Youth

The Trend That Is Sweeping Across Youth Culture...And It's Not Good

There is a new trend in the teenage world—juuling. It is the e-cigarette of choice at the moment for those who desire to get a nicotine “fix”. There is no shortage of middle school, high school, and college students who “juul”. This is also very alarming because recent studies have shown dangerous and very harmful results from these products. Here is an article from the Washington Post that tells more.

In 2018, more than 37 percent of 12th-graders reported vaping at least once in the past 12 months, according to findings released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, even though many were too young to legally purchase the products. A year earlier, the figure was about 28 percent. When teens were asked about use in the 30 days before the survey, 21 percent said they had vaped, which was nearly double the rate from 2017.

Because of a variety of factors — genetics, trauma, peer behavior — some teens develop a strong attachment to the products, bonds that are unshakable even in the face of escalating consequences. Experts say teen brains are particularly vulnerable to addiction because they are still developing and that it is easier for teens to fall victim to addictive products because they have less impulse control.

They worry the chemical will shape the brains of teens, priming their “reward pathways” and making them more vulnerable to other kinds of substance abuse. They worry, too, that many pediatricians lack the expertise and treatments to help young people who cannot quit. And there are few treatment options for teens addicted to nicotine. While adult smokers seeking to quit have benefited from nicotine patches and the drug varenicline, better known as Chantix, there is scant evidence those treatments work for young people, according to Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital who specializes in tobacco cessation and who treated Cade Beauparlant.

“We have millions of kids now, millions of adolescents who are using mostly Juul — and in some cases other devices — who are unable to quit,” Winickoff said. “It’s something we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with.”

For the rest of the article, click here.

Parents, this is time to ask your child if they are juuling. To be honest, these items are VERY easy to hide and many simply keep them in their pockets. I have heard and seen students all around the city who juul at home, in the car on the way to school, in the bathroom stalls, in class, in the locker room, and pretty much anywhere you can imagine. Please, ask your child about this.

Sleep Is Part Of Your Worship

There is no doubt that many people struggle with good and healthy sleeping habits. To be sure, some of the problem (if not much of the problem) has to do with our late night use of technology. To be sure, yet again, we also need to make certain that we don’t oversimplify the problem. There are many reasons why we don’t sleep well and our chronic lack of sleep can be a good indicator that something else is going on physically or spiritually. In these cases, we need to seek more counsel from people who know more than we do.

Over and over again, I hear students say that they try to fall asleep watching Netflix. Others will try going to sleep and once they toss and turn on their bed for a short amount of time they give up and turn their phone or TV back on.

I my experience I am seeing many people who are getting an average of 4-6 hours of sleep each night while studies show that those same people should be getting an average of 8-10 hours per night. It comes as no surprise to me that many of these people are the ones who struggle with anxious thoughts, endless stress, and even lust. Part of the reason why they aren’t getting sleep is caused by their anxious thoughts, endless stress, and due dates coming up. Unfortunately, it can seem like an endless circle where stress causes lack of sleep which causes more stress which causes more lack of sleep. I have had to learn that one of the earliest questions I need to ask when counseling someone is how much sleep they have gotten in the past several weeks.

To be clear, our children’s sleeping issues come from a variety of causes. We need to be careful saying that it is a one-to-one result of “bad parenting”. Sure, there are many helpful tips that we can implement but at the end of the day it is our children who must fall asleep for themselves. There are many reasons why we can have bad sleeping habits and if these are overlooked for a long period of time then they can cause further problems down the road.

Paul tells the Romans Christians in Romans 12:1-2 that we should present ourselves as “living sacrifices”. This means that the totality of our lives (body and soul) should be given to God as our spiritual worship. This includes our sleep. We should not pride ourselves for being able to stay up all night getting work done as if we are the most productive people in the world. Neither should we pride ourselves on getting 2-4 hours of sleep and fighting through the day like nothing is wrong with us as if we are Superman or Superwoman. One of the best ways we can worship God is to lay down our heads on our pillows and trust that He is good, He is sufficient, and He will provide for us. There are many nights where we have to fight to relax. There is a reason why God made us as creatures who need to spend a third of our lives sleeping. Think about that for a moment.

