Bridging the Generation Divide with Teens

Written by Clem Boyd

generationgapWhen looking at the generation called Millennials, children born between 1981 and 2000, over 50s are likely to see a sociological Grand Canyon. These kids appear unruly, lazy and occasionally violent. Who wants to hike over to their side of the valley? Strapping yourself to a donkey clip-clopping down the side of a sheer cliff may hold greater interest.

But according to statistics released recently by the Gallup Organization, teens are calling across that chasm. According to the Gallup Youth Survey, almost 80 percent of young people between 13 and 17 identified the following as needs they felt very strongly:

  • They need to be trusted.
  • They need to believe life is meaningful and has purpose.
  • They need to feel safe and secure where I live and go to school and to be understood and loved.

“Because teens tend not to be taken seriously in our culture, these needs become critical cries for attention,” commented Tim Smith, consultant, author and speaker for Focus on the Family. “Adults have the voice in our culture and teens don’t feel they are heard. Because our culture marginalizes teens, they are hushed and many respond in hostility.”

According to Smith, pastor of family life at Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, CA, many teens lack the assets to successfully navigate the pre-adult years, like taking on the Colorado River in a boat without oars.

“Teens will make poor choices if they do not have the skills to make wise choices,” Smith said. “Some will make life-threatening choices – drugs, sex, gangs, vengeful violence or self-destructive behaviors.”

So how can over 50s bridge the gap to today’s teens?

Smith recommended learning how Millennials are different than Generation Xers and Baby Boomers. “They tend to be more like builders with their values, more traditional regarding personal and family values, but also more eclectic regarding lifestyle and religious values,” he said.

George Gallup Jr, co-chairman of the national polling organization, strongly suggests mentoring. “It’s one of the noblest things that can be done today,” he said. “Four of ten children live in a home with no biological father. It’s not an easy assignment walking alongside one of these kids. It can’t be taken lightly. You become a surrogate parent.”

Those 50 and older are wonderfully poised to make a big difference in society,” Gallup added. “We may want to wash our hands and turn to other efforts because we don’t know how our talents, gifts and skills could be used to help these young people. But Jesus called us to go to the margins of society, to help those who are helpless. That’s a commandment. A significant minority of kids are just being cast aside and that is storing up problems for this society in a major way.”

So, go ahead, be a spiritual daredevil. Make a leap over the great divide. Some teen is waiting with arms outstretched to catch you.

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