10.02.17

Seven Terms That Summarize Generation Z’s Mindset by Tim Elmore

growingleaders.com

In 2016, Growing Leaders hosted five focus groups, made up of high school and middle school teens, from various states across the U.S. Our purpose was to uncover the mindset of these students and how it has shifted from that of the Millennials.

Today, I offer you six commonly used terms that seem to summarize Gen Z (kids growing up in the 21stcentury). In addition, I will provide a summary of how we can best lead them, given their mindset (psyche) and circumstances.

1. DIY

You know this term: Do It Yourself. Today’s students have grown up in a world of “do it yourself”—from purchasing products on-line, to pumping gasoline, to tailoring their Nike shoes to Googling answers. Generation Z learned from their Millennial counterparts who believed what adults told them: graduate high school, do community service, get a degree from a four-year college and you’ll end up in a great job and career. For millions, life did not turn out this way. Gen Z plans to be less conventional with their future opportunities. They are “hackers” who plan to figure out what works best for them, even before they graduate.

Our response: Our leadership style should resemble The Home Depot motto: “You can do it. We can help.” Instead of hovering over them like helicopters, what if we let them process their goal and the steps to reach it—and we act like consultants, not supervisors.

2. GPA

This acronym has been used for decades to describe a student’s Grade Point Average. Over the last forty years, the importance of GPA has been rising among high school and college students. A recent Bates College study found that a high school GPA is the best indicator of success in college—not standardized test scores. It’s become so central that it’s produced anxiety among students who made it a “god,” not a “guide” for success. Today, although some colleges have lowered requirements due to lower enrollment, GPA remains a high priority for students and parents. In fact, the top two pressures teens feel today are family stress and their GPA.

Our response: Our style should resemble the Kit Kat slogan: Give Me a Break! Help students lighten up on the GPA scorecard. Academics are important but over-stressed students do worse on exams. Put grades in perspective and be sure kids have margin in the day to reflect on what they really learned. No doubt, some kids need to learn to concentrate—but many need to learn how to be at peace.

3. FYI

We use this term all the time: For Your Information. Generation Z is all about this: both sending and receiving more data than any generation before them. They’ve never known a day without social media. They no longer need adults to get information. What’s scary is—much of the information is fake, damaging or outright lies. But, alas, information rules the day. The information overload has led to angst and depression as kids’ brains consume more than 10,000 bits of data each day. Herbert Simon once said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Our response: We must help them “filter” the information coming at them. We must talk about what online content is worth their time and what isn’t. We must alert them to how damaging multiple personas on social media can be. We must help them to reject “friend requests” or sources of information that could be distracting or damaging. Students need to be encouraged to embrace the phrase: “Less is more.”

4. FOMO and FOLO

These terms have become popular over the last 5-7 years: Fear Of Missing Out and Fear Of Living Off-line. They arose due to social media posts revealing fun stuff going on in friends’ lives (particularly if you weren’t invited) and feeling your life pales in comparison. Hours on Instagram or Facebook actually foster angst and depression—from seeing how great others’ lives are (or at least “great lives” are being projected on social media). Let’s face it. Today, we have never been less self-aware, yet more socially aware. Further, much of what kids fear they’ll miss out on are unnecessary; like pictures of food on Instagram or ridiculous shows like The Kardashians or The Bachelorette.

Our response: Our leadership style should be more like Nike: “Just Do It.” Host conversations with students to show them that paranoia over what they’re missing causes them to miss out on what’s right in front of them. They frequently stress over items that are out of their control and miss items that are in their control.

5. OJT

We learned this term when we got our first job or perhaps when we launched our career: On the Job Training. Generation Z plans to be educated, but they intend to start working earlier than Millennials. They may be school “hackers” rather than attend a four-year liberal arts college. Their resume may look more like a “mutt” than a thoroughbred, as they do MOOCs (massive on-line, open courses), internships, gigs, and certificate programs. While GPA is important, OJT is on the rise as equally important.

Our response: Our leadership should mirror Aetna’s new slogan: You don’t join us. We join you. If students are going to practice metacognition, adults must let them do the work, create the plan, make the mistakes—and even fail. Not all high school grads should go to college, especially if career preparation is better found in vocational training or tech schools. The world is different now and employers know it.

6. OMG

This term is overused today, in my opinion. It’s commonly used on a text or via social media to express: “Oh My Gosh!” or “Oh My God!” This term describes the high level of emotion Gen Z experiences. In a global survey, teens’ view of their own generation is: lazy, curiouscarefree, motivated, positive, and excited. That’s a pretty honest assessment. They’ve grown up in a day of hyperbole and nonsensical humor, as well as impulsive remarks on social media—and lots of emotion. To get heard, it seems you have to stretch the truth and use boatloads of exclamation points and emojis.

Our response: Back in 2005, Coca Cola first used the slogan: Make It Real, probably a derivative of their earlier phrase: It’s the real thing. The irony of students is that they claim to value authenticity, yet they may buy into more fake and disingenuous communication than anyone. We must remind them: Emotions make a wonderful servant but a poor master. Truth is most potent with no added artificial ingredients.