The following article is one of the more helpful articles I have found that dives into this topic more while also giving helpful tips for us to sleep better and help our children sleep better. Here is an excerpt:

In the Psalms, David shows that peaceful sleep is an act of trust and a sign of humility. “I lie down and sleep,” David said, “I wake again, because the Lord sustains me” (Ps 3:5–6). He also said, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps 4:8).  Getting a good night’s rest shows that we know God is in control and will watch over us when we are at our most vulnerable.

Sleep is a sign of trust and humility. But it’s also a spiritual discipline. As D. A. Carson says,

Sometimes the godliest thing you can do in the universe is get a good night’s sleep—not pray all night, but sleep. I’m certainly not denying that there may be a place for praying all night; I’m merely insisting that in the normal course of things, spiritual discipline obligates you get the sleep your body need.

Like most spiritual disciplines, to be most effective sleep requires both a change in attitude and a change in habits. Here are a few things I learned and practical steps I’ve taken to better develop the spiritual activity of rest:

Get enough sleep — There are a number of factors that affect the quality of your rest, the most important being how long you sleep each night.

The amount of sleep a person needs varies from individual to individual and changes over the course of their lifetime. But if you’re like most people, chances are you’re not getting adequate sleep to be fully rested.

Here is the average number of hours of sleep, based on age, a person needs every day:

-6 to 13 years of age: 9 to 11 hours

-14 to 17 years of age: 8 to 10 hours

-18 to 25 years of age: 7 to 9 hours

-26 to 64 years of age: 7 to 9 hours

-65 and older: 7 to 8 hours

For the full article, click here.

Dear Local Church Member, What Can You Do To Support The Youth Ministry?

I was recently at a lunch with someone and he asked me a great question that not many people ask. “What can I do to support the youth ministry?” The interesting part was that this was not a youth parent who asked this question. This person was primarily asking as a church member on how to be a good fellow church member. Instead of asking him to volunteer, although we love volunteers, I gave him a quick two-fold answer that I will expand here. These answers are primarily a response to someone who would be a parent.

  1. To be a church member who supports the youth ministry, teach your family to love Jesus.
    This might sound obvious but I wonder if it is obvious to the people who are around us a lot. In other words, is Jesus our primary love? Yes, insert here all of our failures because we all mess up and we all ruin our witness at some point. Still, this should not deter us from pursuing this. If you want to support the youth ministry, love Jesus in such a way that people know this about you. Fire begets fire. Passion begets passion. Have you ever been around someone who cheered for a certain sports team too much that you were enticed to cheer for them too? Have you ever been tempted into peer pressure because someone tried passionately persuading you to do something with them? Peer pressure never works if the person “selling” the argument is boring or unpassionate. Eeyore would be a terrible “peer pressurer”. If passion tends to entice and persuade people, how much more so would our youth be enticed to love Jesus if they see what Jesus means to you, how Jesus has changed you, and what hope Jesus gives you (1 Peter 3:15)? Why would anyone want to become a Christian if all they know are people who only like Jesus on Sunday morning? Without a love for Jesus, how can we expect to send students off to college who won’t get sucked into the culture of binge drinking, constant sexual hook ups, temptations for unbelief amidst an atheistic world, and peer pressure for substance abuse? How can we really expect students to go to bed on a Saturday night to go to church Sunday morning if they don’t love Jesus? How can we encourage someone to keep pursuing holiness if they don’t love Jesus? We need to make sure we come back to the most basic of foundations. What our youth need now more than ever is not all the correct answers to every apologetic, philosophic, and theological questions they are asked (although we should keep pursuing these!). Rather, what they need is to be surrounding by a church who loves Jesus in such a way that they are wooed, enticed, and persuaded to love Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But, how can we expect our children to love Jesus if we look exactly like the culture? How can we expect our students to love Jesus if He isn’t a significant presence in our lives? How can we expect our students to love Jesus as He deserves to be loved if we don’t love Him the way He deserves? You fail. I fail. We all fail. I know that I have lived in such a way before where I was not the most attractive Christian and I made Jesus to look more ugly than more beautiful. We have all been like Peter before and epicly failed. But, here is the grace that Jesus gives us: He tells us to get back out there and keep pursuing Him and keep preaching Him. What a Savior! He isn’t looking for the healthy but for the sick who know how to keep running back to the doctor. Jesus didn’t call the rabbis and religious teachers of His day to follow Him. Jesus called the weirdos, the uneducated, and the ungifted. Jesus does not tell us to do this under our own strength but rather He empowers us to do this! If the almighty God empowers us to do this then why should we not pursue this? I briefly conclude with the first half of the answer by saying that if you want to support the youth ministry then love Jesus and teach your family to love Jesus. Without Him, there is no eternal life.

