state of our youth

I was an undergrad in the early-mid 90’s and Search Institute’s “positive psychology” approach to youth development was the rage. Rather than focusing on the problems of our youth and the discrepancies in our services to youth, they were committed to uncovering those characteristics (of communities, families and individual youth) that lead to positive and healthy development. Their findings have become know as the 40 developmental assets. The more assets you possess, the better chance you have at a bright future.

I loved this approach to studying and working with youth. It led to many years of exciting ministry in two different locations where the church functioned as a partner with the broader community in working with and for our youth. But I think it is time for the pendulum to swing our sights back to the dark side . . .

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count data suggests that much of the progress made in the 90’s has since stalled or even regressed. The Children’s Defense Fund’s “State of America’s Children” seems to agree as stated clearly by Marian Wright Edelman before the U.S. Senate this past Fall. Both of these studies measure multiple indicators of well-being for our young people.

“According to the CDF report, children in America lag behind almost all industrialized nations on key child indicators. The United States has the unwanted distinction of being the worst among industrialized nations in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, in teen birth rates, and in child gun violence” (From the “State of America’s Children” website).

Simply put, things are not good for our kids.

And yet where is the Church? What is our response? Do we have a role to play beyond Christian education? What does it look like to truly do ministry “for the sake of our kids” and not simply for the sake of the Church’s future? It is time that our concerns and conversations move beyond post-confirmation retention, beyond intergenerational fun nights and beyond all things trendy and emerging. Our kids are suffering.


About jeremypmyers

Jeremy Myers teaches youth and family ministry at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. His current academic interests include articulating a vocational understanding of youth and a public understanding of church. He lives with his wife and two children in St. Paul, MN. Bluegrass music, strong coffee and huge pancakes are a few of his favorite things.
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4 Responses to state of our youth

  1. Kirsten Mebust says:

    Important things to discuss, Jeremy!
    One of the things I’ve come to realize about my college students is that many of them literally don’t see American poverty. I wonder how the church could help us see the world more clearly?

    • jeremypmyers says:

      Yes, Kirsten. I believe that is what the gospel does – frees us to see the world more clearly! It doesn’t free us from the world, from our responsibilities. Most of what passes for gospel these days is not good news at all, it doesn’t bring new life. It is more akin to some kind of anti-aging cream – simply sustaining an old and (hiddenly) worn out life. Yes, the church can help us see the world more clearly. By preaching and hearing the gospel in a way that causes us to be drawn into Christ – into poverty and suffering.

  2. bryan jaster says:

    wish I had real answers… I think the listening, partnering and having healthier family, congregational and community relationships are helpful. Getting our youth to hit the streets and stay on the streets together while being in darkness and seeking signs of hope/new life is certainly a way into the reality that many things are not good for our kids. Again though – what does this mean for our ministry alongside youth? how, with whom and where is the church “sent”? This is a great post and makes me long to “see more clearly” as well!

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