Do you ever just find yourself looking at the world around you and think, “What in the world is happening?” It seems as if everything is just off. What used to roll off the backs of people now sets them off. The things that glued us to the news, we are now numb to it. People are more agitated, fearful, distrusting, and isolated than ever before. And we all feel it.
But what about our kids? How are they coping?
In a word… poorly.
According to CDC statistics released in March 2022:
- More than 1 in 3 high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic.
- Nearly half of students felt persistently sad or hopeless.
- Two-thirds said they had difficulty with understanding or concentrating on schoolwork.
- More than half of students experienced emotional abuse in their home.
- A quarter of teens struggled with hunger.
- Female students were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to male students.
- 19.9% of students had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 9.0% had attempted suicide.
While it’s true that so many people young and old are struggling more mentally than before the pandemic, it’s the youth who seem to be a more steady decline. Before COVID-19, suicide was already reported as the second-leading cause of death among people aged 10–34, and the CDC reported that youth mental health was already declining. But since the start of the pandemic, the state of youth mental health has undoubtedly worsened.
How Did We Get Here?
Between the constant comparisons and challenges to keep up with the pressure to perform on social media; the expectation of being “always on” that comes with technology, instantaneous communication and troubling news cycles; the lack of God and His word within the home and/or school; and the isolation, uncertainty, and trauma and grief that have come from an unprecedented global crisis… Young people today are being challenged in ways we couldn’t believe.
For lack of a better way to say it, our youth are in a mental health crisis.
Unfortunately, the way youth respond to their emotional situation is often difficult to predict. Some act out in violence, seeking attention in ways that are completely out of their normal behavior. Some become hypervigilant, fearful of making a mistake, leaving their safe spaces, or making friends. Others might isolate, withdrawing from family, friends, and things they love. Let’s face it, in more instances than we care to accept, our kids feel more safe in their rooms on a computer screen than out in the “real world.” We did that to them. We took away their schools, their friends, their church, their extracurricular activities and stuffed them in their rooms while we spiraled into our fear-based abyss. And even though we have begun to see a bit of normalcy in our daily choices, our kids don’t know how to step back into a world with face-to-face interactions. It’s a lot. And too often we say to them, “Just suck it up. You’re young; you can handle it.”
Reality check … they can’t handle it! They don’t know how and we aren’t helping them. So they do what they know… they learn from us. If you are an adult who doesn’t talk about your feelings, neither will your kids. If you act out in violence, so will your kids. If you don’t pray to God, neither will your kids. Our youth are looking to us for leadership. They want to know how to handle things and we simply are letting them down because WE aren’t handling things well at all.
The Church Response
Recently, a 14-year-old said to me, “Is there anywhere we can go where we feel safe and can just be kids?”
That question nearly crushed me. Because the truth is that there is no where any of us can go in this world and not be touched by evil in some way. It’s infiltrated our homes, churches, schools, businesses, governments, sports… the list goes on and on. Evil is something humankind has encountered since the Garden of Eden. And the only response to evil is God.
I can’t help but wonder where our churches are because they aren’t stepping up. As a whole, churches have dropped the ball on the basic premise of providing hope to the hurting world through the spreading of the Gospel. Churches have become, instead, a place of entertainment, political activism, and acceptance of sin. We can’t accept this any longer as Christians. When we said yes to Jesus Christ’s invitation to eternal salvation, we also agreed to the Great Commission: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Our kids are desperately seeking hope because they are living in a hopeless world. If we don’t share with them “to obey everything [Jesus has] commanded” we are complicit in the suicides, school shootings, gang violence, pornography, unwanted pregnancies, gender confusion, bullying, and more. It’s their blood on our hands if we stay quiet about the very thing they need to know most… sin. Sin is what separates us from God. If we don’t know what the sin is, how can we ever expect to grow close to Him to have the very hope we are most seeking?
What can you do?
Listen. Stop trying to talk AT your kids or simply brushing their concerns aside as if they’re not important. Really listen to your kids. Create a space in your day when you put your phone down, turn off the TV, and just listen to your child. What was great about their day? What wasn’t so good? Why? How are they doing? Is there something they are struggling with? These are just a few questions parents can ask and then just really listen to their answers. If more parents did this, more young lives would be saved.
Make God important in your life. If your kids see you studying the word of God, praying, attending church, and spending time with others studying God’s word, they will see how important that relationship is in their own life. But if your priorities do not show God at the top every day, then neither will your kids. God is always there but the relationship can only happen if you nurture it.
Set boundaries. Believe it or not, kids prefer rules over free-range parenting. God set a clear boundary with Adam and Eve and they broke it. We are still paying for those consequences. Set clear boundaries with your kids. Be nosey about their electronic communications. Don’t let them stay behind a closed bedroom door all the time. Monitor their friends. Be the parent! The friendship comes once they are adults.
Ask for help. Believe it or not, parents don’t know everything. Not only that, but as a parent, you are more invested in your child than anyone else in the world so it’s sometimes difficult to be unbiased when they are going through things. That’s why therapists exists! We are the unbiased professionals trained to help people navigate difficult situations. There is no shame in talking to someone. In fact, seeing a therapist is as normal as seeing a physician. So, if your child is struggling, ask if they would like to talk to a therapist. And if they come to you can say they want to go to counseling, applaud them for taking an active role in their mental health and then act upon their request. And vet the therapist. I love it when parents want to meet with me. You’re trusting your child with someone so you need to know who it is. If you want Christian counseling, make sure the therapist follows scripture. If you need a trauma specialist, ask for their experience working with trauma. Ask questions and then make a decision.
It is easy to throw statistics and what-ifs at you. But it’s the kids we have to really focus on. Our youth are lost and we are the ones who are supposed to be guiding them. It’s time to step up and do the hard work. If you know of a young person struggling, please reach out to First Step Counseling. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 988. Someone is available 24-hours a day to help you. You are not alone.