  2. To be a church member who supports the youth ministry, teach your family to love the church.
    One of the biggest growing statistics is that more and more students who grow up in the church are leaving the church when they go to college. Why do they leave the church? First, they leave the church because they don’t see the importance of the church. The church, for them, is another party competing for their schedule. As long as the church is seen as just another thing to do, why should they go to church when they have homework, fraternity and sorority parties, dates, campus ministries, friends to hang out with, and class to go to? If the church is just another thing that their family did “just because” then how can we expect them to go to church when they become in charge of their own schedules? This is even seen already when students are in middle school and high school. For the most part, they don’t show up on a regular basis to youth ministry because the church is not important to them. Besides, there are games, homework, practices, Netflix, projects, hobbies, friends to be with, video games to play, rest to catch up on, and even para-church ministries (as helpful as they can be!). Of course they won’t show up when they don’t think church is important because who wants to come listen to someone preach for 35 minutes, hang out with fellow believers, and support and be supported by others going through the same struggles as you? Sure, there is an argument that can be inserted about a past history with the church, bad relationships, bad youth workers, or because the preaching stinks. Nevertheless, this is the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. This is a community that is still learning to repent! But again, why would I want to come listen to someone talk to me about somebody name Jesus and about my soul for 35 minutes when I could be catching up on homework or staring at a screen playing Fortnite or watching another episode on Netflix if the church is not important and no one has shown me that the church is important? If my parents (or even other church members) don’t act like the church is important, why should I act like it? Secondly, they leave the church because they don’t have an accurate view of the church. The church is not important because they don’t rightly and biblically understand the church. It’s the same when students neglect youth ministry in their own local church. A lack of understanding of the what church really is shows in its being neglected. Parents, pastors, and youth workers should be teaching our children an accurate “ecclesiology” (the study of the church). You don’t have to teach an exhaustive doctrine of the church but we should teach them a robust and healthy doctrine of the church. Only when our students see the beauty, majesty, plan, purpose, identity, mission, and the worthiness of the church will they then prioritize church. The only reason why a student in college goes to class is because her teacher told her that if she doesn’t go to class then she will fail her class. In other words, the teacher showed her that there was a lot riding on her showing up to class. In much the same way, unless we show, teach, and remind (a good summary word for this is catechize which is a lost form of teaching in the Church today) our children and youth the importance and value of the church in this world, in our lives, and for the glory of God then they will not prioritize church. For the most part, our students will not go to church in college if they don’t love Jesus and if they don’t know the value of the church. The goal is not merely to go to church; the goal is to worship God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit as the Church which is expressed in the local church. In my own experience of being a college student and working for 5 years in youth ministry at some level, the children who grow up in a home that has not taught them the value of the church (no matter how many times they went to church or were apart of some ministry) are most likely not going to go to church when they go to college. This does not mean everyone who grows up in a family that undervalues church won’t go to church in college but there is typically a pattern. There are also children who grow up in a home where church is valued and parents love Jesus and yet they still don’t go to church. For the most part, this is my story and I am sensitive to the fact that this does happen. Nevertheless, when Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”, it cannot mean anything less than these two answers. It certainly would imply more but it never implies less and never gets beyond this. Once again, Jesus is not calling the perfect parent who is also the perfect church member to produce the perfect child. Jesus is calling the repentant sinner who belongs to a community of worshippers of God to depend on the Spirit in order to faithfully raise up children to love Him and love His Bride. Jesus doesn’t want perfect parents; He wants repentant parents and a repentant church. You and I might have failed our entire lives up to this point but as long as He has given us His Spirit we can get back up and pursue this by His power. Dear church member, if you want to support the youth ministry, love the church in such a way where others are attracted to the church.

Some Recent Stats On Youth Culture

Stats are not everything but they are something. We should look at statistics with wisdom and discernment without over-relying upon them nor over-dismissing them. It is wrong to read this and go into a “hyper-worry” state of mind and it is also wrong to say, “Well, this is only true for those not in our church or not in our city.” Take these as they are and use them to look to our need for more of Jesus. The following stats are taken from recent works by Jean Twenge, James Emery White, and other recent surveys.

