08.21.17

Hi! I am praying for you right now! 
 
I know most of you are super busy right now (training and kicking off your classes…) so please be praying for one another!!!! 

 
Daily Prayer Email: Please send ALL prayer requests for your class to: studentcbsprayer@gmail.com
 
 
Quotes:
The power that raised Christ from the grave is the power that resurrects hope in our hearts. #lucado
 
Without the gospel we hate ourselves instead of our sin. #keller
 
The only way into the presence of God is from where you really are — not from where you wish you were. #furtick
 
Until Jesus is enough for you, no person or thing will ever be. #furtick
 
 
FYI:
4. Six Prayers to Pray for Students as School begins… (below)
 
Here is what I just posted on the blogwww.studentcbsblog.org 
 
How Gen Z is Changing Television as We Know It by Dale Hudson
New Survey: Millennials Learn More from Technology Than from People by Tim Elmore
Real vs. Fake Relationships by Leneita Fix (I have been reading so much about this lately… good for us to help them navigate.)
Four Gifts Every Student Needs From You This Year by Tim Elmore

Here are 2 video links I think you might like to see:

 
 
Here are 2 just for you:
 
God’s Leaders Have a Higher Standard

 

Priests… must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the LORD by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.   Leviticus 21:6

Ministers of the Gospel submit to a higher standard and answer to a holy authority. There is something special and fearful about being a vocational servant of Jesus Christ. This is not a role to be undertaken lightly or to be chosen casually, as some secular career paths. God places eternal expectations on priests, pastors, and ministry leaders. Leaders in the church have the Lord as their baseline for behavior. Deviant behavior is unacceptable for those who lead on behalf of the Lord. 

The leader’s character is his greatest asset. Someone cannot determine acceptable behavior based on what he wants when the Bible and church history have already defined the standard. How hypocritical and foolish to think leaders can flaunt immoral behavior when church members are disciplined for the same sin. Double standards may be for the uninformed and the unaccountable, but not for faithful and educated followers of Christ. How surreal to need to declare that character in the church matters! A church or ministry leader cannot practice immoral living and still lead the Bride of Christ. They cannot practice homosexuality, adultery, stealing, or lying. They cannot practice unfaithfulness in any of its destructive forms. 

“An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly o the trustworthy message as it has been taught so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:6-9).

There is a holy obligation for leaders to model and teach holy living as defined in God’s Word. Holiness is not a creation of culture but defined by God. Leaders of God’s church and ministry are to be holy as He is holy. Therefore, you can’t say you are a leader on behalf of Jesus Christ if you embrace and endorse the very sin for which He died on the cross. It would be the epitome of hypocrisy to do so. . 

Holy leaders do make people thirsty for God. They shine their light of holy living on the Lord. Embrace His higher standard, and expect the same of your church and ministry leaders. Elect men and women of the cloth who behave biblically, whose character aligns with Christ’s, and who model faithfulness, not perfection. They are not conformed to this world but transformed by God’s truth. 

The Bible is clear: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

The Brave Friendship of God

 

Oh, the bravery of God in trusting us! Do you say, “But He has been unwise to choose me, because there is nothing good in me and I have no value”? That is exactly why He chose you. As long as you think that you are of value to Him He cannot choose you, because you have purposes of your own to serve. But if you will allow Him to take you to the end of your own self-sufficiency, then He can choose you to go with Him “to Jerusalem” (Luke 18:31). And that will mean the fulfillment of purposes which He does not discuss with you.

We tend to say that because a person has natural ability, he will make a good Christian. It is not a matter of our equipment, but a matter of our poverty; not of what we bring with us, but of what God puts into us; not a matter of natural virtues, of strength of character, of knowledge, or of experience— all of that is of no avail in this concern. The only thing of value is being taken into the compelling purpose of God and being made His friends (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). God’s friendship is with people who know their poverty. He can accomplish nothing with the person who thinks that he is of use to God. As Christians we are not here for our own purpose at all— we are here for the purpose of God, and the two are not the same. We do not know what God’s compelling purpose is, but whatever happens, we must maintain our relationship with Him. We must never allow anything to damage our relationship with God, but if something does damage it, we must take the time to make it right again. The most important aspect of Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the surrounding influence and qualities produced by that relationship. That is all God asks us to give our attention to, and it is the one thing that is continually under attack.

Six Prayers to Pray for Students as School Begins

Like many other families, we are trudging back into school this week after a great summer. For our part, our kids seem neither despondent nor over the moon, but somewhere in the middle. They’ve had a great summer, but they’re also ready for a change, and ready to get onto the new possibilities this year in school will bring. So here they come – a rising 7th grader, 5th grader, and 2nd grader.

Here are some of the prayers we are praying for them as they begin this year:

1. Free these children from the idol of popularity.

Oh, how seductive is this idol. I still feel the pain of knowing when someone doesn’t think well of me for some reason, and even as an adult I feel the tug toward compromise if it means being well-liked. Even while feeling that temptation, I remember well the intense desire to be invited to the right lunch table or the best birthday party. I’m praying that our kids would, by God’s grace, find their worth and identity in Jesus rather than in the “likes” they receive from others.

2. Guard their hearts from materialism.

It’s inevitable that kids are going to come in contact with others who have different brands of clothing, whose parents drive different cars, and who live in different sized houses. The love of money is fostered and nurtured from a very young age, most of the time through comparison with others. We are praying that the Lord would guard these growing hearts from this and instead would help them to learn a sense of gospel-centered contentment in any situation.

3. Help them see our home as a safe place.

In classes, on the court, in the band, and most other places the kids will encounter a spirit of competition in which they will not only be tempted, but encouraged to be the best, whatever that means in that particular environment. But, please Lord, may our home be a safe place. Help them to see that at home, they can be themselves, with all their insecurities, fears, and hurts they could never show somewhere else lest they be considered weak.

4. Create in them a desire to communicate.

“Fine.” That’s the dreaded, but common, answer that often comes when a parent asks their children about their day. We continue to pray that our kids would go past this stock answer – that they would communicate honestly with us about the real things that are going on in their lives. We continue to pray that, because our home is safe, our children will confide in us the things they aren’t willing or able to say anywhere else.

5. Teach them perseverance through their studies.

With each grade jump, the homework seems to grow more and more intense. While I’m still able to help our second grader with his math, our seventh grader has moved beyond my capacity. That’s a difficult thing for me, but it’s an opportunity for them to learn a greater lesson for life. The perseverance to keep at it, though it means hard work, will prove (I think) even more valuable in the years to come than their mastery of the quadratic formula.

