Tweens and Spirituality…

Tweens (kids from 8-13) usually grades 4 -8 are confronted with all kinds of decisions… Who to hang out with…what to wear, where do they fit in? Sports or Band… Science Club or Theatre?

Are they popular enough to be on the ‘inside’ or do they have to retreat to being on the outside, looking in? Have they given up on the popular crowd, taking bitter pride in their independent status as non-conforming and creatively superior?

Or maybe you catch them trying on different styles, looks, and attitudes like a fashionista – exchanging one interest or hobby after another, desperately searching for their niche. Anxious to find a place to ‘fit’ in the overwhelmingly tense structures of modern-day tween-teen social life. tween-slumber-party

These anxieties are centered around school and the elusive ‘popular’ designation and looking to peers as the ultimate validation for their identities. To find that affirmation, our kids are mixing it up with social media consumption at an average of over 9 hours a day, and check their ‘status’ now over a 100 times per day (*13 year olds – see study here) !

YIKES.

Seeing our kids struggling to sort it all out is painful to watch. As parents we remember what it’s like to get caught in the awkward transition from kid to adult. The tween years are painful, ugly, and intense under the best of circumstances…. add to the mess an uncontrollable surge of media and social critique and suddenly we’re in uncharted territory.

There are dark and unpredictable threats to even the most stable families, the most grounded kids are wrestling with personal value, sexuality, and self-worth.

Parents must step further into the adolescent equation than ever before. Gone are the days of ‘protecting’ your kids privacy, letting them form identities as they grow up through trial and error. Gone are the days of simply trusting your kids to have a ‘good-time’ with their friends at the game.

Today, parents must take regular and intrusive steps to review or monitor the social media on their kids phones… educating ourselves about the severity of the assault on our kids hopes and dreams. Attacks that hit everything about our kids that we love… accusations that undermine identities, self-worth, modesty, purity, character, personal beliefs, and of course… spirituality.  teary-teen-image

Kids need to explore their spiritual beliefs every bit as much and more than all of the ‘other’ stuff around them. For the churched kids, they learn to adapt, responding as expected to whatever questions pastors, parents, and religious kids throw at them. Not rejecting the faith completely, just slowing and taking a guarded – wait and see – approach to spirituality.

IF we don’t ask.. our kids just won’t deal with it.

As the parent of a tween / teen, you voice is the greatest voice in your kids life! Not the youth pastor, YouTube, or their friends. YOU!!!

So, take full responsibility and authority and face the uncomfortable silences as you wait for your tween to answer. ASK them about their faith. ASK them to articulate what it is they believe about God. About themselves… about how they see faith in their school stresses and how God helps in their relationships.

We have to connect the dots between church and real life. Our tweens must see and experience their faith in the day-to-day – struggle of being alive. It’s how true faith is formed for all of us.

Something to consider.

Pastor B.

 

The Digital Umbilical…

Just off my latest Road Trip adventure… over 8200 miles in 22 days. We visited 14 states and two Canadian Provinces. Six people crammed into a Ford Expedition, it was tight… and it was tough.  shock and awe banner art

The Shock and Awe tour (The Rubyz, Alexis Slifer)  with the Tween Gospel Alliance (TGA) was what brought the six (later seven) of us together along with a world-class Illusionist (Tom Coverly), Christian pop group (1GN), a film star (Abigail Duhon – Gods not Dead) and even an emerging Christian hip-hop artist. (TJ Prodigy of Baltimore.)

Quite the crew.

Over the past summer we logged 12K plus miles, performing at each of the Creation Festivals for 2016.  On stage and in front of thousands of fans, we did our best to share the truth of Christ to a new generation. The shows were plagued by a variety of technical challenges, weather, and last-minute scheduling issues. Relationships were strained and tempers flared, but we persevered.

In between the 3 day festivals we drove and captured new video for our new Shock and Awe curriculum. (due in early 17′) The moments in-between were the most intense of any tour I’ve ever participated with.

Several major issues needed to be addressed on our little adventure. Relationships, attitudes, respect, honesty, and personal faith. All were put to the test. But one overshadowing concern captured my parental attention…

malaysianpsychology.wordpress

malaysianpsychology.wordpress

The pull of Social Media!

My charges (mostly girls) were consumed by an addiction to social media beyond any scale or scope I had imagined. Having raised three children of my own (college age now) and President of the largest Tween focused Media Group in the Christian marketplace, I thought I knew what was up…

I was wrong.

The current media studies & stats are wrong…the study #’s are way lower than what I witnessed firsthand. Our kids are being CONSUMED by a NEED to be on and respond to their social media. Like some unholy umbilical, our tweens are literally attaching their personal identities and self-worth to the success or failures of their social media feeds.

It’s disturbing how intense their need to be on Social Media is and it should gain our fullest attention as parents, pastors, and role models.

In the six or seven years between my kids adolescence and this tour… it’s clear the digital revolution has not slowed or lost momentum. It’s in fuller force than ever and it’s affecting our kids emotional, physical, and spiritual development.

Without going into details, I can say from what I observed , the level of connectivity for tweens to social media is directly forming their self-esteem, attitudes, and opinions about EVERYTHING else in their lives. They plan and arrange their entire day ‘around’ their access to Social Media. (a true sign of any unhealthy addiction or co-dependency)

Social Media has gained ‘1st place” in their priorities. Ahead of school work, pleasing their parents, friendship, sports, even their faith.

Don’t believe me? Try taking your kids smart phone away from them for an hour or two 🙂

After close-quarter living with our tour tweens I came away with new concerns and fresh observations for parents and pastors.

