“So…you looked happy onstage,” my dad says.
I nod. More silence. My dad tries again. “What school will you choose?”
“I get to choose?” I ask.
“Of course you do,” my mom says, surprised. “Have you made up your mind?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know yet,” I say.
“You don’t want to go to Juilliard?” my dad asks. “But music makes you happy.”
“It does, but I don’t know if I want to go to Juilliard. I have to think about it. I want to go where I’ll have a lot to choose from.”
“But no matter where you go, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be happy,” my dad says.
“I know,” I say. “But at least I get to choose. That makes me happy.” I think about Maurice and the dark circles under his eyes. “Mom, Dad, success and happiness, they’re not the same thing.”
My parents glance at each other. I can tell that they’re still worried, but at least they’re beginning to understand. It’s a start.
(Excerpt from Good Enough by Paula Yoo)
Did you know that today’s teenagers are stressed out?
Of course you did - especially if you have one; especially if you are one.
But did you know that many sociologists think that today’s teenagers are under more pressure than any generation in recent memory? It’s true. Research is coming out on an almost daily basis that paints an anxiety-inducing picture of what life is like for today’s young people: pressure to get a 4.0 GPA (or higher) to get a competitive college scholarship, pressure to take on countless extracurricular activities to impress college admissions boards, pressure to keep up with an attractive social media persona (which often leads to feelings of shame born out of comparison), pressure to keep up with a digital social network (which often leads to screen addiction) because getting together in person with friends is becoming harder and harder in our overly-busy culture, pressure to keep up with the fast-changing social norms of our society, pressure to face questions of sex, politics, vocation, meaning and purpose on their own when adults are so often absent from or silent about those conversations…and the list could go on.
Is Being Good Enough Worth the Stress?
Every one of those challenges is stressful on its own terms. Put them together all at one time and make young people shoulder the burden alone…and you get a generation on overload. You get a generation struggling to feel good enough when the expectations and challenges are almost too much to bear. That’s why the main character of Paula Yoo’s novel, Good Enough, is oftentimes on the verge of breakdown as she confronts endless obstacles. Patti, a young Korean-American teenager, is expected by her parents to go to any Ivy League school, to become a virtuoso violin player by age 18, to perform at the top of her class on the SAT and ACT, to be involved in church, and, WHEW I’m getting exhausted just typing all these things. But Patti’s story is similar to the story of so many young people today.
The Presence of Adults & Decision Making
Here’s the thing, though. The people who study this kind of stuff say that in order for young people to flourish in our high-pressure, high-stress culture, they really need two things: a community of caring adults, and the ability to make free choices for themselves. There are two problems, though. The first is that when teenagers live in a world of crazy schedules and high pressures, their choices are oftentimes dictated by people they’re trying to please (college admissions boards, coaches, music teachers, and dare I say…sometimes even parents) when what they really need is the freedom to fail and try again without judgment. When you’re expected to please people that don’t always care about you - your choices aren’t really your own anymore, and you’re scared to death to mess up. The second problem is that research is showing that adults are absent from the lives of our young people on a scale never seen before. Teenagers hang around teachers that don’t know their names, youth ministers that might not really be invested, parents that are oftentimes too busy to juggle their own schedules, or coaches that care more about winning a trophy for their own shelf than investing in the lives of young people. Of course, this is not true in every instance, and there are plenty of exceptions. But talk to some teenagers today about the meaningful presence of adults in their lives, and I bet you’ll be shocked when you hear what they have to say.
So why am I telling you all of this? Is there any good news to be found here?
Well, I’m telling you this for a couple reasons:
For one, I believe more than anything that the Church can become a caring environment for teenagers to grow, mature, and even fail while at the same time learn independence and freedom for themselves. Are we there yet? Nope. But we can be. (How do we get there? Well, that would be another blog post - but believe me, I have ideas!)
Most importantly, though, I believe that the Six8 Fellowship models an environment that meets the needs of our young people.
If you are a teenager involved with Six8, I can promise you two things:
1.) You are entering an environment of adults who care about you and are dedicated to your growth and walk of discipleship. That may involve some growing pains as you learn about how the church is called to enter into the suffering of the world in ways maybe you haven’t thought about before. But these adults are going to be right there with you as you walk that journey.
2) You are going to be part of an environment in which you have the freedom to fail as you grow. As you make your own choices and decisions to live into the calling God has placed upon your life, our team is going to give you guidance, wisdom, and support - but never smothering expectations.
So if you’re a stressed-out, tired teenager full of questions, frustrations, and confusions about your place in this big world, I’ve got good news: the Six8 Fellowship is for you, and you certainly don’t have to feel pressured to be good enough to join the family.
If you’re a parent or other adult interested in finding out more about the “research” I’m talking about, these books are great places to begin:
- Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Chap Clark (can’t recommend enough)
- Dreamcare: A Theology of Youth, Vocation, and Spirit by David White
- Beyond the Screen: Youth Ministry for the Connected but Alone Generation by Andrew Zirschky
- The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today’s Pressures and Conflicting Expectations by Stephen Henshaw and Rachel Kranz
- Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith by Sharon Daloz Parks
- Breaking Through to Teens by Ron Taffel (a more advanced book about counseling approaches with teenagers)