Question—Can you think of any other descriptors and solutions?

09.04.17

3 Crucial Back-to-School Reminders for Students by Greg Steir

youthministry.com

Teenagers have no greater—or scarier—mission field than their own schools. If you want your students to be a light for the gospel this school year, now’s the time to ramp up your efforts to train, equip, and encourage them in the areas where they might be nervous to live for Jesus.

To start, here are three key reminders every Christian teenager needs to hear from you as school begins:

  1. You have a mission to accomplish. You’re not a student just because it’s important to go to school. As a Christian, school is your mission field. Every teenager-filled table in the cafeteria is a “field” waiting to be cared for and harvested. You have the good news that kids really need but don’t know they need. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). This cause, THE Cause, applies to you as you seek to reach your friends and acquaintances with the gospel. It applies as you make more friends with the hope of introducing them to your best friend, Jesus Christ. If you’re not sure how to share your faith, watch “A 4-Minute Crash Course in Sharing Your Faith” and check out other gospel-sharing resources such as Life in 6 Words.
  2. You’re not alone. As you walk through the school doors, remember God’s words to you: “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV). Don’t be afraid of bullies or critics. Why? The King of kings is with you! The one who gives the bullies breath has your back as you walk through the hallways. So enter your school with a holy, humble confidence that Jesus is with you—because he is!
  3. “Do your best—forget the rest.” Tony Horton, the physical-fitness guru who developed P90X, uses this mantra over and over in his workout routines to encourage exhausted athletes. He tells them to take a break from the exercises if necessary but to make sure they’re pushing to do their very best without losing form. The results are amazing! How do users get such great results? They do their best and forget the rest! I use this same reminder with my own kids, who struggle a little in math. I constantly remind them to do their very best and to concentrate until the light turns on. To be honest, I can tolerate a lot of things as a dad, but I can’t tolerate slacking or a lack of effort. If the effort is there, then people can learn and even master almost any skill or subject through sustained effort. You are the Lord’s representative at your school, so do your best and forget the rest. Remember that the ultimate “teacher” you’ll give an account to (just as I will) is Jesus, so “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV).

08.28.17

Rescuing iGen: Teens Raised on Smartphones Need an Escape Plan by Eric Metaxas

breakpoint.org

It seems like millennials are always texting, swiping, browsing, Snapchatting, Instagramming, or wasting time in some other way on a device, and dinosaurs like me have been quick to complain about it. But it turns out millennials, most of whom remember cassette tapes and graduated high school with flip phones, were old enough to ride the technological wave of the 2010s without getting sucked under.

Writing at The Atlantic, Jean Twenge points out that there’s another, younger generation that got pummeled by the smartphone revolution.

Those born after 1995, typically called “generation Z,” were just entering their teen years when Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone. Appropriately, Twenge dubs these young people, “iGen.”

Unlike millennials, these kids cannot remember a time before the Internet. Like laboratory mice, they’ve been the unwitting subjects of a historic experiment. What effect has this had on them?

Twenge paints a bleak picture, and it goes far deeper than the typical concerns about diminished attention spans. Smartphones and other devices have shaped these teens’ worlds, from their social lives to their mental health.

Teen suicide has skyrocketed since 2011. One survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that teens who spent ten hours or more a week on social media were 56 percent more likely to experience symptoms of depression. According to two national surveys, those glued to screens at least three hours a day were 28 percent more likely to suffer sleep deprivation.

It doesn’t end there. The younger generation is spending less time outside than any other crop of kids—ever. Twelfth-graders in 2015 spent fewer hours out of the house than eighth-graders did in 2009! They don’t get their driver’s licenses as early as their parents did, they’re more than twenty percent less likely to have jobs, and they aren’t even interested in spending time with friends, at least not in person. The number of teens who regularly get together socially has dropped by an astonishing forty percent since 2000.

Where are they spending all their time? Well, mostly at home, in their rooms, staring at screens. One teenager described the crater she’d left on her bed from spending all summer Snapchatting. Another admitted, “I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

“iGen,” Twenge concludes, “[is] on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.” And overuse of technology and social media is the most obvious culprit.

Well, here’s the good news, and I know you’re ready for it: Research indicates that much of this is reversible. Kids and teens who spend an above average amount of time with friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy. Fewer hours spent staring at a screen correlates with better sleep. And as blogger, Andrew Sullivan, put it recently, cutting back on online time just makes you feel human again.

“If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence…” writes Twenge, “it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen.”

Restricting your kids’ smartphone use may not sound like the best way to stay on their good side. And if they’re older, you’ll need to explain yourself, and reach agreements as a family about technology, not simply lay down the law. Why not show them this commentary?

You may find that your teens are more open to setting boundaries around screen time than you think. After all, their devices are not fulfilling them. Members of iGen may be in a better position than anyone to understand that there’s nothing smart about being enslaved to a phone.

