- How can you best use social media to connect with Generation Z?
- What can this statistic tell you about what your Generation Z students value in an online experience?
Hey Parents, Dr. Tim Elmore has a great conversation with Clay Scroggins about Helping the Next Gen Win.
This past month, I was encouraged and entertained by teenagers who symbolized two completely different perspectives on life. I thought you’d enjoy them too, and perhaps learn what they teach us about adolescents today. I offer these two case studies below. Fasten your seatbelt.
Case Study One: Can You Post a Better Photo?
An 18-year-old girl who had escaped from an Australian correctional center responded to police after her mug shot was posted on Facebook. Did she turn herself in? Did she confess to what she’d done? Was she ready to come clean?
Nope. She simply wanted them to use a better photo of her on-line.
Yep, she did. She asked them to please use a prettier picture of her and even provided one for them to use. When Amy Sharp had escaped from Surry Hills Corrective Services Cell Complex on August 19th, police immediately posted mug shots of her, so people in the community could be on the lookout for her. That’s when Amy saw the photos and felt she didn’t look good enough. It wasn’t the kind of representation she was hoping for. So . . . she sent them a better picture. Perhaps it was a selfie, who knows?
Too often, Amy represents a population of teens who’ve bought into society’s values: style over substance. I’m sorry, Amy, but isn’t the mug shot the least of your worries? When did image become more important than integrity? Our culture unwittingly tells us: looking good is more important than doing good.
Case Study Two: Can We Have a Job?
Four young teens approached Zsa Zsa Heard, who works at the La Grange Housing Authority (in Georgia), and asked if she knew of any jobs they could do this summer. When Ms. Heard asked them why they wanted to work, she assumed they wanted to make a few extra bucks. They told her, however, that gang members were approaching them all the time, wanting them to join. They knew that would lead to trouble. So, they wanted to find work—to keep them out of trouble.
She hired all four of them on the spot.
The four teens, Dennis, Dylik, Jalen and Deion began working in construction, helping in the community garden, passing out mail and tending the chicken coup. And it’s paid off. Not only have they done what they’ve been asked to do, they’re now catching a vision for their future careers, after learning about construction and livestock.
The Young Men’s Priorities?
They want to do something that matters. They need opportunities and guidance, but they actually want to serve our community. What they need are adults (like Ms. Heard) who immediately spot their craving for meaning and productivity and satisfy it. She didn’t “give them something for nothing,” but she offered an opportunity to earn money as they used their gifts, time and energy.
Where do they get these perspectives?
Our Report Card: Five Test Questions
Where do our young adults pick up their attitudes and paradigms? You already know, don’t you? It’s from the world around them. Amy Sharp was conditioned to be consumed with improving her social media presence, instead of correcting her behavior. Dennis, Dylik, Jalen and Deion somehow understood that gang membership is a dead end street, but job experience is a path that leads to a goal. At their fork in the road, they talked each other into stepping into the Housing Authority and seeking out jobs.
Let me suggest five questions we should ask ourselves as educators and parents:
After Observing Your Students:
- What societal message do you see they’ve bought into?
- What opportunities could satisfy their need for growth and maturity?
- What incentives can you offer them to help them move in a healthy direction?
- What direction and wisdom will you provide for them?
- What one small step could send them in the right trajectory?
I love the story of the vacationers who visited an old village in Austria years ago. Upon meeting a local, the guests asked if any famous people had been born there. The local resident smiled and replied, “Nope, only babies.”
He was right. Every kid begins as a clean slate. They are soft clay with which to be molded by artists. What they become has a lot to do with the perspective we have offered them growing up. Let’s get this right.
Do you know the current birth rate in America today? The U.S. fertility rate fell to the lowest point since record keeping started more than a century ago, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s almost unbelievable.
In 1909, the government began keeping track of what’s called the fertility rate. The general fertility rate is the number of births out of 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44. The U.S. birth rate dipped in 2011 to the lowest ever recorded, led by a plunge in births to immigrant women since the onset of the Great Recession. According to CNN, the first three months of 2016 saw fertility rate in the U.S. fall to its lowest level; 59.8 births per 1,000 women.
