I often like to watch 80's and 90's movies because they transport me back to my childhood and teen years. While it was a simpler time, kids nowadays deal with issues I never dreamed of at that age. Kids are forced to grow up even faster now given the many problems they face today. Here are 10 struggles kids deal with now that we don’t have a lot of experience with, and a few ideas on how we can help them navigate these problems with confidence.
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1. Distorted body image
While fashion billboards litter the sides of highways and airbrushed images of celebrities plaster the checkout aisle, children – especially young girls – can’t help but see their bodies in a distorted way. When girls are constantly told their worth revolves around the number on the tag in their jeans, it is increasingly difficult to help girls seek their approval in God and not in their body image.
In the 80s and 90s, oversized sweaters and bulky clothing were in fashion. Now, skinny jeans and form-fitting crop tops are the latest fashion trend. Girls need people who can reinforce their worth in God, not in what their bodies look like.
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Before the Internet, bullies took people’s lunch money and shoved kids into lockers. Now, kids can say anything to each other anonymously. They can even steal people’s pictures and photoshop them into whatever other images they choose.
Today, kids commit suicide because of the amount of bullying they experience on the internet. While computers and technology can be used for good, kids can have access to other people’s profiles and exploit them for their selfish gain.
To learn more about protecting your children from cyberbullying, check out this article: 8 Ways to Protect Your Children from Cyberbullying.
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3. Sex trafficking
News, research and stories shared through media channels shed light on the dangers that exist in places we may have thought were safe. Children have been stolen from bathroom stalls, department stores and city sidewalks, even with their parents right next to them.
What can parents do? They can take precautions by educating themselves on the ways trafficking exists in local communities, as well as on the global scale. Warn children of the appropriate ways to be aware of their surroundings at all times, such as not talking on their cell phones while in public and not speaking to strangers on the internet. Take steps to learn how technology can be safeguarded against the tactics of traffickers, and learn to recognize the signs of trafficking.
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Like drugs, kids had to go into a store, show ID and purchase dirty magazines or sneak around to access those magazines and peruse them in secret places. Now, all children have to do is find the name of a website or misspell a popular website and pornography will be downloaded onto their computer. It is a scary world when degrading and disgusting images are just one click away. Prolonged pornography viewing can rewire the brain just like video games can.
What can parents do? Similar to drugs and video games, set strict limits and place parental controls on your kids’ phones and computers. Educate them on these dangers and anchor them in the word of God. Although there is no fool-proof way to prevent them from utilizing this, be aware of your kids’ behavior and be an ally for them as well.
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5. Religious persecution
For those living in western nations like the U.S., we do not always have to fear the threat of death or violence for converting to or practicing the Christian faith. Rejection or isolation from social circles may be a more form of common persecution. The reputation of the faith is mired and confused in a culture where the limelight is worshiped. When celebrities and other Christians in important positions behave contrary to their beliefs, non-believers quickly disregard the gospel message in response to the hypocrisy. Christians are ridiculed for their faith, and children who follow Christ are challenged to represent him well in the face of false assumptions and misunderstandings. Speaking up becomes more intimidating as freedoms to practice faith (within reason) on school property are slowly taken away.
What can parents do? While this is scary for the future of believers in the secular world, kids still possess the freedom to proclaim the gospel to their friends. Encourage your children to invite friends to church activities, study the Bible at faith-based extracurricular activities, and pray with their friends when they are having a rough time.
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6. School shootings
This is perhaps the scariest of all. Low school security paired with mental illness and easy access to high powered guns makes a recipe for tragedy among our youth. Bomb threats and gun violence have run rampant in our society, happening so frequently we have become anesthetized to the weight of its tragedy. While fights have always gone on in schools, parents never had to deal with this type of fear on a regular basis. Now children deal with regular lockdown drills preparing them for an active shooter.
What can parents do? It is possible to exercise wisdom in preparing and equipping your children without living in fear. When we give into fear the enemy wins. Pray and ask God for your children’s safety, then trust their lives into His hands.
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7. Increased drug use
Opioid addiction is epidemic. Decades ago, people had to find drugs on the streets to access them. Now, kids look no further than their own medicine cabinet to access drugs. Drug abuse is becoming so common it is becoming normalized. What is worse, States are beginning to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes (although I imagine this simply creates even easier access for use outside of illness.)
What can parents do? Be aware and discerning. Friends of your children may not have parents or guardians who protect them from abusing substances. Talk with your children often and keep the lines of communication open. Allow space to discuss the struggles and temptations they might see their friends encountering. Making sure your children feel free to come to you, seeking your insight, is perhaps the best deterrent for kids to desire the use of drugs.
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8. Social media
The use of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat may often begin as innocent channels to access the recent happenings of your friends and family. But it increasingly can become a source of struggle, where self-control is lacking, hateful words are spread, and thoughtless opinions are spewed regardless of how they may affect others. Children are even able to send compromising pictures of themselves to others, unaware that they can be easily shared with everyone’s friends and stored on the Internet permanently.
What can parents do? Most social media cannot be accessed unless your child is 13 years of age or older. However, this may still not be the right age for your child based on his or her maturity level. Discern whether it is best for your kids to use social media. When it is, have the hard conversations and help them develop the self-respect they need to make them strong enough to say no when encouraged to exploit their bodies for other’s pleasure.
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9. Addiction to video games
Pong was the first video game introduced in the late 70s. From there the video game industry has exploded, creating entertaining games for kids. However, this comes at a cost when children sink into playing games all day long. Psychologists claim prolonged exposure to video games rewire their brains, creating an addiction. What many consider a harmless hobby can turn into a major problem if gone unchecked. When kids are asked to limit their time, this can result in tantrums, fights and disrespectful behavior, causing factions within families.
If you are a parent, educate yourself on the risks associated with prolonged exposure to video games. Set limits with children from an early age and put off allowing them to play games until they are old enough to tolerate the effects. Help them learn that, with many things in life, a little can go a long way, teaching them to be carefully in-tuned with the physical and mental effects of playing too long.
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10. Increased mental illness
Studies have shown as many as half of teens struggle with depression and anxiety. Kids are dealing with mental illness and have nowhere to turn. What is worse is many have no access to counselors or other healthcare professionals who can help them cope with their illness without paying high premiums out of pocket.
What can we do? I personally believe churches should hire counselors to work in their churches part-time (or if counselors attend their churches, encourage them to offer their services for a discounted rate) to attendees who need help. They can be used mightily for the Kingdom as well as defray the high costs healthcare can produce.
It is hard to raise children. No matter how hard it is to discern what your kids can handle and at what age, you can still rely on your church body to help you navigate the muddy waters of parenthood. Trust and encourage your children to see that boundaries are good and healthy things, allowing them to flourish in the right directions. Keep the lines of communication open, be aware of your kids’ maturity levels and set limits when applicable to help safeguard your kids against the tough problems they face today.
Michelle S. Lazurek is an award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife and mother. Winner of the Golden Scroll Children's Book of the Year, the Enduring Light Silver Medal and the Maxwell Award, she is a member of the Christian Author's Network and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She is also an associate literary agent with Wordwise Media Services. For more information, please visit her website at michellelazurek.com.
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Originally published Sunday, 19 January 2020.