  • “There are more than four former Christians for every convert to Christianity.”

  • “The pattern is indisputable: The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is.”

  • At 25.9%, Gen Z is the most populous generation. “By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40% of all consumers. They will not simply influence American culture; they will constitute the culture.”

  • The average teenager in Gen Z averages 9 hrs/day absorbing media.

  • 91% go to bed with the device that opens the whole world up to them.

  • Only 41% of Gen Z attend weekly religious services.

  • 70% struggle with anxiety and depression (highest by 15%).

  • This generation is also known as Gen “Me”; FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) Gen; iGen (compare to iPhone and iPad).

  • There is a considerable portion who are more afraid to live than to die.

  • Sexual fluidity is a standard for high morality.

  • Massive sleep deprivation is prevalent in many of Gen Z.

From an experiential standpoint of speaking with our youth, these seem very accurate and even too low at some points. The greatest need of this generation is for parents, pastors, mentors, coaches, teachers, leaders, and youth directors to overflow with a deep love for Jesus onto this generation so that they might love Him and follow Him. Without Jesus, there is no hope for change which means that if we seek to “fix” this generation with anything or anyone other than Jesus then we will only lead them astray even further.

New Research Survey Shows Why Youth Are Dropping Out Of The Church

Before you read the new research survey from LifeWay ministries, there are some foundational thoughts we must have going into the survey:

  1. Not every child who leaves the church in college is a Christian (this should be an obvious realization). Often, college is what shows who is and who isn’t a Christian. This means that all the children in our youth ministry are probably not Christians. This means that we should preach, teach, and counsel for conversion and not merely sanctification.

  2. We live in an age of “biblical illiteracy”. It is not surprising that some want to leave the church because what they have grown up with has not been immersed in the biblical teaching but more so in merely cultural issues or felt-need issues. Let us not forget that it is the Word which changes us (John 17:17).

  3. Some of the “reasons” actually can be used as a “cop out” (in other words, they are merely an excuse) to leave the church. Referring back to #1, non-Christians sometimes use these reasons at times to throw blame on others rather than outright saying they don’t believe. I say this out of my own experience from when I was an unbeliever in my early college years and from seeing former students in my years in youth ministry.

  4. The Church (notice I put a Big “C” for Church) has not done as well of a job integrating the youth ministry into the entire body and the youth ministry has definitely not done a good job at showing the importance of the church. We should absolutely point our students to campus ministries and certainly the campus ministers but we are failing if we do not show them the importance of the local church and submitting to the local pastors, elders, and deacons (which is often the youth directors’ faults).

  5. It is no surprise that children who grow up in “solid” biblical churches drop out of church or go to more “seeker-sensitive” churches because we often fail at applying the Bible to their lives. The Bible is first a foremost a book for real life. God is a God who moves towards mankind. Doctrine is not doctrine unless it is practiced. We should seek to bring our students into the depths of doctrine clearly, relevantly, engagingly yet while always showing how that doctrine changes the way you live and demands a change of life.

  6. We should be very grateful for surveys like these and for ministries like LifeWay who would put so much effort into collecting this data BUT we should not get over-concerned about statistics. They can be very helpful and informing about cultural trends but we need to be cautious about how much weight we put on these statistics (not questioning the integrity of any researchers but merely realizing that there is no perfect survey that can accurately take all people into account). Surveys at their best make us aware and urge a response but at their worst can overcome us with fear or pride. No matter how good a research team and survey is, they all have their limits.

  7. Surveys like these should bring us to pray for more than physical well-being for our children and families (often a weakness of today’s evangelicalism in a prosperous culture) but certainly for their spiritual well-being. When is the last time we have seen something like this and began earnestly imploring the Lord for revival? Do we lose hope or seek the Lord after reading something like this?

  8. Lastly, students leave the body of Christ because they don’t love Christ. We should decide to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified as the main tenor of our churches and families. Anything, any feeling, or anyone other than Jesus Christ will ultimately lead us away from Him and His Bride. People who love Jesus love His Bride even when she looks messy.