6. Help them understand more deeply the greater purpose of education.

I remember the tunnel-vision of the teenage years, how you can only focus on what is immediately relevant to you at a given moment. Those were the days when life seemed to begin and end with each test or game or whatever. But in education, as with all things, there is a greater purpose for those who know Jesus. That greater purpose is to honor God through stewarding the resources He’s given us, including our brainpower. Education is a means to love the Lord our God in yet another way and glorify Him through the effort we bring to the task in front of us. We are praying that God would, by His grace, begin to expand our children’s vision for this greater purpose.

These are not the only prayers to pray as this school year begins, but it’s a start. And while we’re on the subject of prayer, here’s an extra one that I’m praying for myself and my wife as we get going in another fall:

Help us, Lord, to represent your kindness, compassion, discipline, and forgiveness that you perfectly display in the gospel through the way we parent our children.

May it be so, Lord.

Blessings, Kendall

08.14.17

The One Thing That is More Important Than Your Reputation by Tim Elmore

growingleaders.com

For years, educators, employers and parents have told our young adults to build their personal brand. Now that folks can do this on-line, it’s become the pursuit of millions of 20-something Millennials and teens from Generation Z. Every young person wants people to recognize and follow their “brand.”

However, because our personal brand can be constructed through an inaccurate persona we post on social media platforms, I am concerned our students have received the wrong message. They are in a hunt to build a “reputation,” but they are building it on an insecure foundation.

This is a subtle shift from the past, but an important one.

While I believe our reputation is vital in a community (a school campus, a club, a company or with our social media followers), it is an outcome that can be achieved artificially with little or no substance. I have never seen so many young people pursue “image management” as I do today. Unfortunately, our young people have learned this from their elders. After all, most of the outcomes we’ve put on them are external (like grades, behavior, or athletic performance), not internal.

Our Culture’s Push to Create a Reputation

Coach John Wooden always said, “Your reputation is who people think you are; your character is who you really are.”

I have seen this quote illustrated countless times. It takes the form of a college student who works tirelessly on his or her reputation but has very questionable character. When people discover who they really are (which eventually happens in time), the truth is a letdown and their social media reputation eventually catches up to reality. The resume they padded, the Instagram account they set up, the website they built, the social media messages they sent—all lose meaning. In short, people discover our true integrity via intimacy. When our integrity is sketchy, intimacy is lost and reputation sinks.

Once again, it’s a let down.

Author Donald Miller echoes this when he says, “People don’t judge who we are, they judge who we’ve led them to believe we are. The more time and effort we put into making ourselves look great, the longer and harder the fall when the truth comes out. And eventually the truth comes out.”

My Resolve to Change Pursuits

Over the years, I have decided to ditch working on my “reputation” and work on my “reality.” In other words, my integrity is the key to solidify how others view me. Remember, the term “integrity” simply means “one” or “whole.” In math, an integer is a single digit. When I have integrity it doesn’t mean I’m a perfect leader. It means what I say and what I do are the same. I am transparent about who I am. It’s the opposite of hypocrisy. As I work on my character my reputation takes care of itself, because I am not pretending to be anyone other than who I really am.

At Growing Leaders, I air much of my dirty laundry to my team and we laugh at my humanity. As a Type 1 diabetic, they’ve all seen my vulnerabilities, when my blood sugars go low and I can’t think straight for a bit. They’ve seen my weaknesses because I disclose them. I ask for help. I don’t merely hide behind my strengths. We talk through the glaring mistakes we all make so there are no “elephants in the room.” The phrase I often use with our team is: Let’s take our mission seriously, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously. This doesn’t mean I am not serious about building my character, it simply means I am authentic in the process.

Integrity beats image. Character beats reputation.

So, let’s allow our reputation be an outcome, not a pursuit. Let’s work on our character and not on our image. When others judge us, let’s not react, but stay steady, developing a robust character that will cause others to not believe any gossip about us and hence, maintain our solid reputation.

Consider this statement Donald Miller makes: “People only judge those who claim to be better than others…more righteous, more moral. When I’m ethical, I just look good. When somebody who works on their reputation isn’t ethical, they find themselves in social court. Working on our reputation is just a dumb move.”

Axioms to Live By:

1. To the degree I pretend, I lose a proportionate amount of intimacy. I can’t be close to someone if there is pretense. Intimacy demands transparency.

2. When I focus on reputation, I turn life into a game or contest and keep others at arm’s length. I wear myself out keeping score on both me and others.

3. When I’m caught up in my image, I must remember all the white lies I’ve told, which becomes laborious in relationships. We can forget who we really are.

4. When my pursuit is an amazing reputation, I can be prone to distort, deceive, or exaggerate my stories or descriptions. The end justifies the means.

5. When I am proactive about my lifestyle, and live by principles, most of my reputation and image issues take care of themselves.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation is like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.”

08.14.17

“I don’t believe in anything anymore”: How to respond when young people doubt God by Brad Griffin

Fulleryouthinstitute.com

“I don’t believe in anything anymore. Christians are all such fakes.” 

These were the words her 17-year-old son yelled just before she walked out the door for our meeting. Even for a mom who can handle a fair amount of conflict and pushback from her kids, this was a heavy blow. It was meant to be.

Teenagers can be like that. They know just how to press on our sensitive spots and trigger our reactive emotions. What they don’t know is how much fear and uncertainty these moments evoke in us. They aren’t yet sophisticated enough to realize that our first responses, like theirs, can unhelpfully shut down the conversations we really need to have.

Adolescents and emerging adults need parents and trusted adults in their lives who will receive these moments perceptively. To see what may be under the harsh words, sarcastic questions, or searing critique about faith, Scripture, or the church. Because often what’s underneath those outbursts are really important questions.

Is God real? 

Why are Christians so messed up?

Can I trust the Bible? 

Is it wrong to doubt God? 

Through our research at the Fuller Youth Institute, we’ve learned in our Sticky Faith and Growing Young studies that it’s not doubt that’s toxic to faith—it’s silence. Young people who have safe relationships in which to share their questions and struggles tend to have stronger faith, to carry that faith into young adulthood, and to share their faith with others more often. When articulated, young people’s questions open up exploration of both doubt and faith.

The problem tends to be that as parents and leaders, we typically get caught off guard by these questions. Like my friend, we’re on our way out the door to a meeting. We’re wrapping up an already-over-time small group session. We’re exhausted and have very little capacity to give a “Jesus-answer” worthy of a decent Christian, let alone one who is supposed to be a spiritual leader to their children or to others’. We feel outmatched and underprepared.

