Teenagers have been more deeply affected by recent national and international events than others in the nation, according to a variety of reports.
They are lonelier, view the world with more pessimism and are reluctant to take on adult responsibilities, careers and debt. Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2012) is showing higher rates of depression, suicide, loneliness, anxiety and pessimism than previous generations, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In a recent Barna Highlight, researcher George Barna noted more than half of Gen Z (56%) say they tend to expect the worst.
Some blame the trends on the current world situation: terrorism, school shootings, racial riots, surging crime rates, gender identity issues, pandemic lockdowns, etc.
“A child today is 10 times more likely to be seriously depressed compared to a child born in the first third of this century,” according to Michelle Borba in an article, “Raising optimistic kids in pessimistic times.”
Students today see the world as dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable, increasing their growing pessimism.
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression “affects how you feel, think and behave, and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.” Between 2005 and 2017, rates of major depression among Gen Z increased 52% in adolescents (12 to 17) and 63% in young adults (18 to 25).
Depression interferes with normal day-to-day activities, sometimes making people feel life “isn’t worth living.” Depressed teens can feel sad, irritable, negative, worthless and angry; show poor performance/attendance at school; be extremely sensitive; eat or sleep too much; or lose interest in normal activities. Some cope with untreated depression with recreational drugs or alcohol, isolation and/or self-harm, the Mayo Clinic said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the rate of suicide for those ages 10 to 24 increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the percentage of those hospitalized for suspected suicide attempts surged. Between February and March, girls ages 12 to 17 visited emergency rooms for suicide attempts at a 51% higher rate than the same period in 2019.
Studies show the pandemic has produced more suicide deaths among high school students than those from COVID-19, the CDC reported.
Loneliness and anxiety
Students also can suffer from deep loneliness, and some believe the cause stems from too much internet use.
“The psychological well-being of adolescents around the world began to decline after 2012, in conjunction with the rise of smartphone access and increased internet use,” according to Newport Academy, a teen treatment center in Virginia.
Loneliness in teenagers is closely related to depression, causing them to be less happy, less satisfied, more pessimistic and more prone to substance abuse.
Social media can expose students to cyberbullying, body image issues, social isolation or tech addiction and keep them from engaging in healthy, real-world activities such as face-to-face time with friends, in-person social interaction, sports, outside activities, etc. It can make them feel vulnerable, and cause dangerous psychological harm to those whose privacy is exposed.
The constant overstimulation of social networking shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode, causing greater teen depression, risk-taking behavior, mental distress and anxiety, according to healthdirect.gov.au. Teens suffering from anxiety feel agitated, tense or restless and often have physical signs including headache, stomachache, a racing heart or other issues.
Statistics to consider
While many parents believe they are controlling what their students see and post online, a recent Pew Research poll showed 70% hide online behavior from their parents.
Students expect their lives will be much more difficult than their parents’, with “79% being nervous about finding a job, 72% worrying about debt and 70% worrying about terrorism,” according to a survey by payroll services provider ADP.
Teenagers are forming their belief systems and having access to endless information at a time when they are actively seeing how the world works. This increases the need for the church to continue preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus Christ in services, Sunday School classes, seminars and Bible studies to provide a Christian perspective and worldview. According to a recent Barna study, teens ages 13 to 18 are twice as likely as adults to say they are atheist.
In response to the challenges teens and parents face, there are practical ways churches can help.
- Plan church-sponsored events bringing students together, giving them opportunities to meet, greet, eat and encounter friends face-to-face instead of just online. Make the activities fun, active and Christ-centered.
- Invite mental health professionals to address with parents and students issues that bring anxiety, fear or unease. Ask them also to speak on social topics such as recognizing symptoms of potential youth suicide, coping with depression, understanding healthy self-image, dealing with bullying, etc.
- Host seminars that teach youth how to protect against street crime, be more aware of those around them in public places, stay safe during a school-shooting and make themselves less vulnerable to internet predators.
- Ask professionals to talk with parents about the problems of unmonitored social media use, the value of setting limits on internet time, the dangers of internet porn addiction, etc.
The world can seem like a dark, dangerous and lonely place to today’s students. Church offers a place where they can:
- learn about Jesus, salvation, biblical theology, Christian values and discipleship.
- worship with other believers in Christ.
- fellowship with adults who genuinely care about them.
- interact with Christian peers.
- learn compassion, grow in Christ and serve others.
Churches are needed more than ever to encourage this next generation as they navigate a pandemic and post-pandemic world.