Life as a High School Student

Andy Jung serves as the pastor of First Baptist church of Albemarle after spending 20 years in youth ministry. He received his Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Youth, Family and Culture. He has a passion for young people and loves to train others to lead them well. 

Life as a high school student is hard. Anyone who has any contact with today’s high school students will not argue the fact that they have it much tougher than the generations of the past. Though it may seem life has become easier today than for those of past decades, young people face a strenuous road to adulthood. They are filled with anxiety and uncertainty, stressed from the pressures of culture and performance. In her book, The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine surmises that fewer and fewer teenagers are able to resist the pressures to excel:

Between accelerated academic courses, multiple extracurricular activities, premature preparation for high school or college, special coaches and tutors engaged to wring the last bit of performance out of them, many kids find themselves scheduled to within an inch of their lives. . . . As a result, kids can’t find the time to linger in internal exploration; a necessary precursor to a well-developed sense of self.[1]

Today’s adolescents are ill equipped to make important choices in life and lack the supportive systems that provide a sense of security.

Rather than bemoaning the fact that today’s teenagers are not like the teenagers of the past, it is important for adults to seek to understand and learn to empathize with today’s young people. In their newly released book Growing Young, Kara Powell, Brad Griffin and Jake Mulder of Fuller Youth Institute lists three ultimate questions every young person must answer: Who am I? Where do I fit? What difference do I make? Answers to these questions help teenagers to discover their identity, sense of belonging and purpose in the world. It is the role of adults to help teenagers wade through the pressures of the performance-driven culture and help them discover their identity found in the image of God.

Research has proven that today’s young people take longer to reach adulthood than their parents and grandparents. They face a great deal of stress and daily life management does not come easy. The ongoing tumult of academic, vocational and relational dilemmas keep them from discovering who they are, where they fit and what difference they can make.

Often, the Church has not made it any easier for Christian teenagers. The performance expectation of being a “good Christian” is held in higher regard than learning to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Churches do little to create safe spaces for teenagers to ask tough questions, make mistakes and discover grace along the way. Therefore, youth ministry focuses more on “doing the right thing” than “being a Christ-follower.”

To change the tide and help teenagers individuate into a healthy adults, churches must allow students to have the space to ask difficult questions of doubt and unbelief without judgment. Adults must come alongside teenagers and walk with them in their faith journey with no expectation of meeting adult expectations or certain level of performance. Our churches must be a safe sanctuary for our teenagers to meet God, learn to abide in Christ and develop healthy spiritual habits that will allow them to grow as a follower of Jesus. May it be so.

[1] Madeline Levine, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 10-11.