02.27.17

Five Ways to Protect Students From Social Media by TIm Elmore

growingleaders.com

Best-selling author Simon Sinek was interviewed on Millennials and said something startling. According to Sinek, the use of social media has the same effect as drinking, smoking or gambling. It is addictive. The same chemical, dopamine, is released in us when we hear the ping of social media. The students we hosted in our focus groups last year agreed—they’re addicted. Interestingly, we have age restrictions on drinking, smoking and gambling—but not on social media. Anyone can use it.

So, in essence, as kids go through the stressful years of adolescence and begin relying on social media—it’s like allowing a kid the key to a bar full of alcohol and saying, “Have at it.” Social media has become such an influential factor in students’ lives so rapidly, that, by and large, we’ve not figured out how to “civilize” it yet.

Four Descriptions of Social Media’s Impact on Users

When you summarize what it does in a few phrases, social media is about:

  • Instant (There’s no delay to the reception of a message.)
  • Constant (There’s not relief from the barrage of messages.)
  • Resistant (It diminishes the development of interpersonal skills.)
  • Insistent (It coerces teens to feel they have to read and reply.)

Ironically, social media now acts like a stimulant that can actually cause depression.

“Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently conducted a study about the effects of social media habits on the moods of users. The research determined that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed” reports Forbes.com.

The Dangers of Being an Adolescent Today

Like many others, Sinek sees the dangers of embarking on a career today—given the realities young adults face, especially because their world retards the ability to delay gratification. Growing into adulthood in a culture of “instant gratification” can sabotage us. Why? Sinek says there are two important elements most of us want that we cannot obtain immediately. They come over time:

  1. Job satisfaction. (We don’t climb the career ladder quickly. It takes time.)
  1. Strong relationships. (We must learn to cultivate healthy relationships.)

Both of these highly desired outcomes occur over time—not overnight. They develop in a “crockpot” not a “microwave.” There isn’t any instant gratification like they have been conditioned to receive. Dr. Jean Twenge (who will join us at our National Leadership Forum June 22-23, 2017), reveals that the angst we see in teens today directly parallels the introduction of social media into our daily lives. For millions of us, we cannot trust our “willpower.”

Five Guardrails to Put in Place

Over the years our society has put “guardrails” in place for other addictive habits like smoking at airports or drinking in restaurants. Let me offer a beginning to the same conversation on social media with your students or kids at home. What if you talked about this research, then established “guardrails” to ensure we all remain on the road, without veering off a cliff and damaging our lives:

1. Establish clear boundaries.

Why not construct mutual boundaries that both adults and students must maintain? It could be a boundary on hours spent on social media or where it’s OK to use it. Just like we have times and places for smoking in airports.

2. Think substitutes.

Why not create a list of items that could be used as a substitute for social media? Smokers often chew gum—why not substitute reading or board games for Instagram or Facebook? It will require creativity but it’s the best way to beat a habit.

3. Teach moderation. 

When people reach adulthood, they’re allowed to legally drink. So we often say: “There’s nothing wrong with alcohol. The problem’s too much alcohol.” What if you established a limit on hours or locations for social media?

4. Equip them for face-to-face relationships.

Addictive habits can diminish essential skills we need. Dependence on one muscle can cause others to atrophy. What if we spent time on intentional training for interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence for our students on social media?

5. Enable them to discover purpose.

Finally, the best way to overcome a bad habit is to acquire a strong sense of purpose. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” What if we fostered conversation with students on their sense of mission in life?

Philosopher Jean de La Bruyère said, “The greatest part of humanity employs their first years in efforts to make their last years miserable.” Social media can cause a student to experience the best day or the worst day, depending on the message on their phone. We must lead them out of this emotional roller coaster and into emotional stability.

01.30.17

Selfie Generation’s Self-Image Struggle by Dale Hudson
relevantchildrensministry.com
Kids are growing up in selfie culture.  To fit in, they are expected to post a selfie before, during and after every activity.  They then watch closely for the resulting likes, thumbs-up and other ratings to tally.
It’s a great way to share experiences and memories.  The downside?  It can turn into a self-image measurement.  It affects how kids view themselves.  Recent studies show that…
  • 35 percent are worried about people tagging them in unattractive photos.
  • 27 percent feel stressed about how they look in posted photos.
  • 22 percent felt bad about themselves if their photos were ignored.

Here are a few examples of the selfie culture kids are growing up in.