In these moments, we want to remind you—and ourselves—of a few powerful phrases. Our team has created a set of wallpapers for your computer and phone this month to help you remember, share, and use these two responses:

1. Yes, you can ask that

2. I don’t know, but…

First, every young person needs to know that all of their questions, complaints, doubts, and struggles have a hearing. They need to know that you—and God—are going to hear and hold the questions without pushing the young person away. They need to know that God is big enough to receive these questions and is not afraid of them (just read the psalms or Job for examples!) They need to know that they are not somehow deficient, unfaithful, or unworthy, and that their questions won’t cause God to love them any less.

Second, young people need to know that we don’t have the answer to every question. It isn’t the goal of mature Christian adulthood to be “answer-people” or to have everything figured out. In fact, the more we lean into faith, the more we realize it is marked at every turn by mystery, unseeing, complexity, and paradox. As most of the biblical witness portrays, these features deepen our awe, wonder, and humility before God; not our certainty, arrogance, or pride.

It may push against everything we’ve been conditioned to say, but often a helpful first response to a tough question can start with the words, “I don’t know, but …”

This isn’t just a stall tactic, but a way to both affirm the question and create a holding space for it. We might say, “I don’t know, but that’s an important question,” or “… I wonder that, too,” or “… let’s work on that together. Who could help us find out more?”

If you’re like me, you hear pithy, helpful phrases all the time but can never remember them at just the right time you need them. This month we are helping you out with these wallpaper reminders. Use them, and share them with parents, ministry leaders, and any adult who cares about young people.

Together we can become safe spaces—safe relationships—in which teenagers feel invited to bring their real selves, their hard questions, and their deep frustrations, and truly be heard.

Yes, it’s okay to ask that. Even if I don’t know the answer.

08.07.17

Hi! Happy August!! I am praying for you right now! 

Daily Prayer Email: Please send ALL prayer requests for your class to: studentcbsprayer@gmail.com
 
Quotes:
Complaining is like throwing up. Afterwards, you feel better but then everyone around you feels sick. #gordon
 
A happy person is not a person with a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes. #Downs
 
When the enemy points to everything I’m not, I point to everything God is. #furtick
 
God’s grace is not just an addition to our life. It’s a contradiction to our life. #keller
 
As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours. #Stanley
 
 
FYI:
 
1. Top Questions to ask college students before they head to school… https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/questions-college-students?utm_source=E-Journal+%2F+Parent+Update&utm_campaign=67215008f2-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e88a54a953-67215008f2-312895925&mc_cid=67215008f2&mc_eid=4cf06de2c7
 
2. Gen Z most diverse media users… http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2017/youth-movement-gen-z-boasts-the-largest-most-diverse-media-users-yet.html

3. How Living Counter-Culturally Can Lead to Your Kids’ Resentment of Christianity… http://christianmomthoughts.com/how-living-counter-culturally-can-lead-to-your-kids-resentment-of-christianity/

Here is what I just posted on the blogwww.studentcbsblog.org 
 
Addressing Sexuality With Teenagers by Michael Guyer
6 Tech Habits Changing the American Home  by Barca Group  
Do Christian Teens Really Believe in Jesus? by Group Magazine
One Act That Improves Kids’ Emotional Health by Tim Elmore
 

Here are 2 video links I think you might like to see:

I may have posted this years ago but it is absolutely awesome! Totally worth your time!!
 
 
 
Here are 2 just for you:
 
God’s Timing 
 
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.  Ecclesiastes 3:1
God’s timing can be frustrating, but it eventually leads to freedom. Perhaps you strongly desire something or someone. It is right at your fingertips but you can’t have it now and that frustrates you. The timing is not right, for whatever reason. It may not be right for you and/or it may not be right for the other person. However, you can allow this frustration to lead you to freedom.  
God may be protecting you from failure because you are not ready for the grueling responsibility that lies ahead. There are still valuable lessons to learn where you are. It’s like your last semester of school. You are way past ready for graduation, but there are still final exams to study for and pass. You need to do your best where you are before moving on to God’s next assignment.  
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days”  (John 11:5-6).
Timing is everything. Your son really needs you right now during this challenging stage of his life. The insecurities of his teenage years are eating him alive. He needs extra attention and time from you to navigate through this uncertainty. This is a season, a season that will not be repeated. Your career can wait; children can’t. Yes, children are resilient and may not even say anything during difficult times, but you can rest assured that they will never forget that you were there for them. The security and confidence you sow into your children will stay with them for a lifetime. Your absence will stick with them as well. Fearful and insecure adults were once fearful and insecure children. So, allow this season of life to build bridges rather than barriers between you and your children. It is just for a moment in time. In the blink of an eye, they will be gone. 
 
Learn to celebrate various seasons of life. Do not resist them; embrace them. Join the wonder of their realities. The marriage of your adult child is imminent, so celebrate the occasion. Do not let the stress of the details and the outlay of cash rob you of the joy connected to this momentous occasion. You can rest in the fact that He has brought these two together. This is what you have prayed for concerning your child. You have prayed for a marriage into a God-fearing and Christ-honoring family. You have prepared them the best way you know how.
Ultimately it is in God’s hands. As the father and the mother of the bride or groom, learn how to let go and allow them to become one flesh. Your relationship will look different going forward. This is a new stage of life. So, do not try to control them. Let go of them and leave them in God’s hands. Your ability to adapt and adjust to new seasons of life has a direct correlation to your joy and happiness. God’s timing can be a surprise.  It is rarely early and never late.
Jesus understood this when He said to His mother, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4).
 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the patience to wait on Your best and the humility to glorify You in the process, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
 

Why It’s Worth It

Ministry–let’s be real shall we–it isn’t always glorious. It isn’t always rewarding. It isn’t always easy.

You don’t usually hear that right out of Bible college or seminary. You hear just the opposite: You’re equipped! Thousands like you have gone before. Take the world by storm. Be Jesus to the masses.

Ministry is Hard

The reality is this: ministry is difficult, messy, full of broken people, and not about you. This can lead us to some very hard places. Places of doubt and anxiety. Feelings of am I good enough? We may question our calling and if it’s time to move on. 

I’ve been there. In fact, if I were completely honest, I’ve been there more times than I care to admit. I just walked through a period exactly like I described. Feelings of doubt. Questions of calling. Hurt. Depression. Worthlessness. Asking God why…

The truth is I questioned if I was to be in ministry after a very, very hard season. A season that saw much pain and grief. A season marked by a lack of affirmation, being moved without understanding why and wondering why we were leaving good students who we loved and cared for.

