BILOXI, Miss. – Biloxi High School junior Mandy Lowery says the older she gets, the more she spends time praying to God.
"Prayer is more important to me today than it used to be when I was younger," Lowery told The Christian Post after a See You at the Pole event. "Being a teenager today is no easy task. Being a Christian teenager is even more of a challenge."
Lowery, like many students across the country Wednesday, joined a group of fellow students in front of her school to pray for her leaders, faith, and read Scripture and sing.
Outside the front entrance of the high school, near the flagpole, roughly 50 students were gathered in front of the Mississippi school participating in the annual national See You at the Pole event.
Since its beginning in 1990, See You at the Pole has been held every fourth Wednesday of September. Organizers estimate that 3 million people participated in the 21st anniversary of the youth movement.
Mississippi high school student Mandy Lowery said, “I want to pray to God because it helps me feel like I am not alone in this world.”
“There are so many things going on in high school these days. School is fun. But it is also really hard because of the work and pressure.”
Lowery and her friends say high school students today face more problems than in years past and some parents just "don't get it."
“It’s like – people will judge you just by looking at the kind of shoes you are wearing,” Lowery shared. “Sometimes I wish things were not so complicated at school. But God really does help and I talk to him every day.”
She said some adults might be surprised at how many students today like to pray and go to church.
Author Mark Yaconelli in his book, Helping Teenagers to Pray, writes, “Teenagers long to stop and open themselves to God. But often they feel they need permission to set aside the numerous agendas, expectations and amusements in which they find themselves entangled.”
When Yaconelli interviewed young people about their spiritual lives over a period of ten years, he said he was fascinated to find out "they experienced their deepest encounters with God during moments of rest, solitude, silence, reflection and contemplative wonder."
“Teenagers do pray,” Lowery affirmed. “Some just do not want others to know because they want to be cool and stuff. But we all have issues to deal with and God understands what some parents don’t.”
Problems teenagers face today can take many forms. They worry about body image, bullying, dating, drugs, peer pressure, eating disorders, sexual abuse, acne, and lack of attention due to busy parents working two or more jobs.
"Sometimes I think teenagers have it harder than corporate leaders today because our problems do not just go away with a meeting or a memo," Lowery said.
Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, said in a report for the National Study of Youth and Religion, that even scattered and spotty findings to date suggest that there is a great deal more out there to be learned about youth and religion.
“At the same time many youth ministry leaders, along with American society, neglect and misunderstand our youth today," he said.
Smith argues that parents are the most important influence on young people’s faith development.
He writes in his book, Soul Searching, The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, that the best way to get youth more involved in their faith communities is to motivate parents to get involved in and serious about their faith communities.
“This requires congregational leaders to re-think the models of youth ministry that involve separating youth from their parents,” he said.
Smith stresses that religious leaders need to imagine a youth ministry as a family ministry.