 
Instagram. 
The number of followers, likes, and emojis kids can collect gets competitive, with users often begging for them.  Instagram “beauty pageants” and other photo-comparison activities crop up, with losers earning a big red X on their pics.
Snapchat.
Numerical scores display the total number of sent and received chats.  You can view your friends’ scores to keep tabs on who’s racking up the most views.
Hot or Not. This quintessential rating app lets you judge the attractiveness of others based on a series of photos, tapping either a heart sign or an X to to rank them.  Users log in to see what others think of them.
#tbh. 
When Instagram users type “#tbh,” they’re indicating either that they want others to honestly appraise their selfies or they’re expressing their true feelings about someone else’s looks.  Examples: “#tbh am I pretty?” or “#tbh I think you’re really pretty.”  Although #tbh is usually positive, it can get negative in specific and hurtful ways, and even when it stays positive, it reinforces the idea that appearance is what matters most.
YouTube – “Am I pretty or ugly?”
Kids – mostly girls – post videos of themselves asking if other users think they’re pretty or ugly.  These videos are typically public, allowing anyone – from kids at school to random strangers – to post a comment.
Social media tools can be very influential in a kid’s view of themselves.  While it can bolster self-esteem, it can also hurt it.  It is critical that we help the selfie generation navigate through this struggle.
Help kids discover the foundation of their self-image.We must teach kids that their self-image is based not on how others see them on social media, but on how God sees them.  When we help them see that who they are in Christ is more important than what they look like, it will give them sustaining confidence, even when they get a thumbs down on social media.
Provide caring volunteer leaders.  Volunteers who care about kids have an enormous effect on them.  Challenge volunteers to invest in the kids and speak words of life and encouragement into their lives.  Of course, the primary adults who mold a child’s self-esteem is his or her parents, but kids also need another adult besides their parents to invest in them.
 
Teach kids to be leaders.  Kids can make a positive impact when they lead the way in posting constructive comments about others on social media.
 
Help them see the true picture.  Kids often compare themselves to the media images of celebrities and models.  But they may not understand that these images are often retouched and enhanced.  Yes, the people may be attractive, but it is not real life and not a standard by which they should compare themselves.
As the kids in your ministry face the challenges of growing up in a selfie generation, God wants to use you and your team to give them a true picture of who they are in Christ.

01.23.17

The Ugly Truth Behind Pretty Pictures by Sierra Filucci
commonsensemedia.org
Six ways to help your kids resist the Photoshop effect.
Walk past a supermarket checkout stand and you can’t help but see models and celebs in bikinis and slinky outfits plastered across magazine covers. Tween favorites such as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé appear all over the internet in glamorous outfits with incredible hair and makeup. And ads on billboards, buses, and subways display long-legged models selling everything from liquor to lipstick.

Kids are bombarded with images of men and women — famous or not — who look perfect. Too perfect, in fact. And that’s thanks to photo editing, which, as many of us parents know, can eliminate a model’s pimples, make a celeb’s cellulite disappear, and lengthen legs, slim waists, and erase wrinkles.

Pull Back the Curtain

But kids aren’t always so savvy. Kids who see unrealistic bodies or faces or clothing — especially on folks they admire — can feel inadequate as a result. In fact, several studies have shown that reading women’s fashion magazines or looking at images of models has a negative effect on women’s and girls’ self-esteem. Even photos of friends on Instagram or Snapchat are too perfect, thanks to flattering filters and selfie-editing tools.

That’s why it’s important to teach kids about the reality behind the images that surround them. Empowering kids to see behind the photo spreads and the advertisements can help combat the negative effects of these images.

Add Your Voice

The good news is, some kids — and even some celebrities — are talking back to the beauty and advertising industries and taking action to encourage more realistic images. Young people have asked magazines that cater to kids and teens, such as Seventeen, to do more photo spreads that don’t use Photoshop. Glamour magazine opted out of Photoshop for its February 2017 issue. Some clothing companies, such as ModCloth, have agreed to not alter the images of models they use in their ads.

Celebrities (including Zendaya and Lena Dunham) have stepped up to show a more realistic image of themselves online and in photo shoots, and in doing so they help pull back the curtain on the amount of retouching that goes on in Hollywood and beyond.

Not sure how to approach this subject with your kid? Here are some ideas:

  • Do a reality check. Make sure kids know that almost every photo in magazines and advertisements has been altered. Show examples of models and celebrities where the before and after examples are starkly different. (My Pop Studio is a great site to help kids understand what goes on behind the scenes at magazines and other media outlets.)
  • Play “spot the Photoshop.” See who can spot the retouching on any ads or photos you come across. (Search online for “Photoshop fail” and you’ll come across some amazing examples of how poorly the tool can be used.)
  • Talk about the disconnect. Plenty of celebrities have come out against being Photoshopped. Meghan Trainor explicitly calls it out in her song “All About That Bass” with the lyric “we know that s–t ain’t real.” Ask your kids why the industry insists on putting out unrealistic images (it’s usually all about the money). What would they do if they were the photo editor of a magazine? Would they airbrush the models or let their so-called imperfections shine?
  • Connect the dots. Discuss the connection between fantasy images and products being marketed. Talk about how photos are used to sell magazines, specific products, celebrities’ brands, and more.
  • Ask questions. Get kids to think about how images affect viewers (both boys and girls) and how images can distort our ideas about what’s healthy or beautiful. What would your kids say to a friend who felt bad after looking at an unrealistic image? How could you encourage them to celebrate their inner qualities? What kinds of things besides looking at magazines or celebrity blogs can you do to make yourself feel good?
  • Look for backup. Help kids locate resources to take action. Find out how to sign or start petitions. Encourage kids to speak up about these images in their classrooms, through their social networks, and among friends. (Check out our list of sites that encourage social action.)

