I have shared this thought a couple different times over the past few months but I wanted to unpack it a little bit. I had a middle school student recently ask me if I think it's harder to be a teenager today than when I was one. First off, I know that it hasn't been that long since I was a teenager, but I still had to say yes. Teenage culture has taken a dramatic shift from my days in middle and high school and I do believe they face a more difficult uphill climb than I did. Let me explain.
When I was growing up peer pressure and the need to live up to unrealistic expectations was definitely a thing. However, I could leave school, go to my room and escape it all. Today's teens do not really have that luxury - there is no escape for them due to cell phones and social media. When they get home, the conversation isn't over; rather it's just beginning.
Not only that, but the bar has been raised as to what your life should look like. With filters, technology and the ability to leave out all the messiness and mistakes, we can make our lives seem perfect. And although we know that's not real life, when that's all that we place in front of our eyes, it becomes all too easy to believe that we just don't measure up.
Online bullying is more real and pervasive than ever. Teens can't seem to get away from it and many of them feel at a loss for how to combat against it due to the anonymity of online interactions, it seems to be an impossible battle. The only real escape is to turn off our devices and get off social media. That solution makes them feel completely disconnected from their world however and causes them to feel even more different and left out.
For us as adults, we want to help, but it's becoming harder than ever to relate to what they are going through because they have technology and struggles that we simply don't really know anything about. So what's the answer?
Fortunately, the good news is that although the struggles may be different and even more difficult, the answer is what it's always been - point them to Jesus and their identity in Him. Students have to know that they are enough in Christ. They have to know that all the attention they are seeking, their desire to win the battle of loneliness, and their constant search for the good life is all found in Jesus.
We must model for students a counter cultural lifestyle. One where we exemplify healthy boundaries with technology and the ability to use social media in a way that glorifies God. If we tell them that their identity is in Christ, but it's obvious that we are defined by the attention we get online, they won't believe us. As we tell them , we must show them.
And of course, pray for them. Listen to their struggles and don't dismiss them just because you don't understand. Ask them questions about the world they live in and the struggles they face. Hear them out, offer biblical advice and prayer. Being on their side means fighting for them from our knees.