Someone to Follow
by Morgan Mitchell
Have you heard of FOMO? Or the “Fear of Missing Out”? It’s an epidemic that can be used by everybody but especially used when it comes to teens. It starts as a pretty typical story; you want to fit in, be in on all the gossip, know the up and up, and in that we work our hardest to fit in and mold into what we deem valuable to obtain just that. Life as a teen is hard, really hard, things are confusing, emotions, hormones, and feelings run rampant, and a lot of times knowing which way is up isn’t as clear as we as adults assume. You know the whole phrase “hindsight is 20/20”—well I’d like to pitch that life as a teenager may not be as simple, straight forward, or as smooth as we may remember.
Josh Shipp the author of “The Grown Ups Guide to Teenage Humans” said, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” I believe we need to place something at the forefront of our minds when we try to articulate what it means to walk through life with a teenager, let alone walking through life with a teenager who works to be an apprentice of Jesus.
“The reality is, our phones and social media are windows into a world of good things, but like with many good things if they are obsessed, misused, instead of a tool they can turn into harmful things.”
As adults, we need to be aware that there is an entire constantly evolving world out there that our teens are deeply embedded in and that’s called social media. I don’t want to seem like a downer here, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon. The reality is, our phones and social media are windows into a world of good things, but like with many good things if they are obsessed, misused, instead of a tool they can turn into harmful things. I’m all for social media, I use it to stay connected daily and to interact with friends, followers, and family. But working with teens for a living, I know how much social media can heighten a sense of comparison and lack of measuring up. This can cause teens to ask inner questions such as, “I wonder what everyone else is doing?” or “I wonder if what they are doing is more interesting
than what I’m doing?”, “How do I measure up to those around me?” These are questions that as adults we think about but as teens, they are acted on, and this often, not always, comes through social media.
It’s easy, though to get immediate feedback, and you can avoid actual human interaction, and it’s a convenient scale to see what works and what doesn’t. You post a picture, you get likes and comments in return, you see how well you did with the amount of interaction you got from your post, and the trend goes on and on. Like, comment, post, compare. All this fuels a life of trying to escape into a world that isn’t outright wrong, but for the most part, just isn’t reality.
I love the line found in 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV), “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” This scripture phrase allows me to enter into what God is doing in the lives of the people that I minister to and that is teenagers! As a youth worker, I look through the lens of seeing what God is up to in the lives of the students that I have influence with, stepping into their lives, understanding that they are both called and chosen to be used by God for his purposes, being called out of the darkness and into the light. I can’t help but think, being called into the light, is taking small steps towards choosing to live real, vulnerable, non-comparison lives with other people, especially through social media.
So, how do we help our teens take a step in the right direction? Here’s what you do first, take that step with them. Walking with teens is one of my greatest privileges, and the truth is its hard work, but its fulfilling work. When you walk with someone, you begin to see what they see, and you start to get a taste for what they are experiencing.
The second thing you do is not cutting things out completely. If you think social media is an issue, don’t just cut it cold turkey, because the reality is, technology and social media are here for now. Going through the process of doing life with teens, choosing to model what wise social media practices are, and modeling appropriate technology usage is critical.
Finally, ask great questions, work to have your teen ask “why?” for everything they do, not as an act of defiance, but as an act of curiosity and learning. Ask why do I go to this so often? What does this awesome tool do to help me be a better follower and apprentice of Jesus?
Also, remember being a teen is hard, challenging, and often confusing. But so is being a loving adult trying to walk with them! Josh Shipp wrote, “The best way to save someone who is drowning in a river is not to jump in the river. It’s to remain on solid ground and then to throw that person a sturdy rope.”Have grace for yourself and the teens you are walking with. Try to model what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus while stewarding social media and technology well. Your consistency and presence in a teen’s life, although not perfect, does not go unnoticed. We are all dealing with FOMO, but let’s not miss out on what God is already doing behind the scenes in your teen’s life.
If you’re asking yourself what do I do with this information, the answer is lean in, choose to do life with a teen. Encounter is always looking for volunteers to come along side with our teens but honestly, it’s not just volunteering but looking in and saying how could I mentor or “walk with” someone younger than me to help guide them through life with God.