By Josh Hussung
Generation Z is the most connected generation in the history of the world.
At any moment they’re only a couple of keystrokes away from virtually all of their friends. They can see pictures of them and send text or even video messages. The access that Generation Z have to their peers is simply unprecedented.
One would think this level of connection would translate into satisfaction, but it is, in fact, doing the opposite. A recent USA Today article describes a pattern of increasing loneliness among teenagers.
Psychology Professor and author Jean Twenge points to social media and a decrease in face-to-face social interactions with their peers as the cause to this loneliness epidemic.
And while both of these issues affect older people as well, Generation Z is being affected more than any other generation.
The movie Ready Player One describes a world in which the vast majority of people’s social interactions are online, so much so that the protagonist falls in love with a girl that he has never met in person.
We aren’t there quite yet, but our teenagers have at least a foot in this world, and they are suffering for it. In just five years, loneliness among seniors in high school has jumped from 30% to 38%.
We can all appreciate the blessings that have accompanied technological advances.
We can have family members on the other side of the world and have a conversation with them in real time.
We can check in with our kids while they are away at college and need to see a familiar face.
We can even see the day-to-day activities of our loved ones through things like Instagram and Facebook.
These advances, however, can’t replace our need to be in the presence of other humans. The fact that decreased physical interaction between people increases loneliness serves to confirm God’s words, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
So, what can parents and churches do to help our teenagers navigate this increasingly lonely world?
1. Be slow to grant access to social media.
Social media does a great job of giving us the illusion of connection. We feel like we know people well when we see pictures of them. But knowing facts about someone’s daily activity is not the same as knowing them. Online, superficial interaction is no substitute for face-to-face relationships.
If social media is the culprit, parents would do well to limit that access at least until students are a little older, and then offer them a more hands-on approach to onboarding them into that world.
“Here’s an iPhone, have fun” is irresponsible parenting and sets students up for failure in this area as well as many others.
2. Be committed to helping students find time to have real life social interactions.
If students are ultimately lonely because they aren’t interacting with their peers much, parents need to find the time to give them that interaction.
We’re all very busy, but if we can help our children have true, in-person friendships, loneliness won’t be as much of a problem.
Schedule times for your student to hang out with their friends. Be open to them having friends in your home. Find activities you can do as a family that don’t involve screen time. Help them have shared experiences with their friends.
Social media is certainly more convenient, but physical interactions give our students much more valuable.
3. Make sure your students’ faith community is in a physical space.
Church is meant to be in person. The Greek word for “church” literally means “the assembly.” An assembly is a physical gathering of people.
When God instituted the church, I think He did so to meet our need for community, and that community should be primarily physical and personal. So, don’t skip church!
Encourage your student to be involved in a small group. Encourage them to have those same kinds of experiences mentioned above with fellow believers. This will help guard them from loneliness, and reinforce the value of a community centered around the gospel.
Consider this: God revealed himself ultimately through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
We are creatures designed to be “among” others. Let’s give that to our children.
Josh is the Pastor of Youth and Families at Grace Community Church in Nashville. He has also written for Rooted Ministry and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.