01.16.17

For Teens, ‘It’s A Mall World’ No Longer by Aaron Paquette

mediapost.com/publications/article/292683/for-teens-its-a-mall-world-no-longer.html

The recently concluded holiday season was a brutal one for brick-and-mortar retailers. Consumer spending didn’t materialize the way department-store chains were hoping, and the repercussions have been swift and harsh. Macy’s announced it was closing 68 stores and cutting 6,200 jobs, sending its stock down 14% the next day. Kohl’s reported disappointing holiday sales and lowered its 2017 outlook, causing its stock to plunge 19%. Sears, meanwhile, announced the closure of 41 Sears stores and 109 Kmarts.

Clearly, the migration away from stores and toward online shopping seems only to be hastening. While major retailers typically report increasing online sales, for most of them, it’s not enough to offset declines in their bread-and-butter, brick-and-mortar business. Even the best-established brands like Walmart and Target are merely treading water, while others like Sears are rapidly facing an existential crisis. What does this mean for teens and the brands that sell to them?

  • The mall as we know it is gone. For the last three generations, teen life was centered on malls. As Myles Udland recently explored in Yahoo Finance, mall life was depicted in movies (“Mean Girls,” “Mallrats”) as a place where teens could taste that first bit of freedom in an environment that was still fairly structured and safe. Now that anchor tenants such as Macy’s and Sears are going away, so is that mall experience. Already the classic indoor malls of the 1970s and 1980s are being converted to outdoor “entertainment and lifestyle centers.” And with other demographic changes afoot, some of these projects are aimed more at tourists, upper-income adults and families than at teens. With the rise of social media, teens have “virtual” meeting places that didn’t exist a decade or two ago, but these still don’t replace physical meeting spots for face time, hanging together, first dates, first purchase decisions, etc. Besides Snapchat and Instagram, what will replace malls as these meeting spots?
  • Entertainment and experiential destinations rule. Now that teens (and Americans of all ages) are buying less “stuff” in-person, the burden of anchoring malls and providing “safe space” to teens falls to restaurants, movie theaters, gaming establishments, and other venues that provide an experience that can’t be replicated online. This is perhaps part of the reason the “escape room” has become such a hot trend … it just isn’t the same escaping an online venue, and it forces people to meet up in person, work together and communicate to accomplish a task. Look for more such businesses to anchor malls and draw teens, especially with the rise of virtual reality. Mall-based businesses can offer spa-like pampering; style and fashion consulting and makeovers; trials of new products and services; athletic endeavors like rock-climbing; and even visiting, exploring and competing in awesome new worlds with virtual and augmented reality.
  • The first “teen Amazon” wins. Remarkably, consumers are buying an increasing amount of “stuff” online; teens are at the vanguard of online/mobile usage; they tend to like branded environments that speak uniquely to them; and yet nobody has offered one in a big way. My prediction is that either (a) Amazon will develop a sub-brand aimed at teens (similar to how the Zappos brand is targeted at shoe buyers), or (b) another deep-pocketed retail or tech company (Walmart? Google? Apple?) will launch a Millennial-focused, online-only service that will revolutionize retail for those under 35.

Imagine a fun, easy-to-use, fully mobile-enabled service with great content, recommendations, tips from YouTube personalities, ways to be social with your friends, ways to become friends with tastemakers and those who share your taste, tools to post content and co-create new looks, and a marketplace where young fashionistas can easily create and sell their new lines. The first service to fully capitalize on this opportunity has the potential to own its category just as much as Facebook, Uber and Airbnb own theirs.

Despite the impending demise of the department store (and the malls anchored by them), opportunities abound for teen-focused retail, and the brands innovative enough to explore them.

11.28.16

What to Do When Teens say “I don’t believe in God” by Rob Petitfils

youthspecialties.com

Too often when adults dialogue with resistant teens about matters of faith, they are guided by their need to be right, rather than to be effective. If you and the teen both need to be right, then you’ll have no influence on that teen other than to reinforce their mindset that Christian adults are egotistical, narrow minded, antiquated, control freaks who really don’t care about them. 

Here are 10 tips to guide you in talking with your teen about their views on God:

  1. Don’t panic and take your time. Influencing doubting, cynical, non-believing teens is a process not an event.
  2. Validate them. It may not be OK with you for them to “not believe in God” but it needs to be OK for them. Remember, God still believes in them and wants them to believe more than you.
  3. Don’t ask leading questions—teens are smart and they know when you’re trying to lead them or trap them and they’ll resent you for it. Then they’ll resist you and those who follow you.
  4. Come from a place of genuine curiosity. When you’re genuinely curious about how a teen has come to believe what he believes, thinks what he thinks they’ll respond favorably.
  5. Allow them to save face. This is critical. So often teens remain entrenched in temporary identities because they don’t want to hear “I told you so” or other more sophisticated adult versions of that, such as a parent saying to another adult “Well, he stopped believing in God but he’s now found his way.” While that sounds innocent, it sounds condescending and patronizing. What if doubting and not believing were his way?
  6. Give up being right. Here’s my gift to you: “You’re right.” Now that is settled. When we come from a place of “But I’m right!” we’ll try too hard convince teens that we are right about something like the existence of God, one of two things is going on: 1) We really don’t believe what we claim as strongly as we claim to believe it or 2) Our ego needs to be right, it needs to win.
  7. Don’t make it about you. Allow your teen to have his own journey with God, even though it may not look like yours and even if it looks so much like yours it scares the hell out of you!
  8. Make Church attendance a part of being in your family. Just because they don’t believe doesn’t mean they get a pass from Community Worship. But you can easily help lower their resistance by saying “I know you don’t believe in God, but this is a family practice. As long as you live in our house, you’ll be a part of family practices.”
  9. Don’t make them go “talk to the priest” unless its something they are really interested in doing or have a relationship with the priest. I’m all about getting teens and clergy together for meaningful dialogue, but too often when parents do this it comes across as “We’ll see about your atheism. Father’s gonna set you straight.” And instead of being set straight, you (and now with Father or the minister’s help) have further entrenched them in their unbelief. If you know the minister or other adult well enough to know they can utilize the approach I’m suggesting, then by all means go for it!
  10. Listen. Listen. When teens resist, its usually because we haven’t listened long and/or well enough. Teens will hear you when they feel heard by you.

