Guiding iGen through Commitment and Communication

by Norwood Shank

Each generation faces the same battle: to serve God without distraction. For today’s young people, Norwood observes, this battle is acute in two ways. We are tempted to substitute electronic communication for quality relationships and quiet time, and we are often bewildered by the options available to us. How should teachers and parents respond? Norwood reminds us of a simple, unchanging truth: we can still influence others by calling them to commit to one path and to seek to know God personally.

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When I started teaching in 1988, it was a time when people actually answered the phone. Financially people were conservative just out of necessity, and that created somewhat of a stable environment. The students reflected that. Students were fairly stable. They would take what a teacher said naively and accept it without a lot of questioning. I guess that would have been X-Generation.

Then as we come out of that period, financial opportunities opened up. Then we hit the millennials. I look at the millennials as a result of a shift in parenting, where they were just less likely to step up and stop their child from doing something. They were more likely to sit down and chat with them. The discipline changed.

You know, for baby boomers and X-Gens it was more black and white, and the parents–I don’t know if demanded–required respect may be the way to look at it. But when you get to millennials you see parents reasoning with their children. And that’s not all bad, but it kind of deteriorated the level of respect for elders.

And so X-Gens acceoted accepted what a teacher said. Millennials, or Y-Gens, started asking questions.

And then we come to the Z-Gen or the i-Gen or whatever you want to call it. The millennials asked questions. I feel that now we’re getting close to debate. The questions get a little more pointed, and the teacher is a struggling a little more to to come across as the authority.

And so when I look at the generation that we as teachers are working with, or the church is working with, today, I see two issues that concern me.

One of them is electronic communication–and I think we see society even starting to worry about this one: the whole thing of relating to one another through a device, and the virtual communities that have developed, and the fact that that then weakens the desire to come together on Friday evening or Sunday evening or whenever your youth function is. They have communicated so much during the week that that desire to be together isn’t there. And I see that really weakening our communities and our churches.

I think we need private times when that intrusive text messages is not going to come in. Setting in your home and just having nothing to do, letting your mind wander: what do we do? We pick out our smartphone, pick up the computer, we do something. We don’t have that private time.

The second thing I see that concerns me is how our young people are being exposed, supposedly to good things. And yet it is weakening the home community. The options that young people have: They can go on a chorus trip. They can go to Bible school. They can do a term at Faith Builders. They can go on mission trip. They can do relief work here, relief work there.

All those things are great, they’re good, there’s nothing wrong with them. But when you stop and think about it, what is happening is they’re getting out and exposed to other things that are exciting. Plus they’re also interacting with other church groups. Their options are so open. Then where does the home community come into this picture?

But I think we parents and teachers–educators–need to step up and say, “There are multitudes of ways you can serve God. Choose one of them. Say ‘No’ to this one, say ‘No’ to this one, and choose this one, and stick with it. And God will bless you.”

Our young people are not unconcerned and rebellious. It might come across that way. But I really think it’s because they’re scared. It’s a cover up. And they really want input from us as adults. If we can communicate it in the right vehicle: not treating them as children, and lecturing them and sermonizing, but talking with like adults.

This may sound like a pat answer, a simplistic answer, but I think it is the answer, and that is: We need to teach them to truly know God. Not know about Him but to really know Him. And then they can choose him as their guide.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Norwood Shank

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