Youth Culture Window
It’s not car keys, cash, an endless supply of entertainment, or invites to killer parties. It’s not even hobbies or popularity that makes today’s youth the happiest. According to the latest research, it’s spending time with family!
Jonathan starts off his training seminars with trivia based on current youth culture trends. In his recent “CONNECT” training workshop, Jonathan asked youth workers, “What makes young people the happiest?” Most youth leaders had a hard time believing that teens pick family over friends.
Believe it, though. Research conducted by the Associated Press and MTV (yes, MTV!) found chillin’ with the fam in first place on the happy-meter. Spending time with friends finished second, followed by time spent with significant others in third. Did you catch that? The top 3 sources of happiness for youth today are based on relationships!!! Honorable mentions include “sports” in 10th place and “achieving success” at 20th.
The survey, more than 100 questions long, pried into almost every area of kids’ lives looking for that which makes them the happiest. Everything from money to spiritual experience to pets was measured. Want the best news yet? 73% of the 1,280 young people polled (aged 13-24) said mom and dad make them “happy.” Told ya it was good news!
Here are some more of the study’s significant findings:
- 29% of students say mom is their “hero,” with another 21% giving that title to dad.
- Less than 1% say being wealthy will determine future happiness.
- Sexually active teens (aged 13-17) revealed they were “less happy” than their abstinent peers.
- Only 47% of kids with divorced parents are “happy” compared to 64% of kids who live with both parents.
For the most part, this is really encouraging news. Half of all kids idolize their mom or dad (or both). Wealth and material possessions seem to have lost some traction, an especially satisfying observation for those familiar with the instant self-gratification crew known as Gen Y. And finally, young people recognize that sex and divorce diminish their experience of happiness. So you’re probably thinking, is there a “but”?
- 35% of young people believe it will be harder for them to raise a family than it was for their parents.
- School is the leading source of stress for one quarter of all kids polled.
- Blacks and Hispanics weren’t quite as “happy” as Whites, especially across the economic spectrum.
Despite this bad news, 65% of all those polled were “happy with life in general.” Why is that, given what these young people are facing: a declining economy, increased isolation, threats of terrorism, and another Spears’ offspring? Psychologist Jean Twenge offers her insight, “Research has shown us that relationships are the single greatest source of happiness.”
This may not be earth-shaking news for youth pastors and adult leaders. Many of us focus on relational ministry in our own programming (that’s what our CONNECT workshop is all about). And we know the Bible to be filled with examples concerning the importance of relationships, especially those centered on the family structure. We even proclaim God to be a God of relationship, with Him desiring a connection with us so badly that He suffered the death of His Son to attain it. However, this incredible truth and these exciting findings might escape the attention of a select group of very important people…parents.
That’s where YOU come in!
Share this information with EVERY parent in your church. It’s crucial for two reasons. First, it’s news that’s worthy of celebration! If you’ve ever complained that there’s nothing good in the news, take note of these tidings, and pass them on. Can you imagine the hope this research might inspire for a mom struggling with a defiant and troubled daughter? How about the dad who woefully laments that his son claims they have “nothing in common?”
Secondly, it’s information that can serve to remind parents of THEIR responsibility in the spiritual development of THEIR children. We get slammed with emails every month at The Source from youth pastors bemoaning those parents who tell them it’s their job to spiritually nurture kids. We’re told that those parents usually end the conversation with, “After all, isn’t that what we pay you for?” If you present this information tactfully, you might just help a few parents understand that THEIR children are THEIR responsibility! Who wouldn’t want that kind of relief?
Remember, teenagers’ happiness is not the ultimate goal. Jesus didn’t die on a cross so we could be happy. Even teens recognize happiness’s potential instability. 59% of the young people polled differentiated between “being happy” and “being fulfilled.” The latter is our goal.
So make the most of these findings. Celebrate them with parents and encourage them to confidently resume the lead role of chief pastor in their children’s lives. Who knows, that “happiness” might even give way to “joy.”
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.