When working with students, have you ever seen that tired, exhausted, stressed-out look on their faces?
For example: A few weeks ago I was speaking to a group of high school students and I couldn’t help but notice that stressed-out look on some of their faces. Now, they could have been extremely bored with my talk, which was probably the case! But I just couldn’t avoid the fact of how tired, exhuasted and stressed they seemed.
So I started to research a bit to see what the experts had to say about the stress levels of today’s teens:
David Elkind, the author of The Hurried Child, says:
“Today’s kid has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress—the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social change and constantly rising expectation.”
According to the American Psychological Association, today’s students are the most stressed out generation.
The Huffington Post recently wrote an article titled: “American Teens Are Even More Stressed Than Adults.” The author, Carolyn Gregoire, suggested that teens have very poor sleep, exercise and technology habits (the average teen consumes an average of 7.5 hours of media per day), which may be linked to their high stress level. These poor habits factor into a lot of things, such as part-time jobs, early-morning classes, homework, extracurricular activities, social demands, and use of computers and other electronic gadgets.
The USA today reported that “more than a quarter (27 percent) of teenagers say they experience ‘extreme stress’ during the school year, versus 13 percent in the summer. And 34 percent expect stress to increase in the coming year. Stressors range from school to friends, work and family. And teens aren’t always using healthy methods to cope.” Hannah Sturgill, 18, of Portsmouth, Ohio, was among those surveyed and she commented:
“The last two years in high school have been the most stressful for me and my friends. We have to do everything and be perfect for colleges and we have a big workload. Most of the time we talk about how stressed we are.”
Chap Clark in Hurt 2.0 found “that mid-adolescents are about as busy as humanly possible. They average five-to-six hours of sleep a night. The busyness they embrace keeps them from having to reflect on their dreams, their relationships and their lives.”
Clearly today’s teens are crazy stressed and busy.
My fear is that youth ministries will over-program the already over-stressed-out teen.
I would hate for youth ministries to make even more demands for today’s teen by expecting (or guilting) them to show up to more church events—which will make them even more stressed. I talk to a lot of youth pastors who are bummed that students don’t show up to their programs and they get upset at students for not making church a number one priority.
Can we really blame the already stressed-out student for not coming to church?
The reality is: Students would make church a number one priority, but they cannot.
They are too busy and stressed and even feel more overwhelmed by the many programs available and offered by their local student ministry.
So how do we help the stressed out teen?
Here are three simple ways youth pastors can help:
(1) Create a space in your student ministry environment that requires the student to be still and silent. Students have a lot of noise in their lives. It is important for them to sit, think and reflect in silence. Silence provides a place for students to hear God without all the noise. Teach students how to be still before God instead of being too busy for God.
(2) Make families aware of students’ stress and find ways to help. More than likely if the student is stressed, parents are stressed too. The CEO of the American Psychological Association said: “Parents and other adults can play a critical role in helping teens get a handle on stress by modeling healthy stress management behaviors. When spending time with teens, we (parents and other adults) can encourage them to exercise, eat well, get the sleep they need and seek support from health care professionals like psychologists to help them develop healthier coping mechanisms for stress sooner rather than later.” Here’s a great CNN article that speaks to how parents can help students navigate stress.
(3) Simplify youth ministry programmatic structure. That’s right: Cut programs. Do one student ministry program a week. Simplify your student ministry calendar to one environment a week, two camps per year and one mission trip each year. Less is more. The most successful student ministries in the country have a very simple student ministry calendar. Simplicity is all about focus. Focus is the key to achieving excellence and making an impact.