Without further delay, here are some of the statistics. For the full article, please see the link below:

The 66 percent who said they stopped attending church regularly as young adults cited a variety of reasons for leaving. The survey listed 55 and asked them to pick all that applied. On average, they chose seven or eight reasons, McConnell said. The reasons fell under four categories: 

Nearly all — 96 percent — cited life changes, including moving to college and work responsibilities that prevented them from attending. 

Seventy-three percent said church or pastor-related reasons led them to leave. Of those, 32 percent said church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical and 29 percent said they did not feel connected to others who attended. 

Seventy percent named religious, ethical or political beliefs for dropping out. Of those, 25 percent said they disagreed with the church's stance on political or social issues while 22 percent said they were only attending to please someone else. 

And, 63 percent said student and youth ministry reasons contributed to their decision not to go. Of those, 23 percent said they never connected with students in student ministry and 20 percent said the students seemed judgmental or hypocritical.

For the full survey, click here. For the article summary and commentary, click here.

Youth Ministry Sermons

Since this past Spring, we have been recording our sermons from the Wednesday Night Large Group sessions in our youth ministry. The purpose of recording them is for the benefit of the church for those who miss, to listen to again, or for those who would like to pass them on to a friend or family. Currently, we have our entire sermon series on Judges, Mark, Jonah, and The Gospel & Sexuality. This coming Spring, we will be preaching through the book of Exodus and in the summer we will be preaching various sermons on Prayer. Lord willing, we will begin our series on Romans in Fall 2019. There are other sermons from chapels, FCAs, and youth retreats as well. To access the sermons, visit the "Resources” tab and then click on “Other Audio Messages” or you can just click here.

Why Do Youth Stay In Church When They Go To College?

Former Youth Minister Jon Nielson writes an article for The Gospel Coalition about why some of his students stayed in the church when they went to college and why some of them didn’t. I couldn’t agree more with him on this. To read the full article, click here. Here is an excerpt:

“What do we do about our kids?” The group of parents sat together in my office, wiping their eyes. I'm a high school pastor, but for once, they weren't talking about 16-year-olds drinking and partying. Each had a story to tell about a “good Christian” child, raised in their home and in our church, who had walked away from the faith during the college years. These children had come through our church's youth program, gone on short-term mission trips, and served in several different ministries during their teenage years. Now they didn't want anything to do with it anymore. And, somehow, these mothers' ideas for our church to send college students “care packages” during their freshman year to help them feel connected to the church didn't strike me as a solution with quite enough depth.

The daunting statistics about churchgoing youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries? It's hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.

Article: "Technologists...are increasingly wary about exposing their kids to screen time"

I am no technology expert nor am I a cultural expert but merely a mailman delivering documents from the experts. Nevertheless, this is an article, and a topic, that we need to heed. We should never do something just because the masses are doing it as well. How would you react if I suggested the following:

Students should not have a phone until they can drive. OR Students should not have a smartphone until college.

We believe in Christian freedom but can our resolve for Christian freedom with technology actually enslave us? I wonder how many of us, even myself, read the comments of this article and shrink back from it. Here is an excerpt:

Some of the people who built video programs are now horrified by how many places a child can now watch a video.

Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: "Hashtag 'products we didn't buy'." Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg's philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: "I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children." Ms Chavarria did not let her children have cellphones until high school, and even now bans phone use in the car and severely limits it at home.

She said she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins. Her daughter did not get a phone until she started ninth grade.

"Other parents are like, 'Aren't you worried you don't know where your kids are when you can't find them?'," Ms Chavarria said. "And I'm like, 'No, I do not need to know where my kids are every second of the day'." For longtime tech leaders, watching how the tools they built affect their children has felt like a reckoning on their life and work.

For the full article, click here. For a previous post on technology by Caleb Cangelosi, click here.

The Gospel and Sports (RYM Youth Leader Podcast)

Last week, I was able to record a series of podcasts with John Perritt on the issue of sports and youth culture. We discussed my testimony in the sports world, the good aspects and blessings of sports, the bad aspects of sports, how the prosperity gospel has affected the sports world, and finally about some tips for parents who have children who play sports. Each podcast is around 15 minutes on average that is a good resource to listen to in the car. To listen to the podcasts, download the “Podcast” app from the App Store on your iPhone, search “The Local Youth Worker Podcast”, and look for the podcast label that has the RYM logo on it. There are five episodes, one for each day of the week, and they are episodes 231-235. If you prefer to listen to them online, click here to listen to them.

