How Bad Is The Situation With Teens And Loneliness?
Most teenagers spend hours of their day online, texting, or spending time with friends. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these things have diminished, but many teens are still engaging regularly with friends online or with small groups of friends in person. With this amount of connection, loneliness doesn’t seem like a glaring issue for teenagers.
As with most teen issues, we need to look below the surface level to see what our teens are facing on a daily basis. If we look closely, we begin to see and hear from our students that, even for the most connected teens, it is a lonely world out there. Let’s walk through some of the reasons teens are lonely today.
Pressure From All Sides
Teenagers face different social pressures from all sides. They experience pressure from parents or teachers to do well in school, they feel pressure from coaches to do well in their sport, there is stress from peers to fit in, and so many other things…even well intentioned youth leaders expect from them.
These intense pressures just scratch the surface of our teen’s lives in 2020.
At best, when teens are distracted with all these good things in life, they may be missing out on true relationships as they struggle to please everyone in their lives. This is part of the reason youth ministries find retreats as an effective tool to build relationships and bring a closeness to their youth groups. Social pressures are real and as our teens try their best to navigate them, it can leave them feeling more alone.
Wearing A Mask
It has been extremely apparent to me, especially in the last few years, that teenagers are overly concerned with showing others that their lives are perfect, all the time.
I recently had an encounter with a teen that had actually lost their home. It was very important to them that everyone at school had the impression of them that their life was perfect. Sad. This isn’t the only story I’ve heard of teenagers trying to keep their lives private from the rest of the world. While it is a learned skill not to share every waking thought with one’s peers, teenagers have a hard time finding vulnerability even with a few close friends.
While this may seem like a small part of social relationships, God finds these things important when we are told to confess our sins to one another and to share our lives and testimonies with others. As a youth leader, you have a wonderful opportunity to share with your students that it isn’t what is happening around us or what we have done that defines us. Help your students walk boldly with God knowing that they are created in the image of God and, while their life might not sound perfect, God uses imperfect people to build the Kingdom of God.
Careful Curation of Online Activity
I want to start out by saying that online connection isn’t bad or wrong. But, sometimes the way that teenagers and adults use the internet can be destructive to them and others.
If you don’t believe me, go look at some of your student’s Instagram or TikTok accounts.
I would expect that most of them have carefully curated feeds, thousands of followers that they don’t know, and that almost none of them are sharing any sort of vulnerability online. I’ve seen students take down pictures if they didn’t get enough likes and teenagers wearing as little as possible clothing online to get the attention of the world.
While I’ve come at technology with a negative connotation so far, please know that teens can use the internet for good. I’ve seen a teen praise God on his story because he was in a car accident and walked away alive, there are teens who use video gaming to be a light to their friends, and I’ve seen many teenagers using TikTok to share their faith in God. When you talk about faith and community with your students, remind them of their influence to help their peers see a space to be real online and find community even in the digital world.
These are just a few of the reasons that teenagers are feeling more lonely than ever. One of the best things that you can do as a youth leader is start a discussion with your students in your own context. Take a small group of trusted students to lunch and ask them if they have ever experienced any of these things personally or seen them in their peers. You might be surprised to hear that they have experienced all of this and more.
No matter how bad the current situation may be, God wants to continue to redeem relationships and build unity in the church. Go share the good news!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.