“God,” I cried out, “Why does it hurt?! Did You not call me to this? Why is there so much pain? Such heartache? Do you have a plan? Am I washed up?”

Many of you are or have been there. You question why. You wonder if you’re called. You take a break from ministry to heal and consider not going back. You cry…for hours, days, months…you’ve been there. I have too. 

But It’s Worth It

But in walking through this I have seen that it is worth it. That God has a plan. That ministry can and will get better. That there is light at the end of the very long tunnel. That we are called. That the enemy will try to use doubt, inadequacies, hurtful comments, critical natures, and rough patches to try to turn you from being God’s faithful servant.

Brothers and sisters hear me: we are CALLED according to God’s purpose, by the One who foreknew us, and is using us to accomplish His WORKMANSHIP! Ministry was never meant to be easy. We are called to a life of difficulty in ministering to a world that has turned its back on its Savior. There will be moments of SUFFERING, moments of FRACTURING, but also moments of GREAT JOY!

We do not do this for our own affirmation. We do not do this for notoriety. We do not do this to be the best friend of students or to be the most popular youth pastor. We do not do this to be liked or given gifts. We do not do this to be the center. We do this to point to the Center: our Savior.

My friends. My co-laborers. Know that ministry is hard, but it is worth it! We may not always see it on this side of eternity, but know that you can continue to serve because our rest and OUR REWARD IS IN HIM AND HIM ALONE. The author and perfecter of all things! It will get better, God will use you, lives will be changed, and God will say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” Ministry is worth it!

08.07.17

Addressing Sexuality With Teenagers by Michael Guyer

youthspecialties.com

In our families and in our churches, we are far too often late to the conversation about sexuality with our teenagers and reactionary once we speak up.

This should not be the case. The kitchen table and living room are perhaps the best places for this discussion. And the church is called to equip its people to follow Christ and make disciples within our culture. To overcome this we must talk about the issues—homosexuality, same-sex attraction, gender fluidity, pornography, and sexual immorality—and we must do so clearly and compassionately.

Within our cultural climate we cannot retreat out of fear or remain silent out of ignorance in either the home or the church. Now is the time to engage. Now is the time for honest answers to hard questions. Now is the time to listen well and speak truth in love. Now is the time to address the issues of sexuality with our teenagers.

1. WE MUST HELP TEENAGERS SEE THE BIBLE AS THEIR AUTHORITY AND GUIDE

The issue of sexuality is closely connected to the trustworthiness of the Bible for many teenagers. Too many teenagers are not grounded in the Bible enough to discuss a biblical response to the issue and when pressed the Bible does not function in an authoritative way in their life.

Kevin DeYoung is right:

“The challenge before the church is to convince ourselves as much as anyone that believing the Bible does not make us bigots, just as reflecting the times does not make us relevant.” (143)

This challenge means two things:

DON’T SHY AWAY FROM TEACHING WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT SEXUALITY, BUT DO IT WITH GRACE AND LOVE.

Teach what the Bible says about gender, sexuality and purity with clarity. Don’t neglect, dismiss or deny what God has clearly said. However, while what you say is important, how you say it has never been more important. Don’t highlight the issues of sexuality as if it is all the Bible speaks against. Rather, teach what the Bible says about sexuality in light of its bigger picture—the goodness of God’s design for human beings and the good news of God’s redemption. The Bible invites us into something much bigger and better than our broken sexual desires—it invites us to know and enjoy the God who made and redeems us.

DON’T NEGLECT TO TEACH WHY THE BIBLE IS TRUSTWORTHY AND WHY IT FUNCTIONS AS OUR ULTIMATE AUTHORITY. 

Students need to know what the Bible says but they also need to know why they can trust it. This begins with demonstrating a high view of God’s Word and its authority in our teaching. It will also involve showing students what the Bible says about itself and how it is historically reliable. This cannot be taken for granted or only given lip service. It must evident in our practices and explicit in our teaching.

2. WE MUST LISTEN TO TEENAGERS

While there are many important and essential things we need to teach teenagers about gender and sexuality, it is imperative that we learn to listen well. We must be invested and involved in the lives of students so that we have the opportunity to listen. We must also create spaces where students are not only receiving God’s Word but discussing their lives and applying God’s Word to specific areas of it. When it comes to discussing issues of sexuality—especially homosexuality and gender issues—make sure to learn the stories of students who are struggling with these issues or have friends who are.

Many teenagers fear being labeled judgmental or intolerant, especially when they have friends who identify as homosexual or as transgender. We need to hear this struggle and speak directly to it with grace and truth.

3. WE MUST BE PATIENT WITH TEENAGERS

This topic cannot be addressed in a sermon series and then put on the shelf. It must be addressed faithfully as we teach through the Bible in our ministries. It must also be addressed personally through discipleship relationships. In the home, parents must be equipped with resources to discuss these issues with their children around the dinner table. In light of our current cultural climate, many teenagers will likely take a soft stance on these issues and maybe even disagree with the clear teaching of God’s Word, especially when it comes to its political aspects (i.e. same-sex marriage). Please don’t misunderstand, this is not an agreeing to disagree position.

While we cannot compromise the consistent biblical witness about God’s design for gender or sexuality, we must also not cut off conversations with students the first time they push back against it. Like all areas of discipleship, we must commit to patiently walk with teenagers as they come to know and grow up into Christ.

4. WE MUST KEEP OUR FOCUS ON THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL

Whatever we do, regardless of the issue we are addressing, we cannot shift our focus from the hope of the gospel. Following Christ is hard and it will entail holding unpopular positions within our culture. We should not only make the gospel clear in our teaching, we should show why the gospel is really good news. We should be showing the worth of Jesus in the way we live and what we teach. We should highlight the joy of knowing and being known by our Redeemer. We should show how the gospel really is good news to the lives of teenagers in our culture.

THE GOSPEL IS GOOD NEWS FOR ALL PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF AGE, GENDER, RACE OR SEXUALITY.

  • It is good news about God coming to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)
  • It is good news that our old self is gone and that we now have a new identity in Christ (Col. 3:1-11; Eph. 4:17-32)
  • It is good news that our past does not define us nor do our present circumstance limit the work God wants to do in and through us (Phil. 3:12-14)
  • It is good news about God coming to set us free from the bondage and shame of sin (Luke 4:18-19; 1 John 1:9).
  • It is good news about God forgiving the guilt of our sin (Mark 2:1-12; 1 John 1:9)
  • It is good news about God bearing the full wrath of God in our place (Rom. 3:24-26; 5:1)
  • It is good news about God bringing us out from the rule of sin into his glorious kingdom (Mark 1:15; Col. 1:13-14)
  • It is good news about God making us a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)
  • It is good news about God bringing us from death to new, abundant life (Eph. 2:1-10; John 3:3-5; John 10:10)
  • It is good news about God beginning the restoration of all things (Rom. 8:19-20), including our broken sexual desires

The gospel holds out a better way for teenagers in the midst of our hyper-sexualized world. Now is the time to press into God’s Word, draw near to our neighbors, and speak and live with compassion and without compromise as we address the issues of sexuality with our teenagers.