While this trend is intriguing, I just read the latest statistic, which stopped me in my tracks.
As of last month, August 2016, America had the lowest birth rate of any point in recorded history. Lower than the Seniors, the Builder Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X or the Millennials. Women are choosing something other than raising children as a path to the life they want.
What Does This Mean?
There has been a real shift in our view of children and parenting over the last decade. The Millennial Generation is the largest generation in U.S. history, at 80 million strong. (They’re young adults today). Right in the middle of their generation, more children were born in America in 1991 than any other year in recorded history. Today, however, we’ve swung to our lowest fertility and birth rates—just as the largest generation in history steps into the typical age of parenting.
So, why are we not having kids?
1. Women are choosing careers over kids.
Millions of families now believe they cannot enjoy the standard of living they want without two incomes in the home. Additionally, many women would say they enjoy a career more than they’d enjoy raising a child—and it’s tough to do both.
2. The economy often restricts couples from having children.
Sometimes the choice not to have children (or to have less children) is not just about the desire for an affluent standard of living. Some couples would say they simply cannot afford to bring another person into their family and provide for them.
3. Many are choosing a single life, instead of a family.
I’ve written before on the growing number of people living and dining alone. While this may lead to lots of new realities, one certain reality is the difficulty of having a child in the home with no caring adult to raise it. Hence, fewer kids.
4. Parenting children is, perhaps, the most taxing task an adult can do.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It requires patience and resilience, strength and emotional intelligence—at least if you want to do it well. In today’s world, that’s a trade off many don’t want to make. It’s just hard work.
Can we ponder the various outcomes of this reality?
What This Means to Us . . .
Study the nations around the world that are not replacing the adult population, and you can see trouble ahead. For years, many of us have watched Japan’s birth rate drop—and lead to fears over whether they’ll be enough young people to fund the millions who are retiring, much less the economy’s need to produce. Japan sells more adult diapers than baby diapers. Last year, Germany passed up Japan as the nation with the lowest birth rate. A study, reported by the BBC, says Germany’s birth rate has slumped to the lowest in the world, prompting fears that labor market shortages will damage the economy. Not far behind are Portugal and Italy.
Is America heading in this direction, with a sagging economy already?
In our nation, we are experiencing “two hills and two valleys.” In other words, two generations are very large, while two generations are much smaller. The retiring generation (Boomers) are 76 million strong. They are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day. Generation X is smaller in size. (This generation started with the birth control pill). Next, the Millennials number 80 million in size, currently the largest generation in American history. But today, Generation Z is much smaller again, numbering about 59 million, depending on what year you believe their generation began.
Globally, the nations that have the highest birth rates are developing nations. Most of them can be found in Africa, with Niger at the top of the list. So, countries that are economically developed are not having as many babies. But the poorest seem to be having the most babies—89.7% of people under 30 live in developing economies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. This could be trouble for our world economy as well as our ability to educate and prepare them to compete in the marketplace.
Our “To Do” List
- Let’s be intentional about parenting and educating the children we currently have.
- Let’s find ways to help educate and mentor children and families in poor nations.
- Let’s find ways (if possible) to live on less and raise larger families very well.
- Let’s explore adopting children who need good homes and families.
- Let’s see the big picture and make the most of every young person around us.
To be clear, just because the fertility rate is decreasing, it doesn’t necessarily mean the US population is going to shrink. The rate of growth may be slower, but the population is still expected to increase, according to CNN. I am certain, however, that our future depends on how well we parent and educate our children today.
Looking forward to seeing you Saturday, Setpember 10!
Hey Middle School Leaders! We are flying in Dan Colwin from Leader Treks to speak into our lives Saturday, September 10. Please make an effort to be a part of this interactive leader training.
Four Sessions 9am to 3pm, including Lunch:
9am Navigating the Minefield: Youth ministry can sometimes feel like a minefield; everywhere students turn, another danger lies in front of them waiting to cause great damage. It’s our job to help them navigate the minefield. But do we go about it effectively. Through an interactive experience, we’ll help your staff realize the value they have in students’ lives.