11.01.16

Beyond the Pink and Blue: Reaching Boys and Girls for Jesus by Carmen Kamrath

childrensministry.com

The wonderful differences between boys and girls present unique opportunities to reach them for Jesus.

The Pink

Sugar and spice, and all that’s nice; And that’s what little girls are made of.

Today’s girls will argue that they are more than sugar and spice — much more. More girls today are treading new territories that were once thought to be extreme for girls, such as playing organized athletics or becoming astronauts. Today’s girls are more confident and outgoing than in previous generations.

The pressures have escalated for today’s young female population. Girls are bombarded with sexual images in the world of entertainment. And with girls maturing physically at an earlier age, sometimes as young as 7, these sexual messages are confusing. Girls are looking for a place to belong where they can feel special without the pressure of outward appearances or popularity. Girls need to know that Jesus loves them unconditionally.

What Girls Want

Girls want beauty and glamour. Some girls may try out the entire makeup case, while others are content with just the lip gloss. Girls want to be noticed, and thankfully, today’s glamour can be found in non-traditional venues like the women’s World Cup soccer team.

Unfortunately, secular society has taken advantage of this area, and girls are often drawn to wear clothes like their favorite pop music stars — clothing that’s often too mature. They’re under great pressure to act and look older than they are. They watch television and movies where sexual content is the status quo, and they’re at risk of growing into their teen years thinking this kind of behavior is to be expected rather than rejected.

What to do: Accessorize inner beauty. Teach girls that true beauty comes from within. Conduct a class for preteen girls on inner beauty qualities and how to take care of their changing bodies. Teach them that God loves them for who they are and that he looks at their hearts for their inner beauty.

Point out good role models who exemplify this kind of beauty, such as American Idol winner Jordin Sparks or Olympic track star Sanya Richards. Compliment and assure girls when they display their inward beauty.

Welcome girls when they come to church because of who they are — not how they look. Avoid always choosing the outwardly lovely children for parts in a musical or to answer questions.

Girls want to shine. Like boys, girls also want to succeed and be the best at something. Girls are succeeding in areas that’ve traditionally been set aside for boys to excel in, such as math, science, and sports.

There’s more pressure for girls to be successful. The pressure to succeed can develop a perfectionist attitude that can make girls susceptible to dangerous practices such as eating disorders or promiscuous behavior. Our culture tells girls that they can do anything, but sometimes this translates into the notion that they can do it all. Girls often feel pressure to be the best in many areas at the expense of precious downtime.

What to do: Help girls focus. Assure girls that they can excel, but caution them that they don’t need to do it all. Provide opportunities for girls to be successful through games that help them master tasks. Lead girls in serving the community where success is measured by someone else’s gain. Provide girls-only outings where girls can have fun and develop relationships. Provide mentors who can discuss girls’ personal pressures and can steer them toward making positive decisions.

Girls want to nurture. This is how girls are biologically wired; the nature to nurture kicks in. Whether it’s caring for a doll in the housekeeping center or doting on a friend who’s crying over the latest crisis, girls want to care for and fix what’s broken. Even at a young age, girls instinctively know the significance of what it means to bond with something or someone they care about.

What to do: Nurture their nature. Give girls opportunities to care for others by having them feed a classroom fish or go on a monthly outing to a local nursing home. Teach girls about the art of caring for others, and commend them in their efforts to help fix problems.

Some girls have absent mothers, either physically or emotionally, and these girls need not only to mother but also to be mothered. Provide female mentors whom girls can learn from and talk to. Teach about mothers in the Bible and the roles they played in history. Make your church a place where girls are cared for and have their needs met.

Girls want intimacy. Michael Gurian in his book The Wonder of Girls says, “The hidden yearning in every girl’s and woman’s life [is]to live in a safe web of intimate relationships.” Girls need to feel close to friends, family, teachers, or mentors. Some desire physical intimacy by craving hugs, while others long for deep, meaningful conversation. Girls thrive in a community, a group of girls with common interests and goals.