08.07.17

6 Tech Habits Changing the American Home  by Barca Group

barna.org

Parents today believe it is harder than ever to raise children. The number-one reason? Technology.

That’s a key finding at the heart of The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, a new book by Andy Crouch. Two years ago, as we dreamed of partners for upcoming book and research projects, Crouch was at the top of our list. Crouch—a leading cultural commentator, one-of-a-kind speaker, senior communication strategist at John Templeton Foundation and former executive editor of Christianity Today—shares a different side of himself in this book: a dad who, alongside his wife, Catherine, has learned firsthand the challenges and rewards of engaging with technology intentionally (or sparingly) as a family. This book combines Crouch’s clear and incisive thinking with original Barna research among parents, who are feeling the tensions of parenting in a digital age.

In this sneak peek of The Tech-Wise Familywe look at some of the top revelations about how parents and kids relate to their devices and to each other.

Monitoring Technology Makes Parenting Even More Difficult
It’s a complex, rapidly changing world, and parents today are feeling it. Nearly eight in 10 parents (78%) believe that they have a more complicated job in raising their kids today than their parents did raising them. Technology is the number one reason parents believe it is harder than ever to raise children. Beyond that, parents seem to most often identify issues that feel beyond their control and that are global in scope: a more dangerous world or a lack of a common morality. The consequences of these difficulties feel dire and so, perhaps, scare parents more than local or personal factors such as finances, bullying at school or high academic pressures.

Life Truly Happens in the Living Room
Most families do almost everything together in their family or living room. Two-thirds of parents (65%) say they spend the most time as a family in this space, with the kitchen coming in as the preferred second space. Entertainment, leisure and creativity all overlap in this space—likely contributing to a presence of technology within all of these activities. Families are most often participating in leisure or entertainment activities in the family room (79%), but it’s also the place where families say their creative activities happen (51%).

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep … with My Smartphone”
When they do go to bed, most people take their phones with them. A full seven in 10 parents say they sleep with their phone next to them. Alarmingly, parents say their kids are even more likely to take their phones to bed: More than eight in 10 parents of teens (82%) say their child takes their phone to bed and more than seven in ten parents of preteens (72%) say the same. And when that phone is right next to you, it’s tempting to reach for it when you wake up: 62 percent of parents say checking their phone is the first thing they do in the morning. What are they doing on their phone while they rub away the cobwebs of sleep? Most check their email (74%). Social media (48%), news (36%) and calendar organization (24%) also vie for their attention. Less than one in five (17%) are using a Bible or devotional app.

Parents Might Limit Kids’ Device Usage—But Don’t Eliminate It
Children are spending an average of five hours on an electronic device (tablet, phone, computer, etc.) every day. Even at this amount, most parents say they are limiting the amount of time their kids spend on electronic devices (60%). Millennial parents—perhaps because they have younger children or perhaps because they are more likely to be immersed in and therefore experiencing their own angst around electronic usage—are more likely (73%) than Gen-Xer (57%) or Boomer parents (57%) to limit their children’s time on electronic devices. Limiting time seems more popular than eliminating the devices: Most kids have phones. Nearly nine in 10 parents with teenagers (88%) say their teen has a phone and just under half of parents with preteens (48%) say their child does.

Video Games and Family Time Dominate After School Hours
Aside from television watching, technology occupies a central place in many of the after-school activities of children: Four in 10 parents (42%) say their children regularly play video games after school, three in 10 (27%) are on social media or texting with friends, and a quarter (25%) are online other than for homework. Of course, there’s plenty of offline activity too: Nearly six in 10 (56%) spend time engaging with family members, four in 10 (39%) are playing informally, one-third (32%) are reading other than for homework, a quarter (23%) are playing organized sports, and more than one-fifth (22%) are hanging out with friends.

Parents Say Tech Disrupts the Dinner Table
When it comes to family meal time (which parents, on average, say happens at least six times a week), parents are apt to admit this space has been disrupted by electronic devices: One-quarter (24%) say they strongly agree that electronic devices are a significant disruption to their family meals, with an additional nearly one-fifth (18%) saying they somewhat agree. However, about one-third of parents (32%) say devices are not allowed at the table, and another one in five (22%) say family members rarely bring their devices to the table. Only one in five (19%) say their family members always bring their devices to the table.

What The Research Means
“Technology is literally everywhere in our homes—not only the devices in our pockets but the invisible electromagnetic waves that flood our homes,” writes Andy Crouch in his new book The Tech-Wise Family, written in partnership with original Barna research. “This change has come about overnight, in the blink of an eye in terms of human history and culture. When previous generations confronted the perplexing challenges of parenting and family life, they could fall back on wisdom, or at least old wives’ tales, that had been handed down for generations. But the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it. We are stuffing our lives with technology’s new promises, with no clear sense of whether technology will help us keep the promises we’ve already made.

“If we don’t learn to put technology, in all its forms, in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family,” continues Crouch. “Figuring out the proper place for technology in our particular family and stage of life requires discernment rather than a simple formula. But almost anything is better than letting technology overwhelm us with its default settings, taking over our lives and stunting our growth in the ways that really matter. And I think there are some things that are true at every stage of life:

“Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love,” insists Crouch. “Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations; when it helps us take care of the fragile bodies we inhabit; when it helps us acquire skills and mastery of domains that are the glory of human culture (sports, music, the arts, cooking, writing, accounting; the list could go on and on). Technology is in its proper place when it helps us cultivate awe for the created world we are part of and responsible for stewarding. Technology is in its proper place only when we use it with intention and care.”

08.07.17

Do Christian Teens Really Believe in Jesus? by Group Magazine

youthministry.com

Charlie Chaplin, the legendary silent-film actor, once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest at a crowded vaudeville theater in San Francisco. Apparently, the competition was fierce, because the real Chaplin lost. In fact, he didn’t even place among the finalists. Charlie’s own fans didn’t recognize him in their midst—even those who were trying to imitate him.

