When Dorothy arrives in the Land of Oz, she looks around at the new world she’s entered and tells her dog, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” You may feel a bit like Dorothy as you realize that the children you’re teaching are growing up in a different world than you did!
If we lived in a vacuum-packed, hermetically sealed world where biblical values were taken seriously, teaching church school might be easy. But we don’t. Incoming messages delivered to impressionable kids today come through television, movies, electronic games, music, print, the Internet, and other cultural realities that do not reflect our faith.
Just what are those messages? Old certainties are fading. Reason can’t be trusted. It’s important to challenge and question common perceptions. There is no absolute truth — reality and truth grow out of your own perceptions and experiences. This worldview — called “postmodernism” — describes the predominant attitudes and values of the world our kids live in. They know no other world.
If we did still live in a Bible-centered world, perhaps people of all ages would not be pigeon-holed and labeled by the era of their birth. But that’s not reality either. “Boomers,” “busters,” and “Gen Xers” are labels for people born during certain periods in recent history. Because of the experiences they’ve been through, each generation looks at life in a different way than previous or succeeding generations. Life is messy that way!
The children in our church programs have labels too: they’re known as Generation Y (aka Millennials), children born between 1982 and 2001. Their younger brothers and sisters, Generation Z or the Net Generation, were born after the catastrophic events of 9/11.
So who are these kids you’ll be teaching — and what are they like?
- For the most part, these children are cherished. With readily available birth control measures, parents can choose whether and when to have children. And when they do, their kids are generally protected and fussed over!
- Today’s kids are knowledgeable and comfortable with technology, at ease in cyberspace. They live in a global village, communicating easily online with children around the world.
- They are used to multitasking as they move between screens on their computer while listening to their iPods and texting their friends on cell phones. For these kids, thinking has become a nonlinear activity — they feel very comfortable with random bits of information.
- Children today are extremely tolerant of a variety of opinions, cultures, and lifestyles; personal freedom to choose is a value they hold passionately.
- They want to experience things before they learn about them (in religious terms, this means that they come to your class in search of a “God experience” — not just a series of stories, facts, and concepts).
- Kids’ “fake” detectors are very sensitive! You’ll need to earn their respect — it’s not automatic. Morality tales that feature “goody-goody” characters are out — real is in. Today’s children and young people can be wonderfully idealistic and unselfish if presented with the right challenges.
- Kids and teens have a pick-and-mix approach to spiritual beliefs. They’re looking for a spirituality that reflects their own experiences.
Generation Z is growing up in the shadow of Generation Y. Anything that can be said about Generation Y also applies to this younger generation, only more so! These kids have never known a world without computers, without “war on terrorism,” without DNA evidence and maps of the human genome, without discussion of gay rights. Reality and fiction are blurred as special effects in entertainment become ever more sophisticated. Their world bears little resemblance to the world we grew up in.
Of course, behind each of the labels we’ve talked about is a child uniquely created and loved by our great God. Some children conform to the tidy labels and descriptions we give them as though they were poster children for their generation. Others are totally unlike their labels, marching to their own drummers. Most fall somewhere in between.
These are the children who come to your classroom each week. We’re committed to helping kids in this complex culture and global world find their place in God’s family, dwell in God’s love and grace, and grow in their faith. Our task is a challenging one. Thank God — the loving, creative, very real God of all generations — for knowing and loving the children in your group before they took their first breath. In a changing world, that’s a message that will never change. It’s our hope for generations to come.