I graduated from Unity in 1987. I remember teachers talking with us about the sexual revolution and the impact it had on culture. I remember “young people’s” leaders talking about the changing nature of rock and roll music and how important it was to understand lyrical content. I remember Christian leaders talking about the importance of decision making in college or the workplace. I remember conversations about the dangers of drinking, drugs, and sex outside of marriage.
32 years later, I still remember discussions I had with adults in my life as I now stand in front of a classroom of Unity seniors in 2019. And recently I had a conversation with a fellow graduate from the class of 1987. He and his wife are parents of Unity students.
We re-lived a few of our high school memories but the conversation eventually shifted to raising Generation Z children. It was in the course of this topic he crossed his arms, leaned back slightly, and with a skeptical look on his face asked, “Do you really believe it’s more difficult for students to grow up now than when we were in high school?”
My reply was immediate. I nodded my head and replied, “Yes! Absolutely!”
While it is true many struggles common to the teenage years have existed for decades, there are new challenges impacting the lives of Generation Z teens which, in some cases, did not exist at all in previous generations.
If you are a parent or grandparent, think about the cultural challenges you faced during your teenage years. Then, picture a drinking straw with a steady stream of water flowing from it. The water flowing through the straw represents the amount and rate at which culture bombarded you during your teens. Granted, the water never stopped flowing, but the rate at which it flowed seemed manageable.
Teenagers today are faced with many of the same challenges as their parents and grandparents. However, with the inclusion of a myriad of new challenges and the rate at which those challenges bombard teenagers, the straw has turned into a mammoth culvert with a raging torrent of water pouring through it.
For parents of teenagers, it is important to be aware of how “their world” is different than the one in which they grew up. An increasing understanding of pressing issues confronting Gen Z teens allows for better conversation about the issues and better navigation through them.
Walt Meuller, President of the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding uses the term “Age Compression” to describe how tweens and teens experience the frequency and intensity of life situations at an earlier age. Rapid exposure to culture and experiences often outpaces the ability of a young and impressionable mind to discern what is being experienced.
Earlier exposure to pornography serves as an example of age compression. Although pornography is toxic to anyone consuming it, the age of first exposure has dropped to nine years old. With the average age of puberty in America being 11, early exposure without proper guidance and conversation from trusted adults is sure to have lasting and negative impacts.
It is for this reason I am thankful for the EOCS school system. Christian schools are experts in “water management”. I remember my Dutch immigrant grandpa describing how the Dutch people became hydrology experts, working tirelessly to channel the power of the water which overtook the land and in so doing, reclaim and restore the land from the sea.
Our schools work to guide students on how to understand and manage the flood of culture in which they are immersed. And then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ infused in their lives, to reclaim the culture for their Savior.
We all have a part in this story. May our prayer be to see the challenges we face as opportunities to guide a generation to reclaim and restore God’s world!
May our colors run deep,
Director of Spiritual Life and Leadership