While culturally different, teens still yearn for love, acceptance

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)--While adults may look at today's teenagers and see their differences, youth have the same core needs they've always had -- love and acceptance, a youth consultant said.

Sean Keith, of LifeWay Christian Resources' youth Sunday school ministry department, led a workshop on "Youth Culture in the 21st Century" during National Sunday School Leadership Week, July 17-21 at Ridgecrest, a LifeWay Conference Center, in North Carolina.

Keith said the millennial generation, people born from 1980-2000, share some common characteristics:

-- Their pulse runs fast. Bombarded by frequent images, the millennials are in need of continual activity.

-- The remote control symbolizes their reality: Change is constant, focus is fragmented.

-- They live for now.

-- They have had everything handed to them.

-- They have a "been there, done that" attitude. Nothing shocks them.

-- They take consumerism for granted.

-- They are a technological community.

-- They process information in narrative images -- like Nike commercials.

-- Their "truth detectors" are always on.

-- They don't trust adults.

This is the "most wanted" generation since the boomer babies, Keith said. "These kids are loved. You can see parents at sporting events, PTAs, places where they are supporting what their kids are doing."

But, he added, too often, there isn't much one-on-one time spent between a parent and child.

This generation is a day-care generation. "The parents look for the best and highest quality day care they can find, but still you have most of these kids not having a parent at home during the day."

That makes this a generation of paradoxes, Keith said.

They want to tolerate others' beliefs and opinions, yet they are often bigoted and outspoken. Presently, there are over 2 million of this generation born to mixed-race parents. There is great variety in their family structures.

"You can never assume you know the family situation," Keith said.

There are more legal guardians and grandparents raising teenagers now than ever before. "Many of these kids have never known a father," Keith said.

Regarding religion, he said, they are more religious, but not necessarily Christian. They want to be inclusive in their religion, accepting everyone.

This generation is biblically challenged, he said. They don't know the books of the Bible. To them, the Bible is just another book, neither holy nor truthful.

"We can't use the Bible as proof with them, only support," Keith said. With them, we have to ask, "What's wrong with this world?" before asking, "How do you think this can be fixed?" then saying, "Well, here's what it says in the Bible."

They are technocrats, the most technologically informed generation. "This generation has never known a world without computers, beepers, cell phones, palm pilots and microwaves," Keith said. Many youth use electronics, he said, to stay in touch with one another and to support each other.

But this generation is also stressed out. "It happens earlier and earlier and is more intense," Keith said, adding, "There is incredible techno-stress. They are under such pressure to compete, they sometimes just give up on life."

Today's teenagers equate happiness with possessions. Parents often reinforce this by giving them things to make up for the time they don't spend with them, Keith said.

This generation of teenagers reacts to culture through experiential processes, he continued.

"These kids want to do things -- bungee jumping, rock climbing, jumping out of airplanes -- all that stuff that gives them a rush," Keith said.

As learners, today's generation of teenagers are visually oriented, an MTV generation. They are not linear thinkers, but "loopy" thinkers, he said.

"They start out looking at the MTV website, then they see a link to a site about their favorite group. They click there and see a link to a site about clothes. They click there and find a link to shoes, then in a matter of a few seconds, they've completely gone from the MTV site to shoes. Then they go back to the MTV site. They've made a loop."

Today's youth, more than any previous generation, is a multi-task generation. They never do just one thing at a time.

"Do you know any teenager who doesn't want to study with a headset on, or the television on, or while he's talking on the phone or answering his beeper?" Keith asked.

These teens have a good work ethic, Keith said, as evidenced in their willingness to do service projects. "They may not clean their own rooms, but 54,000 teens last year were involved in missions camps."

Church youth leaders today must, number one, love teenagers, Keith said.

"You've got to love these kids unconditionally. You've got to have a passion for them."