How Much Are Teens Bullied On Social Media?

There is no doubt that students are facing a world of trials in today’s world but one of the more common trials is the presence of bullying on social media. I have learned more and more about the presence of bullying on social media the more I have heard from our students. To be sure, we need to constantly ask our children about their presence on social media. Much of the social lives of youth today happen on the Internet which is hidden from plain sight of parents and mentors. The following is a brief excerpt of this article from The Atlantic:

No app is more integral to teens’ social lives than Instagram. While Millennials relied on Facebook to navigate high school and college, connect with friends, and express themselves online, Gen Z’s networks exist almost entirely on Instagram. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of teens use the platform, which now has more than 1 billion monthly users. Instagram allows teens to chat with people they know, meet new people, stay in touch with friends from camp or sports, and bond by sharing photos or having discussions.

But when those friendships go south, the app can become a portal of pain. According to a recent Pew survey, 59 percent of teens have been bullied online, and according to a 2017 survey conducted by Ditch the Label, a nonprofit anti-bullying group, more than one in five 12-to-20-year-olds experience bullying specifically on Instagram. “Instagram is a good place sometimes,” said Riley, a 14-year-old who, like most kids in this story, asked to be referred to by her first name only, “but there’s a lot of drama, bullying, and gossip to go along with it.”

Teenagers have always been cruel to one another. But Instagram provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to do so. The velocity and size of the distribution mechanism allow rude comments or harassing images to go viral within hours. Like Twitter, Instagram makes it easy to set up new, anonymous profiles, which can be used specifically for trolling. Most importantly, many interactions on the app are hidden from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers, many of whom don’t understand the platform’s intricacies.  

For the full article, click here.

Youth Culture (October 2018)

The following is a greater list of links to articles and blog posts about Youth Culture for the month of October. Each month, I do my best to send out an email to parents about what is going on in youth culture. In order for the emails to be shorter and more concise, I am adding a more exhaustive list to the blog so that they can be more accessible.

The following are articles that are concerned with the trends and opinions of youth culture at the moment. Not every article is a endorsement of opinion but rather there will be several statements in many that I disagree with. The point for this list is NOT to promote a certain opinion (which other blog posts are for) but rather to give you a feel for what is going on in our children’s lives and their culture. This is to promote further discussion in our church body about how the gospel can change our children and their culture.

Things You Need to Know About Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why (Part 2), by Molly Dawkins

Warning: the following article contains spoilers. For Part 1 of this article, read May’s issue of Notes from the Orchard.

 It was a relief to finally finish the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. In the final three episodes the darkness continues to deepen leading up to Hannah’s suicide in the last episode. There are a few major events that contribute to her final decision to commit suicide.

- She can’t get the flashes of her bad sexual experiences out of her head for a “good” experience with Clay.

- She loses the money she was supposed to deposit in the bank for her parent’s pharmacy.

- She goes to a party and is raped by the same guy that she witnessed rape her friend Jessica in episode 9.

- She meets with the school counselor and doesn’t get the responses she wanted.

Hannah desperately desires to be loved. We all do. We can all identify with Hannah in that desire. Tim Keller says it well in his book The Meaning of Marriage:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Hannah wants this real love. Not only in a romantic sense with Clay, but also in a friendship love by Jessica or Alex. We have all been designed as relational beings, and she is missing a core of who she is. She does not have the freedom from fear that Keller talks about. She does not know the unending love we have from our Father, the Love that never wavers because of what we’ve done. As Christians, we are fully known in our brokenness. We experience freedom because of the perfect sacrifice in Christ and are clothed in his righteousness, not our own. Hannah has isolated herself, and her past experiences have closed her off. Justin betrayed her by sending a sexually explicit picture of her around the school. Courtney left her to take the hit after the picture of them kissing circulated around the school because Courtney didn’t want anyone to know she was a lesbian.

The afternoon before Hannah’s suicide she meets with the school counselor. He is the 13th reason she gives of why she kills herself. She goes into his office with the intention to record their entire meeting. It’s as though she’s testing him, wanting him to fail. Based on their conversation, I think there were things he could have done differently, but I don’t think he can be blamed for her suicide. He could have pointed her to someone to talk to when he learned that she was raped, but there was no way for him to know the extent of her internal struggles. As an audience we know what has been happening in her life, but Hannah did not give him enough information for him to know she was to the point of suicide.