Social Media and it’s first-place presence in our kids lives is going to impact them in major ways if not slowed or reduced. (I’m sure in more ways than we can know) girls on social media

1- Anxiety and Depression; It’s clear in the next decade society will face significant challenges with maintaining healthy relationship boundaries and self-worth due in part to the huge influence of Social Media. It’s propensity for abuse and criticism can’t help but increase the frequency and severity of emotional turmoil… anxiety, depression, and self-image issues.

2- Communication: Unchecked use of social media robs us of our social development! Our kids dependence on Social Media instead of actual personal interaction is likely to show up later as a basic lapse in social skills and reduced ability to function within a group or ‘team’.

3 Adolescence likely won’t  end at high school (something already noted by psychologists) … instead an entire generation may enter the world unprepared for adulthood. Our social media influenced teens may soon be thrust into society with an entirely different perspective on life and their role as being at the center of it all.

4- Faith as a guiding principle may be lost in the sure to emerge, surge of adolescent narcissism and personal preferences. Faith will have to be customized to fit an individuals comfort level and not allowed to interfere with their personalized’ world view.

5- Relationships (martial & friendship) will risk being serious casualties of distracted social media junkies, wooed to the digital promise of fame and celebrity and under the pressure to be attractive all – the – time….Who can compete with the perfect social media post, a line of never-ending beautiful images… Who can withstand the instant regret of the real-time flashes of digital anger, jealousy, and shame? Relationships will be under intense pressure – unlike any generation before.

6- Reality will fade and digital fantasy will invade. Our kids believe what they read, see, and hear on Social Media. The ‘other’ voices in their lives are fading…. FAST. Their reality isn’t our reality anymore.

quotesgram.com

quotesgram.com

Parents, sorry for the ‘downer’ of a blog today… but this stuff is heavy on my heart. I’m sure your already aware…. my encouragement to you is to seriously consider limiting our kids social media consumption.

It’s worth risking the rejection sure to come… be courageous and endure their anger, ire, resentment, and even hatred to slow this social media buzz and it’s hypnotizing affect on our kids.

I believe we as parents need to provide a buffer of screen-free space and time every day. A reprieve to allow our tweens to develop their own values, identity, and purpose in our families and communities of faith. 

I’m not an advocate of extreme or rigid Christian parenting at all, what I’m suggesting today isn’t a total boycott of social media. Not at all….

Instead I’m asking you to prayerfully consider what level of consumption is appropriate for your tween and young teen. Once you and your spouse have a sense of what’s healthy for your kids… set the digital boundaries in your home and determine to maintain them.

I believe no other single issue will affect your kids development, faith, and character more than cutting the social media umbilical in their tween years. 

Pastor B.

For tween ministry resources and help, check out the TGA website. (Tween Gospel Alliance)

 

 

2014! Year of the Selfie !

Can’t help but laugh every time I see a selfie on social media. Almost without exception there is a slight lip pucker on the face of whoever just shared their own photo-portrait. It’s like a subconscious personality quirk that’s become the national ‘norm’ for teens and tweens, freely shared millions of times a day. National media icon’s like Kim and Bieb’s are training an entire generation of tweens and teens to just ‘put themselves out there”.

Kim K -courtesy of the New Yorker

Kim K -courtesy of the New Yorker

National statistics on social media photo sharing are growing so fast it’s impossible to keep up. 100’s of millions of personal pics are flooding instagram, twitter, pinterest and facebook…not to mention the videos on snap chat, the numbers are enormous and growing. So much so 2014 has been declared the year of the selfie.

For parents in this emerging digital age, the selfie is a rite of passage that pre-teens take to like bees to honey. Kids are naturally impulsive, self focused and all about attention, affirmation and love. The use of an engineering marvel like the smart phone is almost exclusively dedicated to personal pics, posts and of course… ‘selfie’s.

Parents are beginning to notice the affect the selfie may be having on their children as they enter the adolescent years. The need to exhibit themselves, to show what they are wearing, newest hairstyle or latest fashion coup, may be stunting our collective social and emotional maturity…not to mention the erosion of concepts like modesty, self-control and personal sacrifice.

If your wondering if I’m going a bit judgmental on a little photo fun… I understand. So I dare you, just google ‘selfie“. Look under ‘images’. Ok, see what I mean? Notice the absence of proper clothing….YIKES!

Selfies are becoming more than a unique statement of who we are…. they are morphing into a desperate cry for approval, love and affirmation – at almost any cost from almost anyone but us. 

I’m not being a downer here, simply observing what is and making some educated guesses as to the how and what  of it all ! How societal trends are subtly nudging our kids away from the principles of our faith. It’s time for us to consider how we need to adapt our role as parents of tweens, struggling already with the normal –coming of age -drama of adolescence and family. 06e1ec9

These modern, mobile, wonder devices are changing society and the emotional-spiritual development of our kids in new and unique ways. It’s important for us to be aware and interactive with our kids about technology as they make the transition from kid to young adult. 

Bieber, courtesy of Huffington Post

Bieber, courtesy of Huffington Post

So… next time you see a family selfie float into the cloud, remember to check in with your tween. Ask them about their value, identity and purpose… remind them they are more than a great pic in the social media tapestry of life.

They have unique and irreplaceable value to you, their family and to God.

Redirect their adolescent grip on narcissism to expand to the needs and concerns of those living around them… help them see the world is so much bigger than just ‘them.

As Christians, we have counter-cultural values and beliefs. Ideas like, “those who lose their lives will find it and “I’ve come to serve and to give my life away’ – we know the bible, we can quote it… but if our kids don’t learn to use their faith as a real-life filter, we’re allowing society to train them.

Something to think about.

Pastor B.

PS – would love to hear other parents ideas and thoughts on this one… lots of smart families already sorting these things out. Time to share with the rest of us 🙂