Sometimes an issue hits you right between the eyes and you wonder why you haven’t seen it sooner. This is one of those issues. Yes, in recent months I had heard “bits and pieces” from multiple directions. I had read news reports of soaring rates of depression & suicide among teens & young adults. I have talked with folks in the business world who talked about how managing their young adult employees is very different today. I have heard from educators about how high school students are constantly stressed out.
To be candid, my feelings about this issue lined up with many others of my generation: What do they have to be stressed out about? They don’t know stress. They’ve got it easy and don’t know it. Teenagers are always stressed out – and always have been! In short, I was pretty dismissive of most of it. Until last week.
Listening to podcasts as I drive is one of my favorite things to do. It helps me learn and it helps me use dead time in a more productive way. Occasionally, I listen to a leadership podcast from Carey Niewhouf, a pastor in Canada. Here is a link to the show….
I listened to episode #187 with Tim Elmore entitled “Anxiety in Young Leaders.” Really, the episode is about the stress felt by two entire generations – the Millennials who are now in young adulthood and Generation Z, the generation presently in high school and younger – and why those feelings of stress are more intense than the stress of other generations. One statement from this podcast rocked my world…
“The average 17 year old feels as much stress today as the average mental patient in the 1950’s.”
That isn’t a joke. You read it right. Tim Elmore says that he has been told this by multiple physicians. When I heard that statement, I was shaken to my core. If you are reading this post and you are older than me, please resist the urge to begin spouting off about how hard our generation had it and how easy this generation has it. Yes, our generation had stress. Yes, our generation is in the throes of middle age stress – marriage, teenage kids, mortgage, career, aging parents, etc. We know stress. That isn’t the point. The point is how our kids feel. Let that sink in. Yes, our generation knows stress, but consider these points…
1. We did not grow up with smartphones and social media. Our generation gets on Facebook to keep up with old friends and post pictures of our family events, but our kids feel the WEIGHT of social media in a way that we don’t.
2. We did not grow up feeling like our future depended on the ACT. High schools today place a great emphasis on preparing for the ACT, scholarships, college visits, and getting ready for college. I am not critical of this; I understand why they do it. However, our kids get the message and feel the pressure. Yes, I took the ACT, but I don’t remember taking the ACT feeling like the rest of my life was riding on it. That’s a fairly recent phenomenon.
3. We did not grow up with constant pressure to perform and excel. When we grew up, you played little league baseball. Now, you play little league baseball, your dad takes you to a hitting coach every week, and you play travel ball because you are a good player and you can become good enough to get a college scholarship one day. Think about it. In many ways, our kids feel the pressure to perform and excel much earlier in life than we did.
4. Everything is more complicated for our kids. Take going to the prom. When we grew up, the guy asked the girl to go to the prom. It was simple. Now, it has to be a production. Creative. Unique. Splashed all over social media so that everyone sees “the ask.” If you have teenage kids, just stop and think about how much more complicated and stressful getting asked to go to the prom is today than it was a generation ago. The more I think about it, just about everything our kids navigate in their teenage and young adult years is more complicated than it was when we grew up.
5. We did not grow up with information at our finger tips – both good and evil. We had to go to the library to do research. Pornography was found in magazines or on video tapes. Today, people use their phones for both research and pornography. It’s instant. The affect of this on our culture cannot be overstated. Our kids feel the effects of it most. We were dependent on our parents for much of our information. We had to ask our parents. Our kids don’t.
6. We grew up with a greater understanding of failure and resilience. There were times our generation didn’t get a trophy. We didn’t get an award on awards day. We didn’t get picked for the team at P.E. A teacher was unfair to us. A coach didn’t play us when we deserved it. Somehow our generation learned not to be crushed when things didn’t turn out the the way we hoped. Somehow our generation learned to get back up again. For whatever reasons, many teenagers and young adults aren’t learning this same understanding of failure and resilience and they are stressed out because of it. As a result, many are emotionally crushed by the time they are in their 20’s.
There are more examples I could list. Here is the bottom line: our kids have grown up and are growing up in a vastly different world than we grew up in. We must not dismiss their pain and their stress. Yes, we could argue about why this is the case. Parenting styles have changed, and many argue that is the root cause. Tim Elmore discusses this issue in the podcast I mentioned. He believes that today’s parenting styles are great contributors to the younger generations difficulty in handling stress. The reasons why aren’t the real point of this blog post. Here is the point of this blog post…
Our kids and young adults are stressed and hurting far more than I realized.
It doesn’t matter why. It’s how they feel. It’s where they are. My heart goes out to them. This week, I thought of my own sons and wondered if I have failed to understand the stress they feel. I thought of the teenagers and college students in the church I pastor and wondered if I have not taken their pain as seriously as I should have. I thought of the young adults in my church and in my neighborhood and wondered if I lacked the empathy I should have.
I am committed to seek to understand more, have more empathy, and seek to help where I can. Our kids and young adults need us to walk with them as they navigate life. Count me as one who is determined to be there for them.