1. Teenagers are coming of age in a post-Christian world.
Twenty-first-century teenagers are the first to grow up in a post-Christian context. In the past nineteen years, culture’s attitude toward religion and morality has shifted dramatically. But what’s new to you is normal to today’s teenagers. We were born, bred, and are now steeped in an unprecedented religious climate. We do not take the gospel for granted.
2. Teenagers are the most technologically savvy generation.
But the world hasn’t just changed religiously in the last nineteen years—it’s also experienced massive and global technological changes. Unlike older generations, teens do not think of Wi-Fi as a privilege or a novelty; for us, it’s a basic right. We use technology to do everything—communicate with our friends, meet new people, study for school, work, play, and be entertained. Social media is our communal socialization ground, where we go to connect with others—and we dread disconnection.
3. Teenagers want to belong.
We crave acceptance, which is what we so often search for online. We fear missing out, because we never want to be the one who doesn’t fit in. We long to belong. And despite what you may think, we are looking at the church to see if it will welcome us. But we’re also wondering if instead the church will alienate us, stereotype us, belittle us, or ignore us. Teenagers want to be known truly and loved deeply. We want belonging, and we’re looking to the church to see if it will accept us.
We want belonging, and we’re looking to the church to see if it will accept us.
4. Teenagers are looking for identity.
As we search for belonging, teenagers are looking for their identity. We’re making the physical and emotional transition to independence and are obsessively (though, at times, unknowingly) looking for the thing that will define our lives. We are asking, “Who am I?” in an attempt to understand our personhood apart from our parents and childhood, desperate for the identity that will give us meaning. We’re tempted to look to romance, school, friends, popularity, privilege, money, technology, or our bodies for that meaning. But the gospel of grace is the only source of true and lasting identity for teens.
5. Teenagers struggle with sin.
Just like every other human on the planet, teens are sinners. We will let you down, disappoint you, and fail. We sin relationally, sexually, verbally, and a thousand other ways. So we need patience. We need accountability, certainly, but we also need grace.
6. Teenagers need their parents more than ever.
And we need this patience, accountability, and grace especially from our parents. As teens make the transition to independence and embrace our identity as adults, we are ironically more dependent on our parents than ever. We might think (or say) the opposite, but we deeply need our parents’ wisdom, encouragement, support, and experience to help guide us.
7. Teenagers really are insecure.
It’s not just a cultural stereotype—most teenagers really are overwhelmingly insecure. In this digital age, we are constantly trained to compare ourselves to others—whether it’s our looks, grades, personality, or income. And this exhausting exercise breeds compulsive shame and self-loathing. Teens need to be met in their insecurity, accepted in their insecurity, and taught truth in the midst of their insecurity.
8. Teenagers can think.
Evangelicals can be guilty of perpetuating the stereotype that teenagers (even Christian teenagers) are strictly superficial thinkers. But teenagers can—and do!—think about death and mortality and philosophy and complex theology. That means the teens in your Sunday school class or youth group are capable of so much more than dumbed-down Bible stories or entertainment-driven preaching. We want answers to our hard questions.
9. Teenagers are afraid.
The teen years are a turbulent time, and fear can bleed into almost every realm of life—school, work, friendships, church, crushes, family members, and, perhaps biggest of all, the future. Life feels extraordinarily unknown to teenagers. So even though we may fake bravado, feel invincible, or promise you we have everything planned out, we are anxious about life.
10. Teenagers want their lives to matter.
And one of our greatest fears is that our lives won’t matter. We have studied history and now we’re ready to take our place in it. We’re ready to make our mark. We want to change the world. Ultimately, we want our lives to matter for eternity. And for that to happen, we need the gospel.