It’s probably too soon to be calling the children and youth growing up in the middle of this pandemic “Generation P.” But it certainly isn’t too soon to begin empathizing with the fact that the pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of our tweens, teens, and emerging adults.
National Public Radio recently reported that U.S. public health officials from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention have found a disturbing trend, particularly among 18 to 24 year olds. Their research indicates that 25.5 % of that age group reported having seriously considered suicide in the prior 30 days, and 74.9% reported experiencing at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom in the prior 30 days.
Why is this happening? There are many reasons. Young people are isolated from friends, and sometimes from extended family. Typical milestones like grad parties have disappeared. On-campus dorm life and in-classroom education are different now. News of wildfires, race riots, and political upheaval, accompanied by vivid footage, is everywhere.
Compound this with pre-pandemic trends like a lack of meaningful opportunities for employment, increased debt, and limited housing options that force young adults to continue to live with their families, and one begins to understand why this is a particularly anxious time for teens and young adults.
So what can churches like yours do? Here are some ideas.
Empathize with Today’s Young People
Empathy is one of six essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church from the book Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin. While the pandemic has been stretching for people of all ages, one of the challenges for those of us in our 40s and up is to lean into empathy. Many of us have a hardship story from our youth that we might share with today’s youth and young adults, but none of us have lived in a time quite like this. Empathy requires that we ask questions and be good listeners as we attempt to suss out what it means to to grow up in this unique set of circumstances.
The authors write, “By empathy, we don’t mean patronizing young people. Nor do we mean superficial or false sympathy. We certainly don’t mean judgmentalism, even if it’s cloaked in helpful suggestions (e.g., ‘Instead of playing video games all day, have you thought about looking online for a job?’) When we talk about empathy, we mean feeling with young people.” (Growing Young, p. 91). According to the book, seeking to understand young people is the goal, and one important bi-product is that these young people become more empathic in the process.
Offer Space for Connection
CrossPoint Christian Reformed Church in Brampton, Ontario, decided to address the issue of isolation and disrupted post-secondary education among their young adults by gifting them the church’s space, a reliable and free WiFi connection, and access to daily spiritual care. CrossPoint decided to make their building into a University Cafe. Students have access to currently unused Sunday school rooms and a well-stocked coffee area. Youth director Dallas Legge serves as the onsight “campus chaplain” with the support of pastor Richard Grift, and the coffee area serves as a gathering space (yes, with appropriate physical distancing). This arrangement pushes back against the social isolation that is prevalent in the post-secondary demographic. Because students are given their own space outside their family homes, they can continue to do the work of self-differentiation in the company of their peers.
CrossPoint has started small, testing their protocols, Internet policies, and bandwidth. Pastor Grift showed me photos of the first three college and university students to meet at CrossPoint. “More may yet join,” he said, “and we may extend the invite to others (CrossPoint is located across the street from a thriving college campus). These three are 6 feet apart even though the group includes two sisters who live with each other.”
Share Your Congregation’s Riches
Crosspoint is rich in space, staff, and WiFi, as are many congregations. Young entrepreneurs and people who work remotely might also be blessed by a church’s WiFi cafe. I have heard of churches who have opened their buildings to young adults in the workforce as general Internet cafes and then offered programming in financial literacy, vocational discernment, and mentoring from professionals within their congregations. Each one of these offerings pushes back against the often-overwhelming anxieties being experienced by today’s emerging adults.
Mine the Resources Available to You
There are many resources to help your church explore how to reach out to tweens, teens, and emerging adults, including these:
Contact Ron deVries, the Youth Ministry Catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries, for information on how to join a Growing Young Cohort or a cohort on Creating a Mentoring Culture.
The CRC’s classis-based Youth Ministry Champions have resources available to help you support youth and young adults.
To support parents who are wondering how to parent their youth and emerging adults during this difficult season, contact me, Lesli van Milligen ([email protected]) about scheduling a virtual workshop to explore the book Growing With, the companion book to Growing Young.
You’ll find many other COVID-related resources for your church at crcna.org/covid19.