RENJE: America’s youth problem

Bill Renje

Bill Renje

“The president and his aides failed to keep his youth movement engaged. But part of the problem also is the inability of the millennial generation to remain attached to a cause. The generation that brought Obama to power is connected online but has no loyalty to institutions — including, it turns out, the Obama White House.” – Obama’s youth problem, Dana Milibank, Washington Post March 14

I think most of us who work with youth understand and would agree with what study after study, and poll after poll has been telling us in recent years – that millennials (those born after 1980) are more detached and disconnected, much more so, than previous generations.

Two columns last weekend, Milibank’s and New York Times columnist Ross Douhat’s The age of individualism, addressed the very issue of America’s “youth problem.”

Milibank who writes from a left of center perspective and Douhat, from the right, both cited a recent Pew Study which found “the 18-to-33 crowd less attached than older generations to organized politics and religion, less patriotic, less eager to marry and less trusting of people.”

The political reasons aside for why millennials have abandoned a President whom they supported like no other candidate in the last 40 years, the rapid disengagement should be troubling to us all. If they can abandon him so quickly, they can and frankly have abandoned those institutions – faith, marriage, community and civic involvement – that are the bedrock of cultural stability.

There’s so many competing voices in the marketplace of ideas that a fog of distraction and distortion has formed around the culture as a whole, but youth culture in particular. Our technological advancements have been fabulous on so many levels in enhancing people’s lives. However, we’ve allowed the gadgets and machines to take over in many ways, becoming completely disengaged in the process.

A GPS system will allow you to drive to a location many times without ever really learning how to get there.

We can also go through our days wrapped up in our online worlds without having a real, face to face conservation with anybody. Whereas those over 30 can still remember how to function in a low tech world, and what it was like to live in a culture with real community that you can hear, see, touch and feel.

That world, in many ways, is all gone now.

We live in such a rapid paced, ADD culture that it’s very difficult to get people of all ages, but millennials in particular, to remember anything from five minutes ago or to think about anything more than five minutes in advance.

Couple that with what, for the last two generations students have been taught by the educational system — that their identity is not found in being “uniquely and wonderfully made” by God (Psalm 139:14), but rather the primordial soup from which they evolved — and you can see the broad strokes for this disconnect.

But it goes beyond what our younger generations are being taught or the technology that they embrace to what they’re being shown. It’s hard to blame them, or strictly technology for their disengagement. It’s also hard to place the blame solely on the schools also, as all of our institutions have failed the younger generations.

Time and time again, they’ve been let down by their government at all levels run by both Democrats as well as Republicans, their community, their athletic and celebrity role models, their teachers, coaches, parents and churches. Basically all of adulthood has let our youth culture down.

So what to do?

The limitations of column space constrain me from diving in too deep. Perhaps a book will be forthcoming. But we need to work to regain the trust of our youth. I think we tend to accept situational ethics; we justify or rationalize bad behavior. But when we do that, we forget that our kids are watching us.

They may know deep down inside that they are immature, but they’re expecting us to be the adult in the room so to speak and when they see so many adults not act accordingly, the disillusionment starts to set in.

I believe it’s a bottom up, grass roots effort that we need. We need to rebuild our marriages, our homes and our communities, while helping others to do likewise. To accomplish this, we simply need to love everybody as Jesus loved them. It’s not difficult, although we make it so.

My prayer always is that those around me, especially, my own kids, will be drawn to Jesus – the author of authentic community - by what they see overall in my life and my marriage.

While far from perfect, I seek to learn from my mistakes and repent to those I’ve erred with, including my wife and kids. There are no perfect lives, homes, or marriages — certainly not mine. But we can also point people toward authentic community in how we handle the inevitability of conflict, which I’ll discuss next time.

Bill is on staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a Deacon at Eagles Landing FBC in McDonough, GA. He lives in Locust Grove with his wife Amy and their three children. You can follow Bill on Facebook, Twitter @billrenje and learn more about him at his website www.achosenbullet.com.