And my research with more than 800 Christian teenagers shows that if Jesus himself walked through your youth-room door today, most of his “fans” in your group wouldn’t recognize him, either. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, really—I explore, in-depth, a wide range of Jesus-focused questions with Christian teenagers in my book The Jesus Survey (Baker Books). I’ve plucked six of the most surprising things I learned out of the pile:

MOST CHRISTIAN TEENAGERS DON’T BELIEVE IN CHRIST

The Jesus Survey gauged the beliefs of Christian teenagers in four essential “Jesus-focused” areas: • The Bible is trustworthy in what it says about Jesus (Luke 1:1-2; John 21:24; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). • Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14; 10:22-33; Philippians 2:5-7). • Jesus physically lived, died, and came back to life (Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-7, 23:26-24:12). • Jesus is the only way to heaven. (John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; 1 John 5:12; Revelation 7:9-10).

Results from the survey show that nine out of 10 (91 percent) Christian teenagers say they have significant doubt and sometimes outright disbelief, in one or more of these essentials of their faith. Unfortunately, these results reinforce the findings of a similar study conducted by Thom and Jess Ranier (titled Millennials) and also undergird a number of ongoing trends reported by the Barna Research Group in recent years.

From a denominational perspective, the picture is equally bleak. Four out of five (83 percent) of Baptist teenagers say they have doubts about these basic tenets of their Christian faith. Among Methodist teenagers, that number jumps to 95 percent. In Catholic youth groups, almost all (99 percent) struggle to embrace basic beliefs about Christ. And for Lutherans, Episcopalians, and United Church of Christ students, the number is 100 percent.

The Jesus Survey reveals that only a third of Christian teenagers (31 percent) confidently believe the Bible is trustworthy in what it says about Jesus. This is true even though all they know of Christ is rooted in the biblical account of his life and ministry. Additionally, about two-thirds (60 percent) are either uncertain or unsettled about the issue of the Bible’s trustworthiness. Even more alarming, one out of 10 teenagers in your youth group actually strongly rejects the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Similarly, less than half of Christian teenagers (39 percent) express strong confidence that Jesus is the only way to heaven. On the other side, about one Christian out of eight in our youth groups (13 percent) is fully committed to the opposite: They believe strongly that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. In all, almost two-thirds of Christian teenagers (61 percent) are either unsure or unwilling to commit to the belief that “Jesus saves.”

So what is the truth about the path to eternal life, according to a quarter of Christian teenagers? “Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and other great religious leaders all have equal standing in leading people to heaven.”

RIGHT BELIEF TRANSLATES INTO REAL EXPERIENCE

“Confident Christian Teenagers”—the “tithe” (9 percent) of our youth group kids who buck the trend and express confident, consistent faith in four essential beliefs about Christ—are living a markedly different experience with God than their peers. Consider:

• Eighty-six percent (nearly nine out of 10) of Confident Christian Teenagers strongly agree with this statement: “I’m 100 percent certain that the Holy Spirit of Jesus is present and active in my life today—and I have proof that this is true.” Among all other Christian teenagers, barely half (52 percent) make the same claim. Put that statistical variance of 34 percentage points in the context of a presidential election, and you can quickly see how significant that difference is.

• Likewise, nearly all (94 percent) of Confident Christian Teenagers strongly agree with this statement: “I’m 100 percent certain Jesus has answered one or more of my prayers—and I can prove it.” Again, only about half of all other Christian teens (55 percent) say the same thing.

YOUTH GROUP KIDS ARE SMARTER THAN WE THINK

Over the past several years, fantastical “Christ Conspiracies” have found traction in the media. In the cottage industry of Christian response books, the familiar warning is that conspiracy theories like The Da Vinci Code are corrupting our youth and leading faithful teenagers away from Christ.

Well, here’s some good news from The Jesus Survey: Your kids are smarter than they get credit for being.

For starters, Christian kids are near-unanimous in their rejection of the silly Da Vinci Code premise that Jesus ditched the cross and married Mary Magdalene instead. More than nine out of 10 (92 percent) reject that theory outright. What’s more, in a remarkable show of consistency, Christian teenagers treat hoax theories in general as hooey. Nine out of 10 (92 percent) reject the idea that “Jesus’ death on a cross was some kind of hoax,” and almost all (95 percent) scoff at the idea that Jesus was actually just a myth.

THE BIBLE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WE THINK

We’ve already seen that Confident Christian Teenagers who adhere to the four core beliefs about Christ report a markedly stronger daily experience with God. No surprise, then, that Christian kids who believe the Bible is trustworthy are most likely to also believe all four of the core beliefs I’ve listed at the start of this article. For instance:

Among Bible-believing teenagers, four out of five (80 percent) express a consistently strong conviction that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead after his execution. Among kids who are uncertain or unsettled about the Bible, that number drops to less than half (48 percent and 37 percent, respectively). And, among Christian teenagers who simply don’t believe the Bible can be trusted, only one in seven (16 percent) fully believes the story of Easter is true.

Further, within the group of Christian teenagers that strongly affirms “Jesus is the only way to heaven,” virtually all (99 percent) also believe the Bible to be trustworthy. Additionally, roughly four out of five (82 percent) Bible-believers strongly claim that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives, and a similar number (83 percent) confidently claim indisputable proof that Christ has answered their prayers.

This data appears to reinforce the idea that right belief translates into real experience, and suggests that confidence in the Bible’s trustworthiness is the first step toward right belief.

THE BIBLE IS MOSTLY A NON-FACTOR FOR CHRISTIAN TEENAGERS

In 1536, William Tyndale was choked, impaled, and burned on a stake as punishment for translating the Bible into the language of the common man, thereby making Scripture accessible to anyone who could read English. For many Christian kids, that incredible sacrifice was made, mostly, in vain.

Although three-quarters (73 percent) of Christian teenagers say that daily Bible study is important for followers of Christ, a surprising number of our kids (26 percent—about one in four) actually reject that idea. For them, daily Bible study is either optional or completely unnecessary. This seems an unusually large number considering that all the students who took The Jesus Survey were involved in a church youth group at the time of the survey.

Regardless of the perceived value (or lack of value) they place on daily Bible study, practically no Christian teenager reports consistent interaction with Scripture outside of church. Barely 5 percent (about one in 20 youth group members) say they open the Bible on a daily basis. And fully two-thirds of Christian teenagers (67 percent) say they seldom or never study the Bible on a daily basis. Even among Confident Christian Teenagers, only about one in five (19 percent) makes Scripture-reading a daily habit.

Why do Christian kids who attend youth group dismiss daily Bible study in such large numbers? That’s a question that deserves a thoughtful, and personal, exploration.

