A recent report by Action for Children has highlighted once again the pressures facing children and young people in the 21st century. It surveys a huge range of issues that young people are facing, but we are going to focus on just two here: school pressure and social media.
A staggering 85% of young people said that worries impacted their day to day lives, with 65% saying that the pressures of school are preventing them from having a good childhood. In addition, the report shows that parents and grandparents are also concerned about the increased pressure on children who have less time to play, explore and be bored because of the amount of time needing to be dedicated to school work.
In addition to these perhaps more “normal” worries for young people, are the rise in concern for global issues such as Brexit, terrorism and poverty. In a world which is technically safer than ever before, our children are worried about the safety of themselves and the world we live in. Social media has a huge impact on this; for once children learned about current affairs in age appropriate soundbites from shows such as Newsround, they are now more likely to learn of world events through instagram or twitter without the benefit of considered commentary.
So what can we do about it?
The most important thing we can do is keep the lines of communication with our children open in whatever way we can. The report showed that young people didn’t disclose certain worries to their parents for fear of worrying them – and I don’t think there’s anything new about teens not sharing everything with their parents- but in churches let’s be available to listen and talk with our young people. For some, it will be much easier to talk to someone else’s parents than their own, and if we can be willing to facilitate this, all the better.
Secondly, we need to be talking about the issues young people are actually worried about in our youth and children’s programmes. Perhaps it’s holding an open “Q&A” evening where a panel could be texted anonymous questions and the answers explored, or starting youth group by thinking through the news and chatting about any concerns raised.
Thirdly, we need to be supporting parents as they support their children. We aren’t given a parenting handbook (more’s the pity) and by running workshops, providing resources such as Youthscape’s “Parents Guides” we can strengthen the family.
And finally, we need to encourage our children and young people to take a healthy approach to school work. For some, this might mean actually doing a bit of work on occasions (!) but for others, it’s about teaching them the value of taking a sabbath rest and encouraging them that school work shouldn’t be the sum total of their life. Along with parents, encourage young people to continue to attend extra curricular activities and youth groups during exam season, get outside at least once a day and have one whole day without school work – even during exam season! If we can encourage our young people to get into the habit of Sabbath rest now – it’s going to be easier to continue to implement in the rest of life.