Lutherans in the Twin Cities

What’s troubling Lutheran teens today?

Metro Lutheran survey discovers stress is a big issue for church’s young people

Lutheran teen-agers in the Twin Cities struggle with stress more than any other issue, and most often confide in their friends as a way of dealing with the struggles they face, according to a recent study of teen-age concerns conducted by Metro Lutheran. The survey was distributed to 110 junior and senior high youth at five churches across the metro area.

When asked to identify their “greatest struggle,” participants most often chose “stress” from a list of ten categories. It was the response from 60% of the females surveyed and 34% of the males. This was the highest-rated category for both males and females.

Among other top-rated categories for the girls were “worry” (42.8%), “body image” (33.3%), “self-es-teem” (28.6%), and “accep-tance of peers” (23.8%).

For the boys, other top- rated categories were “dishonesty” (19%), “lust” (14.9%), and “body image” and “self-esteem” (both 12%).

Among the lower-rated categories, only 1.5% of the females gave “lust” a top rating, along with “drugs/alcohol,” which received only 1.6% of top ratings. For the boys, “materialism” received top ratings from only 6.4%. “Drugs/alcohol” and “acceptance of peers” were named as a top concern by 8.5% for each.

Lyle Griner, national director of Peer Mini-stry, a division of the Youth and Family Institute in Bloomington, Minnesota, does not find these results surprising. Griner claims that Lutheran teens are struggling with “the same things most kids are struggling with as far as culture [is concerned]. They are way over-extended.” Griner’s Peer Ministry organization works across the country to equip teens to help other teens deal with the struggles they face.

While “stress” was given the higher ratings by more teens, and had the highest average rating, students seem to be talking to their church leaders about other things. “Lately it’s been relationship stuff,” says Kory Henkel, youth minister at Bloomington Lutheran Church and Living Hope Lutheran Church in Shak-opee. “[They’re concerned about] both dating and relationships.”

Henkel also sees a difference in what younger students and older students come to him to talk about. “The younger kids that have talked with me seem to be dealing with more identity issues — where they ‘fit in,’ finding their ‘nitch’, things like that.”

Derek Broten, youth minister at Woodbury Lutheran Church agrees. “I think the younger students really struggle with the fight to belong, which group they are in and what they have to do to get there. Older students and their struggles intensify with issues of independence and questions about their future. The older they get, the more intense their situation and their actions tend to be.”

While it’s commonly thought that “ac-ceptance of peers” is the greatest struggle teens face, this category received only 8.5% of highest rankings from boys and 23.8% from girls in our survey.

The discrepancy in what teen-agers claim to be struggling with and what they confide in with their church leaders may be accounted for by who they go to with their struggles.
As Griner says, “Peer-to-peer ministry is the most effective.” Griner is right to see the potential in peer counseling. According to the survey, 60.3% of girls and 36.2% of boys rated “talk to friends” as their first answer when asked how they usually deal with the struggles they face.

“Talk to other adults” (such as church leaders) received the highest ratings from only 6.35% of girls and 4.25% of boys. Maribeth McGovern, Faith and Edu-cation Pastor at Peace Lu-theran Church in Blooming-ton says, “Adults aren’t in the loop. Parents don’t have any idea how to even send a text message, let alone check out their kid’s ‘My Space’ [an online conversation resource].” McGovern continued, chillingly, “I know a 15-year-old who talked a friend out of suicide via an online chat one night.”

What may help put church leaders’ and parents’ minds at ease is the frequency with which “prayer” was rated highly as a way of dealing with struggles. Among the boys, 42.5% picked “prayer” first as a way in which they usually deal with the struggles they face. For girls the figure was 52.4%.
To buffer the effect of extreme answers in the results of this survey, average ratings of all categories were also calculated. Again, stress was the clear leader in this analysis, as it had the highest average rating for the boys at 3.2 as well as for the girls at 3.62 on a scale of 0-5, with five as the greatest struggle and zero as no struggle at all.

The only major discrepancy between the number of highest ratings and average ratings was the male consideration of “materialism.” This category was in 10th place among categories rated at the top, but had an average answer of 1.56, placing it in sixth place in terms of average rating.
No other category either for the males or females had a discrepancy of more than two places when the number of highest ratings was compared with average rating.