CHRISTIAN TEENAGERS ARE NOT SHY ABOUT SHARING THEIR FAITH

An overwhelming majority of Christian teenagers (84 percent) believe it is their responsibility to “tell others about Jesus with the intent of leading them to be Christian, too.” Given their earlier hesitation in affirming that Jesus is the only way to heaven, this number pleasantly surprised me. And, in fact, even among teenagers who believe Jesus is not the only way to heaven, more than half (55 percent) still endorse the call of the Great Commission.

What’s more, your kids are actually following up their belief with action when it comes to evangelism. More than half (56 percent) report that “I shared about my faith in Jesus with a non-Christian during the past month.” That’s an encouraging finding—until you begin to think about exactly what these kids are actually preaching.

If the evangelistic content shared by Christian teenagers reflects what they say they believe about Christ, then three out of four (74 percent) are actually spreading untruths about Jesus to their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and more. And that begs one final question: At what point does the sincere, mistaken faith of our teenagers actually become a false religion instead of authentic Christianity?

Again, I have no real answers, but with eternity in the balance, it’s time to take that question seriously and evaluate our own youth groups.

07.24.17

Five Ways to Respond to Teenagers’ Doubts by Tony Miles

youthministry.com
“I still tell people about how great and accepting our youth group was,” a 30-year-old recently shared with me. When I was his youth pastor years ago, “Mike” never took the big step of becoming a Christian. Back then he described himself as an atheist-meets-Wiccan. He tried to dismiss the Bible with all the classic push back, presenting our volunteer leaders with one doubt-whammy after another.

But Mike kept showing up to every Jesus-centered activity we offered. Friends had invited him to church, thinking we could convert him overnight. When it became obvious Mike wasn’t ready for that big step, we all determined to keep exposing him to Jesus. The challenge was to neither water down the truth nor drown him with debate.

I wish I could tell you that Mike is now a passionate Christ-follower. Honestly, I don’t know because we’ve only recently reconnected. But I do consider that good news. Because our youth ministry built a foundation back then, I still have an opportunity to invest in him now.

That’s not a luxury we can bank on. Eternity is a reality, so there’s an incredible sense of urgency to get teenagers “over the line” in trusting Jesus. When young people express doubts or won’t commit their lives to Christ, what are our options? Do we put them in their place with some theological auto-correcting? Hand them a book? Make them listen to a podcast? Or step back and become as hands-off as possible?

I’m still trying to figure that out. But I’ve learned we can prepare to respond when kids express doubts. Here’s how we responded to Mike back in the day, and to all the “Mikes” who’ve moved through my ministry since then:

  1. “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer to that today.” Share that you’re on a spiritual journey, too. Explain that it took you time and questions like theirs to get where you are today. Likewise, point out that you have room to grow—and are willing to. Follow up by asking, “What do you say we figure out your question together?”
  2. “If you were to share your question or doubt with Jesus over a meal, what do you think he’d say?” This is less about the “right” answer and more about exploring what someone’s response reveals about their view of Jesus. Point out that not everyone who brought questions to Jesus left satisfied, but they always left changed. He never overtook their ability to believe or disbelieve but always gave them something deeper to ponder.
  3. “Is this a deal-breaker or something you’re just curious about?” We sometimes forget that faith is a relationship with someone. Just as you don’t know everything about everyone you know, you can build something great out of what you do know. I like to invite students to list all their questions and then mark a few as the most important. Explore what you can with them, always pointing to Jesus.
  4. “Who else do you think might wonder about this?” It’s great to find synergy in community, so ask if teenagers are willing to do a short study together on a topic. It doesn’t have to be a one-sided presentation of apologetics; instead, aim for interaction so kids can bring their best thoughts and wrestle with questions in the context of Scripture.
  5. “What have you wondered about in the past that you eventually found a good answer to?” We’re all on a journey of discovering new elements to our faith, just as we come to see many different parts of life differently.

As a teaching metaphor, discuss a piece of artwork that’s only partially exposed in a picture frame. Seeing just part of it is like how we see Jesus: There’s much more to him, and our perspective of that fuller picture grows as we intentionally work to unveil the rest. That means the part of Jesus we know today is true, but not all of him.Even in heaven, elements of God will be beyond us, but we’ll see him clearly, face-to-face (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Can you relate? Who’s your “Mike”? How are you coping with doubts and resistance?

07.24.17

Here’s What You Need to Know About Generation Z by Hayley Peterson
inc.com
Just when you thought you had a handle on marketing to Millennials, along comes a vital new demographic.

Marketers are beginning to target a new crop of young people who are rapidly growing in number and influence: Generation Z.

Studies differ on the exact age range of Generation Z, but most agree they were born after 1990, which makes them the largest generational group in the U.S.

We set out to discover who they are and what they eat and buy. Here’s what we found:

Gen Z wants to change the world. 60% of them want to have an impact on the world, compared to 39% of millennials, according to a study by Sparks & Honey, a New York-based marketing agency. Roughly one in four Generation Z-ers are involved in volunteering.

Advanced college degrees are less important to them. 64% of Gen Z-ers are considering an advanced college degree, compared to 71% of millennials.

They are more entrepreneurial than millennials. 72% of high school students want to start a business someday and 61% would rather be an entrepreneur than an employee when they graduate college, according to a study by Millennial Branding, a consulting firm, and Internships.com.

They are digitally over-connected. Gen Z-ers multitask across at least five screens daily and spend 41% of their time outside of school with computers or mobile devices, compared to 22% 10 years ago, according to the Sparks & Honey report. “They suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) more than millennials, so being culturally connected is critical,” researchers wrote.

But they prefer to work independently. “This generation is very individualized,” Dan Schawbel, the founder of Millennial Branding, told Business Insider. “While Millennials seek mentors, Generation Z is more about helping themselves.”

They worry about the economy more than anything else, including crime, politics, their parents’ job security, politics, or the cost of goods.

This chart details some of their interests:

They prefer home-cooked foods over processed, ready-to-eat meals such as cold cereal, according to a study by The NPD Group. They aren’t big fans of microwaves and would rather use a stove top or oven to prepare meals. Salad consumption is expected to increase the most among Gen Z-ers over the next five years, followed by sandwiches and breakfast foods that require some cooking, such as eggs and pancakes.

Gen Z-ers spend more money on food and drinks than anything else, and their favorite eatery is Starbucks, according to Piper Jaffray’s most recent semiannual survey of teens. Nike is their top clothing brand, followed by Forever 21, Action Sports Brands, American Eagle, and Polo Ralph Lauren.

They are less active. 66% of kids ages six to 11 say online gaming is their main source of entertainment, according to the Sparks & Honey report. On a related note, teen obesity has tripled between 1971 and 2010.

They lack brand loyalty. “The products themselves are more important to Generation Z than the brands that produce them, and these consumers will change brands easily in search of higher quality,” according to Arkansas-based marketing agency Martin-Wilbourne Partners.

Gen Z-ers are close with their families. “Their parents have a lot of control over the decisions that they make,” Schawbel said. “Their influence is huge and plays into every aspect of their lives.” Many of them are also living in multigenerational homes, as Baby Boomers age and move in with their kids.

They communicate with speed and often use emoticons and emojis instead of words. “They are accustomed to rapid-fire banter and commentary,” Sparks & Honey analysts wrote. “As a result, Gen Z are not precise communicators and leave a lot of room for interpretation.”

Here’s what Sparks & Honey recommends to effectively communicate with a Gen Z-er:

  1. Depict them as diverse (ethically, sexually, fashionably)
  2. Talk in images: emojis, symbols, pictures, videos
  3. Communicate more frequently in shorter bursts of “stackable content”
  4. Don’t talk down… talk to them as adults, even about global topics
  5. Assume they have opinions and are vocal, influencing family decisions
  6. Make stuff – or help Gen Z make stuff (they’re industrious)
  7. Tap into their “want to be an entrepreneur” spirit
  8. Be humble
  9. Give them control and preference settings
  10. Collaborate with them – and help them collaborate with others

07.24.17

America Sees Alarming Spike in Middle School Suicide Rate by James M. O’Neill
usatoday.com
The rate of middle school suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014 in the United States for a variety of reasons, including the use of social media for bullying. James M. O’Neill/NorthJersey.com

America is experiencing a striking rise in suicide among middle school students.

The suicide rate among 10- to 14-year-olds doubled between 2007 and 2014, for the first time surpassing the death rate in that age group from car crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014 alone, 425 middle schoolers nationwide took their own lives.

“It’s alarming. We’re even getting cases involving 8- and 9-year olds,” said Clark Flatt, who started the Jason Foundation in Tennessee 20 years ago to help educate teachers about teen suicide after his 16-year-old son took his own life. “It’s scary. This isn’t an emerging problem – it’s here.”

Researchers, educators and psychologists say several factors — increased pressure on students to achieve academically, more economic uncertainty, increased fear of terrorism and social media — are behind the rise in suicides among the young.

The use of social media is a particular worry because it has amped up bullying among a vulnerable age group. Young students in prior generations left school each afternoon and avoided someone who bullied them until the next day or week. Now, social media allows for bullying 24/7 — and the bully doesn’t even have to be someone the child knows.

Social media has also been behind the spread of dangerous phenomenons like the Blue Whale Challenge, which is recently rumored to have encouraged a handful of suicides of young people around the world. The game asks players to attempt daily tasks that include everything from watching horror films to self-mutilation. The parents of a 15-year-old Texas boy said this week that their son was participating in the challenge when he was found hanging in his closet, his cell phone propped up so it could broadcast his death.

There is so much pressure on young people they can become overwhelmed because they haven’t yet developed the coping skills adults rely on. Something an adult easily dismisses because of a lifetime of experience can be hard for a middle schooler to shrug off.

“Middle school is a very difficult time,” said Maurice Elias, a psychologist at Rutgers University and director of its Social-Emotional Learning Lab. It’s a challenging age, as some start puberty before others, and some are discerning their sexual orientation.

“They are trying to figure out who they are,” Elias said. “They are very sensitive to criticism. So they are particularly prone to suicidal ideation and even action. A lot of times they exaggerate the situation. If it’s a little thing, they think it’s a huge thing. If someone doesn’t like them, they think that nobody will like them forever.”

The statistics are heartbreaking. Nationwide, the annual rate climbed from 0.9 to 2.1 suicides per 100,000 middle schoolers between 2007 and 2014, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The causes of suicide can be complicated, and each case is different. A suicide is never the result of a single factor, experts say.

“Increasing the risk of suicide can be a lot of interacting pieces, from family issues to other stressors,” said Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and former chair of the state’s Anti-Bullying Task Force.

Experts say that to reduce suicide among teens, parents and teachers need education about warning signs. These can include changes in feelings, displays of distress, a sense of hopelessness, a change in appetite, sleep loss, lost interest in hobbies or giving away favored possessions, Alongi said.

Parents need to speak to their child if they think something is wrong.

“Always err on the side of asking the question,” Flatt said. “And don’t accept their first answer that everything is fine, especially if they are acting differently.”

He said his son, Jason, was a regular 16-year-old who loved sports and got Bs in school. But the Bs became Ds, and Jason failed to finish homework. Then Jason, who loved football, came out on the front step of their home and told his dad that he no longer wanted to play.

“I thought he had been through a tough spring practice and was tired,” Flatt recalled. “I said, ‘You certainly don’t have to play on my account, but why don’t you wait to decide until August.’ I lost him three weeks later. I hadn’t asked him why he didn’t want to play anymore.

“It’s tough to sit across from your son and ask if he’s thinking about hurting himself,” Flatt said. “If he says ‘yes,’ he’s put his life in your hands, and you need to know how to deal with it – don’t learn what you should do after the fact.”

In the years since he said he has spoken with hundreds of kids who attempted suicide and they all said that no one ever asked them if they wanted to hurt themselves. “If you already think nobody loves you or cares, and then nobody asks if you’re okay, that just reinforces what they’re thinking,” Flatt said.

Research has shown that four of five teens who attempt suicide showed warning signs beforehand, Flatt said. “If we can train people to recognize those signs and respond, we can reduce the numbers,” he said.

Alongi agreed. “The top myth about suicide is that if I talk about suicide I am planting the idea in their heads,” she said.

Experts also say schools need to create a welcoming environment where all students feel accepted and to teach students the social and emotional skills that will help them navigate conflict.

Training educators is essential, experts say. “Training teachers is the single most impactful thing a state can do,” said Flatt, whose foundation has helped 19 states pass the Jason Flatt Act, which requires suicide prevention as part of teacher training.

Concerns about suicide were also part of the reason the state passed an anti-bullying act in 2006. “Most bullying cases occur in a school setting,” said Stuart Green, director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention. “It’s the responsibility of the adults who staff these schools.”

Green and others say addressing bullying not only helps those targeted but also helps the bullies.

“We’re not dealing with a bunch of little Hannibal Lecters,” he said. “That behavior can change. If not, they grow up with problems when dealing with the workplace where bullying isn’t tolerated.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.