Being a teenager can be a confusing time, especially living in the United States. There are so many cultures and beliefs out there. And a majority of teens attend public schools which means they are taught and are exposed to a multitude of belief systems. It’s already difficult enough for teenagers to try and find their place in the world and make friends. But add to it the Christian beliefs of parents, which isn’t as widely accepted as it used to be, and teens are more than likely going to face bullying and rejection by non-believing peers.
To counteract the difficulties and peer pressure our teens are experiencing at school, we (parents) strongly encourage or force our teens to attend church youth groups in hopes that they will meet other Christian teens and have good influences. But on further observation, I have noticed that teens inside the church are no different than non-believing teens in school. And sometimes those inside the church are less loving and more rejecting.
I have 4 teens, 2 of which are still under 18 and members of our church youth group. I am fortunate to live in a large community that still allows God to be talked about in schools and prayer, FCA and Bible studies to take place. That doesn’t mean that sin isn’t rampant though.
I strongly encourage my teens to attend Sunday services and weekly youth group gatherings. But this doesn’t mean it’s been easy for my teens to develop strong friendships within the youth. There has been the usual rejection, bullying and gossip. I have noticed that there are a few types of youth in the church youth groups which make it difficult for teens to develop close friendships, and even more difficult for non-believing teens to want to attend church.
- Self-Righteous. These are the kids who often have been raised in the church, have all the right answers, seem to do everything right (although this is incorrect because we all struggle with sin), are favorites of the youth pastors and know many members of the church. Often, these kids may attend Christian schools or are members / leaders of their school FCA. But, these teens often come across as unloving snobs, who only accept the other best, popular, self-righteous people. They make it feel like church is only for the exclusive few who are good enough to belong. They may share their deepest personal struggles with one or 2 close friends, but their sins will never be revealed to anyone else. Or they are in denial of all their sin which makes it also difficult for forgive others of their sin. They expect perfection of others, and sometimes themselves. They come across as too good for anyone else and are overly critical of others as well as themselves.
- Fakes. These teens may seem self-righteous at first, because they act this way at church. But then you find out they act differently at school, on social media, at home, or around non-believers. They either lie to people in both groups, or maybe they do tell their non-church friends that they attend church and love Jesus, but they also cuss, lie, gossip, vape, etc. These teens appear to be people pleasers, trying to fit in everywhere. They are like chameleons, changing based on their environment. But many non-fakes don’t like being friends with fakes because they have trouble trusting them. Since fakes tend to hide their true selves, the other teens don’t know who the fakes truly are and when they are lying or telling the truth.
- Goody-Goody. I was one of these teens. I was naïve and very shy and didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I desired to have friends, but also didn’t want to do bad things so I only had 1 or 2 close friends who were also goody-goodies. We felt that our peers probably saw us as boring, fun-killers. We weren’t necessarily self-righteous as we didn’t have the confidence to stand up to others, and we also wanted friends, so we didn’t want to exclude people. But we were often bullied for being weird/un-cool. It didn’t mean that we didn’t struggle with sin, but we kept it private and only went to God or our parents if we were brave enough. Being a goody-goody was more a response out of fear of negative consequences rather than true obedience to God.
- Wayward Bullies. Boys are more often in this category. They are either the PKs, MKs or teens that are so rebellious (the ones expelled from school), their parents put them in youth group to try and reform them. They know very little about Jesus, or if they do, they don’t care much, or try to put on a tough exterior. They goof off at youth group, and are the pranksters. Girls get annoyed by them because they seem immature or mean. They are mostly friends with other bullies, or have 1 or 2 shy friends (goody-goodies) who don’t have the guts to stand up to them to tell them what they are doing is wrong or inappropriate.
Now that I’ve listed the more difficult group of teens at youth group, I want to describe the best type of Christian teen. I’ve known only a small few teens who act this way. I’m encouraged when I see strong Christian teens, because I have a hope for the future church. That doesn’t mean that the teens in the above groups won’t grow in their faith and change. The Christian teen who seems to love others and still reject sin act a lot like Jesus did.
They are kind and caring to every teen, regardless of social class, race, status in the church, popularity, waywardness, etc. This teen acts the same way at church and in other public places. They try not to gossip about others, but have the strength and boldness to lovingly confront sin of their peers. At first glance, it may seem like they are self-righteous, but the difference is, they’ll be quick to apologize when they are confronted of their own sin. They also quickly forgive others. They don’t feel insecure about not being cool or unpopular. They can easily share the Gospel with peers.
Honestly, many adults have trough acting like the caring, Christian teen. We all struggle with sin, and the feeling of wanting to be accepted. Let’s face it, relationships are difficult. But I’ve learned that I’d rather be in relationship with other people than completely isolated and lonely. The first 4 groups of teens are often more lonely and struggle with deep connections. Adults in those categories will also have difficulty making close friends.
So the best thing we as parents can do is to teach and encourage our teens to act like Jesus, and not just by being perfect, but by loving and forgiving others. We shouldn’t isolate our teens so they aren’t around non-believers, because Jesus was around non-believers in order to share the Gospel. But we should teach our teens how to avoid sin and to seek friendships with other fellow believers who desire the same thing.
We should also be a good influence to our teens, acting the same way as we would like them to behave. We should be quick to forgive, repent and love other people who believe differently than we do. We should not be quick to judge and reject. If we do these things, our teens will be more likely to follow in our footsteps.