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I was recently sitting across the table in a local Mcdonald’s with some youth who attend our church. I asked them how they were doing and if they were excited for the various restrictions in our province to end.

The response I got kind of surprised me. I figured that they would express how annoying restrictions were, how frustrating mask-wearing was, etc. Instead, one of the young men pipes up, “I kind of wish we’d go back into lockdown.” I was surprised.

Who in the world would want to go back into lockdown?

So, I asked why he would want this. His response was, “It was fun! I got to do like an hour of school every day and then I could just play video games.”

Yet, at the same time, there is a young woman who is a part of our youth ministry struggling with isolation even as restrictions are lifted. The friends she once had before the pandemic are no longer her friends and making new friends is not as easy as it sounds.

On the one hand, we have some youth saying they desire more isolation, and on the other we have youth struggling with the results of isolation.

Clearly, the pandemic has had a deleterious effect on the young people in our churches. Both of these stories highlight issues that the church will face as restrictions end.

So what should we do? How should we minister to youth in this season of lifted restrictions, and how do we respond to the problems bubbling to the surface as a result of two-plus years of worldwide pandemic?

Diagnosis

Well before we can provide solutions, we must first diagnose the problems that teens are experiencing from the pandemic. The most obvious—and likely the most dangerous—is a serious decline in mental health.

In my home province of British Columbia, there has been an eleven percent increase in youth seeking mental health treatments since the beginning of the pandemic.[1] Likewise, “a University of Calgary study looking at data from more than 80,000 youth around the world found depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents compared to pre-pandemic.”[2]

The trend of worsening mental health has been noticed by parents as well. For instance, “46% of 977 parents of teens said their child has shown signs of a new or worsening mental health condition since the start of the pandemic.”[3]

To be honest, this should come as no surprise to us. The pandemic intensified a number of factors that contribute to mental health issues. For instance, isolation from friends plays a huge role in contributing to this decline. Consistently research has shown that friendships and meaningful connections help teens “manage anxiety and depression.”[4]

To further isolate teens who are already isolated, or to take extroverted teens and isolate them from friends, has a detrimental effect on the mental health of young people. Another factor that has contributed to this increase in mental health issues is screen time.

A study done in the UK found that the average screen time increased from four hours per day to six hours per day during lockdown.[5] This includes an increased use of social media, which as Jonathan Haidt has shown, has a serious negative impact particularly among young girls. You can find an article I have written on this particular issue here. Finally, there seems to exist a trickle-down effect from parents to youth.

As parents have been put under immense pressure during the pandemic their altered moods have had an impact on the well-being of kids. When adults cope well with stress, kids cope well too. When adults don’t cope well, then issues arise.[6] These factors—and obviously many more—have contributed to an unprecedented mental health crisis amongst teenagers largely resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

How We Can Help

This situation should deeply sadden us. Just imagine how difficult and troubling your own teenage years were, and then add the pandemic into the mix.

The very things that made those years memorable and special perhaps never took place for this generation of young people.

Prom, school dances, and extra-curricular activities were all cancelled and replaced with nothing. How can we reach these young people and minister to them in the midst of this scenario? I would like to offer a few suggestions.

First, re-integrating youth into the life of the church is extremely important. Simply providing a space for the building of relationships, the beginning of friendships, and the removal of isolation will be a significant help to the young people in your church.

I would encourage youth pastors to allow for in-person ministry. ZOOM simply does not cut it. Here in B.C. almost all restrictions have been removed. We meet each week as youth for games, teaching, and small group times. I believe that in-person ministry makes a huge difference in the lives of our youth.

Secondly, we as ministers to young people need to speak about the dangers of social media. This is not to be anti-technology (spoiler alert, I am) but rather it’s common sense. There is good data showing the harmful effects of social media on young people. It is irredeemable at this point and warning youth about its dangers is now a necessary part of our job.

Lastly, parents, if you are struggling with mental health issues it is extremely important for you to seek help. Given that there is a trickle-down effect upon your kids from poor mental health it is imperative that you seek proper guidance and counsel to work through your mental health issues.

In light of the factors which have contributed to the problems we outlined, I believe that as we put these suggestions into practice, we can significantly help the young people in our churches.

A Gospel Opportunity

As we enter into a new phase of this pandemic, a phase of ending restrictions and a return to normal life, we can expect to face new challenges and issues amongst the young people of our churches. Yet, this also presents us with an amazing opportunity to show—to potentially once apathetic youth kids—the better story of the gospel.

Perhaps this provides the church with an opportunity to be a place of refuge and of healing for the young people in their communities. There is no greater healing balm, no more wonderful reducer of anxiety, no better solution for the maladies of the soul than the love of God the Father, made known to us as we are united to Jesus Christ, by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

As churches and youth groups across this country seek to proclaim that good news through the written word, which points people to the living Word, I believe that the issues young people are facing will find their ultimate solution in Jesus Christ.

This is good news for a struggling generation.

Imagine, the impact which a text like Philippians 4:4-7 can have in a time like this. Think of how precious Romans 8:31-39 might appear to someone struggling in this season.

So let us as ministers to the young people in our congregations’ heed Paul’s words, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

 

 


[1] Global News – Two years into pandemic, effects of COVID-19 on youth mental health a growing concernhttps://globalnews.ca/news/8531246/two-years-into-pandemic-effects-of-covid-19-on-youth-mental-health-a-growing-concern/

[2] Ibid.

[3] WebMD – Pandemic Has Harmed Mental Health of Teens – https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20210315/pandemic-has-harmed-mental-health-of-teens#1

[4] New York Times – Teens in Covid Isolation: ‘I Felt Like I Was Suffocating’ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/health/covid-teenagers-mental-health.html

[5] Noemi Jester and Premjeet Kang. “Covid-19 Pandemic: Is Teenagers’ Health in Crisis? An Investigation into the effects of Covid-19 on self-reported mental and physical health of teenagers in secondary education.” Public Health in Practice 2, no. 100099 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.puhip.2021.100099

[6] The Globe and Mail – How Teenagers are Coping in the COVID-19 Pandemic – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-how-teenagers-are-coping-in-the-pandemic/

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