This generation of teenagers is unlike any other generation in history in many ways. We should never make the mistake of comparing ourselves and our teen years with this generation. Here are a few reasons why.
This generation has a false familiarity with death. In a study on the amount of violence that children see each day on television, The American Academy of Family Physicians discovered that the average American youth will have witnessed 200,000 violent acts on television by the time that they turn eighteen. This constant input of violence from movies, television, and video games has been confirmed in multiple studies, all of which have proven its great impact. Because video games and movies feature actors living on, and because in many scripts the real heroes die romantically, many teens are unaware that death is not romantic, and that it is permanent.
Secondly, all of this cultural change, including the breakdown of the family unit in America, has produced a lack of intergenerational bonding. In the 60’s-70’s, we were surrounded with family, teachers, coaches, church youth groups and other youth programs, and probably one best friend with several close friends. This used to be the normal American life for a young person. Today many youth lack the affection, provision, protection, and counsel of two parents. Instead of family dinner, youth have their cell phone text contacts. Instead of growing up wanting to please mom and dad, they want to impress each other. Instead of the encouragement of two parents, they want to see that text come in; “Awesome, man,” or “That new outfit you had on today was so cool”, or “What you said to Ms. Ackerman in class today made me laugh so hard, you go girl.” Today’s youth are filling the huge void in their hearts caused by the lack of a solid family unit, and by the lack of someone to come home to after school, with their self-created and tight knit substitute family. Instead of bonding with their family members, they are bonding with fellow teens, due to the fact that most of them are operating in a very unique survival mode. That friend base, although many times very small in number, has a very high value to them. It is their world! If it crumbles for any reason, they crumble with it.
Many teens have experienced many other ongoing and major losses in their lives. They are very protective of, and live in fear of, losing the “teen family” that they have created in order to survive in today’s culture. This family is where they draw all their emotional strength. If that friend-based world implodes, the hurt is so bad and so big that they do not know where to turn. In many cases they think that they just want to die. However, their perception of death is skewed. To many adolescents, death does not matter because death is a path, which has been set before them by Hollywood. Although their lives may be filled with activity, fun, and even laughter, because this bubble of their personal self-created unit can be as thin as someone else’s emotions, it can pop. When it pops, and it probably will at some point, there is nobody left to go home to. Tragically, because it is so common, the road to suicide has no “one way” caution sign. It is apt to be deceptively capped with a beautiful rainbow, and the false promise of no more pain. That is why so many youth end up at that dead end.
The third component of this formula for disaster is the deadly fascination youth have with the dark world. In the Star Wars movie “Return of the Jedi”, as he is lying on his death bed, Yoda says to Luke: “If once you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny.” As Christians, we are very familiar with the fact that Christ taught that Satan comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10). However, we also know that most of the planet is not aware of Satan’s sinister purpose. I have been trying to shout an alarm to wake the church up to the fact that over the last decade Satan has successfully used not only the scripting in the Star Wars films, but many other modern movie and television productions to deceive many. Multiple teens have been convinced that not only can darkness and light co-exist, but that they can work together as long as it is for the ultimate good, and that they each have about the same amount of power. Even though as Christians this is a huge lie, the world is now saturated with movies indoctrinating this generation with the same lie, and it is impacting adults as well.
Another lie today’s teens have been taught since they were little through cartoons and movies is that they can have imaginary friends who they can talk to. While some feel teenagers are strong and would never talk to imaginary friends, I have worked around teenagers long enough to know that many do. They do not see the possible danger of opening up themselves to the spirit world. When some depressed teens talk to their “imaginary friends” at certain fatally crucial junctures in their lives, guess what those little voices can choose to tell them to do? “Go ahead, end all your pain. Nobody loves you. You have no friends left now. There is absolutely nothing left to live for!” Who wins with every teen suicide? The strongest voice that they hear at that point in their life is the one that they will listen to.
May we as Christians make a conscious decision today to become personally involved in trying to stop teen suicide. Teens’ greatest hope is to find Christ before it is too late. “My sheep will know MY VOICE”. With our help they can!
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.