The World is Different
The world is vastly different place today than when my parents grew up and even from when I grew up. The world is different now and it is changing faster than it ever has before, so growing up today is dramatically different than it was for you and for me. I can remember a time, when my family only had one computer in our home and we only had dial-up internet access (yes, I am aware that for many of you this occurred later in life), a time before text messaging, and before social media. Now children and youth have access to more up to date information than Encyclopedia Britannica, Webster's Dictionary or National Geographic could ever convey, and all of this information is at their finger tips 24 hours a day. Millennials and Generation Z have lived in an ever rapidly expanding world because of technology. They have conversation real time conversations with people all around the world, and they are more connected to people around them and around the world through technology than ever before. However, at the same time many of these connections and relationships exist purely on screens and in writing, never in the physical presence on one another. Therefore, unlimited and often unrestricted access to technology can and does create problematic realities for young people, and impacts how they relate to other people in physical space.
Extended Adolescence: Early and Longer
Does it ever seem like kids are growing up too fast? Well in some very real ways, they are growing up faster than we did. Children, particularly girls, are experiencing puberty and entering adolescence early today than in previous generations. But keep in mind, adolescence goes beyond when one reaches physical maturity, and extends through when a mental and emotional maturity happens. This mental and emotional maturity is becoming more complicated as many indicators of adolescence ending have been associated with some of the following life events: starting a career, having financial independence, getting married, and having children. However, many of these events are occurring later in the lives of most Millennials, because of factors related to their access to careers, and post high school education. Gaining access to employment opportunities is often further complicated by previous generations working longer (which many of them need to do so because they are going to live longer and require income longer after retirement). Acquiring particular levels of education beyond what is available in public schools has also become normative. During this process, younger generations acquire great amounts of student debt, which can be financially burdensome for years to follow.
So How Do We Empathize with Young People?
Some of you are probably wondering how can you empathize with younger people, if you really struggle to identify with their experiences? The most important thing that needs to happen in order to empathize with younger people is to actively listen and value their experiences. Often when we are in conversation with other people we listen in order to respond in the conversation, rather than listen just to listen. Now this is not to say, one should never respond; but that we should be particularly careful that we have fully understood where the other person is coming from before responding to them. This reminds me of when I was a child, I attended a daycare as both of my parents worked, and one of the teachers would always say, "Listen, then do."
Why is This Important
Empathizing, intentionally listening, and trying to connect with the experiences of young people will likely make a significant difference at Community. Being heard and being valued are essential to belonging to any group of people, and feelings of belonging lead to believing (for people new to faith). So Empathy, active listening and connecting will certainly create a more welcoming environment for young people, because young people would be valued. If we listen we will be better able to address issues that are of real concern to them. A greater amount of empathy will help all of us listen and care for one another. Ultimately, empathizing and valuing the experiences of young people will enable more people in our local community to come to know Jesus Christ. So listen, then do.
Grace and Peace be with you,