Generation-S: the most stressed generation ever.

When a teenager walks up to you and asks whether they should go on the weekend retreat you’ve been planning for the past year, or play in the biggest marching band competition of the year, what do you say? What youth pastor wouldn’t want their program to get picked over an extracurricular activity? I’d say that’s a point for team Jesus! (read, team Chris)…right?

This is something that really happened to me a few weeks ago. How good it would have felt to say, “Dude, you should totally come on the retreat! The band will be fine without you. You’ll probably eat more candy at the retreat than the competition anyway.” But in all seriousness, one of the biggest battles that youth pastors are fighting is time. There’s not enough of it. Every time slot on families’ calendars are filled to the brim – some overflowing. And then I come along and try to convince parents and teenagers that they should come to Youth Group. This didn’t use to bother me, until I started learning about stress and time constraint that our teenagers are regularly under.

Several articles have come out, highlighting a study on the stress levels of today’s teenagers. This study says that today’s teens are not only the most stressed generation ever, but that they may be learning their habits from adults. I would say there is no question that some of these habits are being learned from adults. There is much more passed down from parents to kids than many adults may realize. We think TV, video games, friends, social media, and music are the main influence on teenagers. But what people like Kenda Creasy Dean (Almost Christian) and groups like Fuller Youth Institute have been telling us is that adults have more impact on the lives – and faith – of teenagers than we realize.

And that goes for the ways in which teens handle stress as well. I can’t help but think that the fact that American adults, on average, only take about 80% of their vacation days, must have some kind of correlation to the statistics that teens are even more stressed out than today’s adults.

So my question is, does (or should ) this affect youth and family ministries? In a blog post, Jeremy Zach offered some thoughts on how we need to move to a minimalist approach when it comes to programming. You can read the article, but here are his main thoughts on ministry impact

1. Youth ministries should make space for silence and stillness. I think prayer and meditation are practices that would fit into this.

2. Helping families learn and practice healthy stress management.

3. Move to minimalist programming in your church youth ministry. (aka. removing things before adding events to your calendar and even taking things away)

These just may help us remember that our ministries should not only be a place of rest, but a place of sabbath. They should create space for stillness and play. And maybe seek better ways to help and encourage families to practice those things together.

What are your experiences with teenage stress? Has your ministry struggled with being just another time slot on family calendars? How have you created space for stillness and play in your youth ministry?

(This also has a lot of connections with technology and social media, which is a great intro to some of my reflections on It’s Complicated. To be continued…)

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