience everything now, because they may not get another chance and they stress out with waiting on anything.
We need to help them learn to wait and teach the benefits to waiting well. There is a strengthening of character in waiting but also a strengthening of faith. Faith is confidence in what we hope, or long for, but cannot yet see (Hebrews 11:1). They, well, actually all of us, need to be reminded of Habakkuk and his waiting on the Lord. Though teens don’t see the immediate gratification or result in front of them, God is working on something better for them and we can help them in this process by sharing our lives and when we have had to wait.
Invincibility is something that teens have dealt with for all time. Nothing bad will happen to them, it will happen to the other person. Their brains are not fully developed and during adolescence there is an increase in the activity of the neural circuits using dopamine, a neurotransmitter central in creating our drive for reward.
Starting in early adolescence and peaking midway through, this enhanced dopamine release causes adolescents to gravitate toward thrilling experiences and exhilarating sensations. There are two outcomes with this belief. One is that something horrible happens to them or a close friend or family member which awakens their heart and soul to reality. The other is that they grow out of it in time, usually mid-20’s, well past their teens. We don’t need to scare them out of this but help them realize that everyone is vulnerable. Scripture says that we are constantly at war with our old sin nature, a fallen world and the prince of darkness.
So what can we do as parents and mentors in the church? First, pray for the teens in your families and church. Second, seek to come alongside them with encouragement wherever and however you can. Third, be an influencer in their lives for good and not just look down at them, remember you were once a teen as well, but that’s another blog yet to be written.
I thank God that He has allowed me to play a part in pastoring, discipling and sharing Jesus Christ with teens and for 38 years. God loves teenagers, and He has called the church to equip them in the truth, knowing that they are the next generation’s group of church members, ministry leaders, pastors, and bold witnesses in the world.