Danger looms for girls when they don’t receive the intimacy they need, because they begin to look for it in inappropriate peer groups or relationships. And broken friendships can leave lasting scars of rejection and mistrust when girls cast individuals out of friend groups.

What to do: Help girls connect. Help girls form friendships at church. Make your ministry a safe environment where girls can talk without being judged. Help kids appreciate one another’s differences. Provide girls-only small groups, and invite high school girls to share with girls about friends and relationships. Teach girls about experiencing an intimate relationship with God through prayer, worship, and Bible study.

Girls want to be loved. Just as girls want intimacy, girls also desire to love and be loved. Girls typically express their love more freely than boys, either in words or actions.

For a girl, a loving relationship with her father or significant male adult is crucial as she grows up. Girls will base future relationships with the opposite sex on the relationships they experience with their dads. Girls are very observant and need guidance from positive role models to show them the true meaning and expression of love.

What to do: Make matches for girls. Provide positive male role models whom girls can trust and relate to. Model how to give and receive love as you love girls unconditionally. Teach girls that true love isn’t what’s often portrayed on television and in today’s music. Dr. David Wall, director of psychological services for Remuda Ranch Programs for Anorexia and Bulimia in Wickenburg, Arizona, says, “Loving them with a passion is not an iron clad guarantee…But a loved daughter — one who sees the love, feels the love, hears the love, and experiences the love — will not quickly succumb to the illusions of the world.”

Tell girls the amazing love stories of the Bible and about the love relationship that God intended between a man and woman. Help girls strengthen their relationships with their dads by hosting a dad and daughter dinner or a night out bowling. Most importantly, help girls know that the most intimate and loving relationship they’ll ever experience is the one they can have with God.

The Blue

Snaps and snails, and puppy-dogs’ tails; And that’s what little boys are made of.

The age-old cliché says that “boys will be boys,” but what exactly does that mean in today’s society? What does it mean to be a boy today? With a deluge of new books regarding raising boys, it seems that many people are trying to find the answer to that question.

The world has changed for boys. Our culture has gone from using an iron hand to groom boys into responsible men to helping young men find their sensitive sides. Our culture values boys and girls as our hope for the future, but that value can stress out boys with its seemingly unreachable expectations.

The saying “boys will be boys” is an important one for us as we seek to effectively minister to boys. As we better understand what boys need, we can introduce them to the aspects of the Christian life that appeal to their boyishness. To ignore who they are, though, sets us up for certain failure.

What Boys Want

Boys want to build and conquer. Watch boys as they play video games. Their mission: To conquer and beat the level they’re playing. They’re relentless as they play for hours on end, and they search books and Web sites for strategies to help them conquer the game. They’ll do anything to win.

Boys want to know they have what it takes to one day be men. John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, writes, “It’s not a question — it’s the question, the one every boy and man is longing to ask. Do I have what it takes? Am I powerful? Until a man knows he’s a man he will forever be trying to prove he is one, while at the same time shrink from anything that might reveal he is not.”

What to do: Meet boys’ conquering need. Help boys build, succeed, and master by offering opportunities to accomplish important tasks. Have boys paint an elderly church member’s home. Play games in your ministry that encourage teamwork or allow boys to beat their own scores. Teach them about people in the Bible who succeeded, such as Joshua or David. Talk about the successes of Christian role models, such as the St. Louis Rams’ Aeneas Williams or dc Talk’s Michael Tait. Celebrate boys’ successes, whether boys make the school basketball team or bring a math grade from a C up to a B.

Boys want to be brave. I recently observed a group of preschool boys pretending to be firefighters. A cat sat at the top of the slide, and they rushed up the ladder as the imaginary flames were about to close in on the defenseless animal. One little boy scooped the cat into his arms and slid down the slide to safety — a self-proclaimed hero.

What to do: Bolster boys’ courage. Teach boys how to stand strong in their faith. Provide boys with the tools they need, such as putting on the armor of God or being part of an accountability group, to live out their faith throughout the week. Discuss issues of good versus evil and how boys can be on the good side. Give boys opportunities to solve problems by using biblical truths to conquer tough life situations.

In their attempts at bravery, though, boys feel a great deal of responsibility and stress, even at a young age. Pressure to get good grades, to excel in athletics or music, and to behave appropriately are all part of life for boys. So provide opportunities for boys to let off steam in a pressure-free environment; this means providing an activity just for boys, such as tackling a ropes course or playing a game of laser tag. Have boys talk with male mentors and each other about the struggles they face. Let them know that bravery includes putting their trust in God.

Boys want the “gross-factor.” Face it — nothing brings a bigger smile to a boy’s face than a supersonic burp or the opportunity to play in the mud. Today’s media and toy manufacturers have discovered that marketing gross products is a quick way to the young male consumer’s pocketbook. Candy makers serve up gummy snot and earwax candy to eager boys who have pockets full of cash to spend on these yucky items.

What to do: Gross ’em out. Teach Bible truths using slime, messy science experiments, or stories like the bug problem during the plagues. Let preschool boys play with shaving cream or finger paint. Remember that everything we do at church doesn’t need to have a deep spiritual meaning to it; sometimes just having fun, laughing, and being silly can minister to the boy who needs a place to belong.

