I’ve been in full time youth ministry for a decade. Over the years if there’s one thing I’ve heard consistently from parents and adults alike it’s about how youth and youth culture seem to be getting worse and worse. With all their technology, unlimited connectivity, Facebook, smartphones, etc., they "must be headed down the fiery path towards destruction" very quickly. Often I hear people talking about how things “weren’t like this” when they were kids. People seem to allude to the fact that youth are far less spiritual today than they were in the past.
I agree with the fact that times have changed and what it means to be a teenager today is drastically different than it did years ago. Teenagers are being bombarded at all angles today with so many different messages and influences. Here are a few interesting facts that help us understand the changing cultural landscape our kids are growing up in:
- In 1983 (the year I was born), North American companies spent $100 million in direct marketing to kids/young teens. Today, they’re spending over $17 billion annually.
- The time our teenagers spend absorbing ads is significantly greater than their total stay in school and having meaningful conversations with their parents combined.
- The average amount of time that a child spends in front of a screen (TV, computer, iPods, smartphones, etc.) is 3500+ hours a year, where the average amount of time they will spend in school is only 900 hours a year. They typically spend 200 hours talking with their parents and if they go to a local church they might only spend about 90 hours in church programs.
Although it is much harder to be a teenager in our culture with the strong influence of the media and other influences pulling our teens in so many different directions, one thing I don’t agree with is the fact that people often think teenagers are far less spiritual in our current culture than in the past. I recently read a study by the Barna Group that asked teenagers what were the three most important things in their life. The top three on the list were friends, family, and God.
Although the way teens are expressing their interest in God and spiritually is changing there is no less interest in spiritual things. One of the most significant differences now is the changing spiritual influence parents have in the lives of their kids and the continued irrelevance of the North American Church.
Discipleship is happening all around us; our kids are being discipled on a constant basis. The question really is: what are they being discipled into? Are they being discipled into a loving and committed relationship with Jesus or are they being discipled by the broader mass marketing culture?
Parents play a massive and critical role in the spiritual formation or complete lack of spiritual formation of their kids. As a parent you have the most critical role in the spiritual development of your kids. God is calling parents to discover what it means to grow and teach their kids in the ways of Jesus. Don’t wait for the Church to get your kids on track, start today with a simple conversation about God.