Towards the end of the series, Hannah’s parents open a trial to look into their daughter’s suicide. Students are brought in for depositions. The students on the tapes become increasingly more nervous about the tapes coming out and their involvement being made known. One student named Alex wants them to turn in the tapes, but the others refuse. Alex is overcome by the guilt of the situation, and in the end shoots himself in the head. We learn that he is in critical condition at the hospital. Is this the reaction that Hannah wanted? Another attempted suicide? What was she hoping would happen when she recorded the tapes? Similar to Clay’s reaction to get revenge on Tyler (more details in Part 1), Hannah is only continuing the cycle causing more pain and suffering on others in her “revenge suicide.”

Suicide is never the answer. You can always get help. Be honest about your struggles to a trusted parent or friend. Parents, ask your teens, “What is school like for you?” “What are some lies you can pick out from 13 Reasons?” “What is the truth of these issues based on Scripture?”

 

 

Things You Need to Know About Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why (Part 1)

On March 31 Netflix released 13 episodes of the new show 13 Reasons Why. The show tells the story of Hannah Baker, a junior in high school that has committed suicide. Viewers learn about her life and death through flashbacks and the cassette tapes she’s left behind. Before committing suicide, Hannah records 13 cassette tapes with the reasons why she killed herself. For each reason there is a person connected to her death. The story on reality’s side is told through a boy named Clay, a friend and eventual romantic interest of Hannah. The story starts when he receives the tapes.

I’ve watched the first 10 episodes of the show. Since I work with POPC’s youth, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about this show in order to be able to engage in conversations with those that have watched it. The show covers a wide range of topics: anxiety, depression, peer pressure, homosexuality, betrayal, sending sexually explicit text messages, rape, drug use, premarital sex, and of course suicide.

When I first started watching I was mostly intrigued. Since I work with teenagers, youth culture fascinates me. This show truly provides a window into the lives of teens: their thoughts, their emotions, their insecurities. The landscape is raw and unfiltered. The honesty to their pain is a strange combination of unsettling and refreshing. The unsettling part is easy to pick out if you’ve watched the show or even read articles about it. But why do I say refreshing? Our teens are living in a world where they are pressured to post a picture perfect world on their Instagrams or SnapChats. In 13 Reasons, that is shaken. We get to go behind the scenes to see what they’re really feeling. 

My intrigue turned to sadness in the fourth episode. In this episode Hannah talks about having a stalker. She could hear the snaps of a camera when she would walk home, but never knew where it was coming from. She and her friend Courtney decide to set a trap at her house one night. Her parents are gone so they start drinking. Her friend is gay, but no one knows. Her friend kisses her. They hear the camera and expose the stalker who turns out to be the yearbook photographer Tyler. But it’s too late he’s taken a picture of the two girls kissing. The picture ends up circulating around the school causing rumors and adding to Hannah’s already damaged reputation. Upon hearing the tape, Clay takes a nude of Tyler from outside his window and sends it to everyone at school for revenge.  

Why is the show so sad? Sin is running rampant in all of their lives, and there’s no hope. The sin struggles Hannah faces are both external and internal (though she may not acknowledge the internal struggles). She’s dealing with the outside forces of those that have sinned against her. Hannah has no doubt had a lot of bad things happen to her. She’s also dealing with her own sin. Hannah is very selfish. We can see this to be true in the way she committed suicide. She left tapes behind to cause others deep emotional and psychological pain. She doesn’t take any responsibility for her own actions. I’ve seen no traces of redemption in the show. Clay’s revenge on Tyler it’s not redemptive. It’s only continuing the pattern of sin.

How would life have been different for Hannah if she were a Christian? She would have known her true identity was in Christ, not in what others think of her. She would have known that God never leaves us or forsakes us in our darkest times. She would have known a real love where there is no betrayal, but perfect security. She would have known her life is not her own to do as she pleases or to even take it herself.

I can’t fully recommend watching the show. It’s very graphic in it’s depiction of sexual scenes and rape (I had to look away for most of episode 9). But this show does provide a great opportunity for us to see into the lives of our teenagers, to see what it is they’re walking into at school. We see the pressures of their relationships, and the pressures of obtaining happiness at all cost.

Ask your teens, “Have you watched this show? Are your friends watching it?” Process it with them.