10:30am Transactional vs Transformational Youth Ministry: Youth ministry is more than just fun and games. Youth ministries need a clear structure and programs, but real transformation goes beyond programming. Through interactive assessments, adult staff will understand their sweet spot in ministry and how being transformational starts with understanding how they are wired.
12:00 How to Have Lunch with Middle School Leaders
1:00pm Building a Transformational Youth Ministry: Relationships are the key to transformation. This session will focus on key skills and practices that can help adults build transformational relationships with students.
2:30pm Developing Students: Students have amazing potential and as youth workers, we have the ability to help them realize their potential. In this final session we’ll examine how recognizing and using key teachable moments can be key in developing students.
If you know anything about me or Kenny, you probably already know that we are big fans of having tons of fun. From the time our middle schoolers walk through the doors of our church, to the time they leave, we really want them to enjoy being there.
For our ministry, having fun isn’t just an afterthought. It’s a priority and a strategy.
But you know what? Sometimes I come across people who really don’t like this idea. As Reggie Joiner said recently, “I am shocked at how many people are bothered by children and student ministries having fun.”
I’m shocked too. And I’m also a little sad. Because when we fail to prioritize having fun at church, I’m convinced we miss out on something vital to the development of a middle schooler’s faith.
Yeah, it’s that serious.
1. FUN ENVIRONMENTS HELP MIDDLE SCHOOLERS SEE WHAT JESUS IS LIKE.
Having fun is a powerful expression and working-out of the joy and freedom and abundant life we find in Jesus. So having fun with our students isn’t trivial or irreverent or a waste of time. It’s sacred and holy and it makes Jesus smile. We’ve got to model this for our middle schoolers. As we create environments that are jam-packed with Jesus and amazing, hilarious, super fun memories… we’re teaching them that God is the God of whimsy and smiles and laughter and all things good, and that it’s a joy to follow Him. I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty compelling.
2. FUN ENVIRONMENTS CONNECT THEM TO A COMMUNITY.
We all know how important it is for middle schoolers to feel they belong. If we want to help middle schoolers build a strong community with their peers and trusted adults, then laughing, playing, sharing jokes, and making memories together are vital. So when our middle schoolers are sticking their feet in Jell-O, launching giant Angry Birds from a volleyball net together, or helping their blindfolded friend guess what mystery ingredient we put in their bowl of cereal… well, in the words of J.K. Rowling, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other.”
3. FUN ENVIRONMENTS HELP THEM NOT TAKE THEMSELVES TOO SERIOUSLY.
Middle school has to be the most awkward time in all of human existence. Our students are plagued by insecurities and the need to be liked and accepted. But is it possible to simultaneously be having an insane amount of fun and also feel awkward and self-conscious? No. No, it’s not. When we manage to coax middle schoolers into having fun, we’re also coaxing them into letting down their defenses and forgetting, even if it’s just for a moment, about their insecurities and fears. It’s good for their hearts.
4. FUN ENVIRONMENTS CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR DISCIPLESHIP.
Trying to create fun environments for middle schoolers can be an interesting social experiment. Our middle school friends are cute little bundles of insecurity and immaturity. And, because of that, sometimes our super fun plans go up in smoke and the awesome environments we’ve tried to create… well, implode. Someone gets an attitude. A guy gets too aggressive. A girl gets insecure. Someone gets teased. A joke goes too far. It happens. Conflict happens. But you know what? That’s ok. Because when things get messy, we get the opportunity to coach them through it. We shouldn’t run from creating fun environments because we fear the conflict that might happen as a result. Let’s run toward the messiness, embrace it, and then leverage those moments for discipleship.
What do you think? How have you seen fun environments make a difference in the life and faith of a middle schooler?
About Elle Campbell
Elle is doing Middle School Ministry at The Chapel at CrossPoint in Buffalo, New York, where she focuses mostly on creating great small group environments and leading volunteers. She blogs about youth ministry stuff at ellecampbell.org and creates and shares original youth ministry resources at stuffyoucanuse.org. She is married to Kenny and loves coffee and making things and reading as many books as possible. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.