Many youth leaders and parents wonder if being part of a church community is helpful to teens in dealing with their struggles. Though Lutheran churches often see high school and college-age attendance drop, our results suggest that this is perhaps not indicative of the value that teens place on the church community. In fact, 48.9% of males gave “church” a high rating as a factor of positive impact on the struggles they face. Among females, the percentage was 55.5.

Still, it can be difficult to know if the church is really having an impact on teens. Dale Dramstad, a volunteer small group confirmation leader at Peace Lutheran Church in Bloomington, says that something a pastor once told him helped him learn not to worry about the impact that he has on teens. “You just have to let go,” he says. “Whatever impact I have on them is between them and God.” Our survey found that 85% of males and 85.6% of females said they were planning on staying in the Lutheran church as an adult.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of teen-agers’ struggles is the thought that some teens keep things bottled in and either don’t have, or aren’t using, resources available to them for dealing with their problems. Only 4.4% of the boys report that the people closest to them know “everything” about the struggles they face, and only 3.5% of the girls said the same. More boys (34.1%) said the people closest to them know “some things” they struggle with. The girls seem to be more open, with 47.4% saying the people closest to them knew “almost everything” about their struggles. What perhaps stands out the most in this category is the 9.1% of the boys who said that the people closest to them know “nothing at all” about the struggles they face. No girls, however, answered in that manner.

McGovern says boys and girls handle their struggles differently. “The struggles of boys manifest and are articulated differently. It takes longer to establish the trust. Their struggles may come out ‘sideways’ — getting into trouble, acting out in some way. In those situations I may just say, ‘Hey, you’re a great kid. What’s going on?’”
McGovern adds, “It’s a busy, busy world. Parents are running a million miles an hour and the demands on their lives and on the lives of their children are significant. To find someone who will just sit and listen, look them in the eye, not have to run off to the next thing on the schedule, is a rarity in the lives of most students.”

What is clear from the results of this survey is that Lutheran teens, like their non-Lutheran counterparts, struggle with a complex web of issues. Some are receiving support from the church, others are not. According to Lyle Griner, the job of the youth pastor is “equipping people to be ministers.” Our survey finds that most kids talk to their friends as a primary way of dealing with their struggles. In this light, the church’s task, if not as direct, is no less important in supporting struggling teens.
If, using Griner’s model, the church is successful in equipping ministers, then the friends that Lutheran teens go to for help will be trained by the church to minister to them. As Peer Ministry’s slogan says, “You aren’t doing youth ministry until youth are doing ministry.”

Youth pastors and parents can take encouragement from the responses to the open-ended question, “Ex-plain how being a Lutheran helps you deal with the struggles you face.”

Overwhelmingly, the responses were positive. What matters to Lutheran teens is knowing that they can talk to God about their struggles, and knowing that the church community is there to support them, should they need to lean on it.
As one teen participant said, “I can talk with God whenever I want.” Another commented, “When you know God is with you, it helps.”

Perhaps as eloquent a response as any received came from a young male who took our survey. He said, simply, “God helps.”

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Metro Lutheran survey findings:

Twin Cities Lutheran teen-age girls list among their “greatest struggles”:

* Stress (34%)
* Worry (42.8%)
* Body image (33.3%)
* Self-esteem (28.6%)
* Acceptance of peers (23.8%)

Twin Cities Lutheran teen-age boys list among their “greatest struggles”:

* Stress (34%)
* Dishonesty (19%)
* Lust (14.9%)
* Body Image (12%)
* Self-esteem (12%)

How do Twin Cities Lutheran teen-agers deal with the struggles they face?

* Talk to friends
(girls, 60.3%)
(boys, 36.2%)
* Talk to other adults,
such as church
leaders
(girls, 6.35%)
(boys, 4.25%)

An effective way Lutheran teens have found to deal with their struggles

* Prayer
(girls, 52.4%)
(boys, 42.5%)

From a survey of 110 Lutheran junior and senior high school teen-agers.

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Richmann is student writing intern at Metro Lutheran, and is editor of the Arts and Entertainment section of The Clarion, the student newspaper at Bethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota.