For most young people, the angry, intolerant, shaming father God no longer works. Neither does the sweet pretend-best-friend Jesus. (Just to be clear, the problem isn’t God. The problem is what we’ve turned God into.)
Kids are suffering more than ever before from depression, anxiety and addiction. They lack a deep core resilience. They feel weak, confused and angry. Traditional images of God do nothing for them. In fact, they make kids even more depressed – at the thought that this is all there is, that this is the best wisdom adults have to pass on.
Kids do the best they can to make up their own spiritual practices. We can find them in two of the most unlikely places.
Video games are a spiritual practice. Gaming is a daily ritual where kids meet with familiar “friends” and engage in a communal activity where the goal is clear. The player can be an isolated individual fighting against everyone else or part of a “band of brothers.” In both cases, you get the feeling you are part of something bigger than yourself. Gaming makes sense in a way that life does not. Perseverance is rewarded. I have some control over the outcome. This doesn’t seem to happen in school or in life. Video games are honest. They don’t claim to be something they’re not.
Social media is a spiritual practice. It is motivated by the desire to connect, to share, to be part of something bigger than oneself. Kids want to share their feelings. They want to be seen and heard. They want to reach out to others and be part of their lives. They want to help and be helped. They want to be loved and accepted. They don’t want to be alone. Social media reveals a deep desire to feel connected.
Why aren’t these enough?
- The connections on-line are shallow and superficial. Everyone wears a mask – a constructed self they present to the world. It is not real. It does not tell the whole story. Mask meets mask. Kids are connected but lonely.
- There is no transcendence. Transcendence has to do with leaving the confines of the ego-self and connecting with something bigger than yourself. Kids are trapped in a self-centered, materialistic culture of things – and people who have become things.
- No one is allowed to talk about anything meaningful online. Any attempt to get real on social media is usually stamped out immediately and punished by peers or “trolls” leaving comments. Most posts on Instagram or Snapchat just try to be funny or cool. Everything can be reduced to a meme. Kids have no place to talk about their hopes, fears and loves. Suffering does not exist on line. Keep it to yourself.
What is the answer?
Connection, transcendence and depth.
How do I help my child find these?
Kids need time. They need our time. Slow time. Deep time. Hanging out. Just talking. Just being together. No agenda. Staying at the dinner table after eating. Going for a walk. Snuggling in bed at night. When your child is talking, stop, look and listen. Just be there.
Kids need nature. Animals. Trees. The night sky. They need to connect with the non-human world, with a world that is not manufactured. We need to restore our connection to the web of life which feeds us and sustains us.
Kids need elders. Grandparents. Old people. Visiting the graves of those who have died. Telling stories about the past, about those who went before us.
Kids need to celebrate birthdays and rights of passage. Having rituals. Saying something meaningful at these times. Saying how you feel about your child. Letting them be the center of attention.
Organized religions have lost much of their power over the young, and so the young are making it up as they go along. They need all the help they can get. They need adults who can model some kind of wisdom, transcendence and depth.