Boys want adventure. And they want someone to share the adventure with. Boys need to feel part of a clan, even if the clan includes only one other boy. The adventure may be as simple as a night in a tree fort or as complex as installing a new engine in a go-cart. Boys appreciate knowing the rules of the adventure they’re embarking on and want the opportunity to venture as far as they can without violating the boundaries.

Through their adventures, boys need to have the opportunity to lead and follow. They need assurance that when one adventure ends, another one is just around the corner. Boys need to feel challenged and know that they’re up to the task that awaits them.

What to do: Be their adventure guide. It’s important that boys understand that the Christian life is the greatest adventure. Instead of stifling the boisterous enthusiasm of a boy on an adventure, give him the chance to talk about it. Boys need to share their stories. Use scavenger hunts, dramas, or movie clips to reveal adventures in the Bible. Let boys work together in groups, but provide guidance so they know their boundaries. Boys enjoy challenges, so stretch them with opportunities to be the classroom greeter or help organize teams for a game. Take preteen boys backpacking in the wilderness or to rock-climbing gyms.

Boys want to be loved. In his book Real Boys, William Pollack, Ph.D., says, “The fact is that boys experience deep subliminal yearnings for connection — a hidden yearning for relationship — that makes them long to be close to parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and family. Boys are full of love and empathy for others and long to stay ‘attached’ to their parents and closest mentors.”

Boys need people they can trust and depend on. Boys desire relationships with adult role models who can show them the ropes and who can speak openly with them about their triumphs and concerns.

What to do: Connect with boys. Provide positive male role models for boys through trusted adults who can give boys guidance and validation. Invite dads to be part of ministry events so they can share experiences with their sons. Express appropriate affection to boys with high fives or pats on the back. Show you care by remembering their birthdays or surprising them with doughnuts on a Sunday morning. Most importantly, let boys know they can experience a radical, unconditional love through Christ. Your passion to follow Christ will speak volumes to the boys who you want to grow in loving relationships with God.

09.06.16

IMAGE: Is This the Biggest Barrier to Students Living out Their Faith? by Andy Blanks

youthministry360.com

I have been discipling teenagers in one way or another pretty much weekly since 2003 or so. And now, I have children old enough to be in our youth group. I write this as a way of communicating how deeply invested I am in seeing teenagers living their faith in authentic, dynamic ways. And while there are a lot who do, there many who don’t. More than ever, I find myself asking why. I’ve thought about it, and I believe the main reason students don’t live as powerfully as they could can be boiled down to one simple concept . . .

Image.

I think in the current culture our students are growing up in, image rules in a way it has never before. And I believe this is so ingrained, many teenagers don’t even realize it. It’s simply second nature. Obsession with how they portray themselves is a current that runs through most of their daily thoughts and actions. And while this has long been true in some degree, the ultra-connective, social media fueled lifestyle of the smartphone generation has multiplied the image obsession to a level that is almost comical. If you spend time looking for this in teenagers, you’ll realize that much of the time they engage in image control on the level of a professional PR firm!

Because it feels like the stakes are too high if they don’t. Word (and images) travels fast via text messages and Instagram. Many students don’t seem to want to offend, or seem like they’re holding an opinion outside what would be considered mainstream or “normal.” Which is a pretty big barrier to living a bold faith life. After all, people who live impassioned lives for Christ can make others uncomfortable.

Living as a Christ-follower is image shattering. When teenagers identify strongly with Christ, they can be easily painted as small-minded or narrowly-focused. Having convictions and holding to them just isn’t that cool. But here’s the deal . . .

Like all Christ-followers, our students are called to live their lives in radical submission to God, regardless of how this sets them against their culture.

This isn’t new information to us. But it’s good to be reminded of it. Think of the people in Scripture who stood up against the tide of culture, sacrificing their image to do so . . . all for the sake of God.

  • Isaiah walked around nude for three years.
  • Ezekiel made a spectacle of himself in public.
  • Daniel risked everything for the sake of holiness.
  • Hosea married a prostitute.
  • John the Baptist lived in the desert and ate bugs.
  • The Disciples went against every norm of their day’s leading religious culture.
  • Paul subjected himself to beating and ridicule, making himself an enemy of his own people.
  • Peter sacrificed religious tradition to be obedient to God’s call to include Gentiles in the faith family.

ALL of these people sacrificed image, i.e., what others thought about them, because God had called them to serve Him with their lives. They did so without regard for how they looked to the world around them. And all of them had an amazing impact for the Kingdom.

I want to challenge you to consider having this discussion with your students, as I am doing with mine (and with my daughters):

DO YOU CARE MORE ABOUT YOUR IMAGE, ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK OF YOU, THAN YOU DO ABOUT LIVING YOUR LIFE ON MISSION FOR GOD?

My hunch is that if they are honest, while some may not, many do care more about their image than they care about making a difference for God. Some of this is probably an inherent part of their life stage. But part of it is a real barrier you can play a role in helping them overcome.

Image should never stand in the way of living a dynamic life for Christ.