Aaron comes home from his second grade class to an empty home.
After letting himself in and finding the peanut butter and jelly
sandwich his mom left him, he settles onto the couch for a little
prime video gaming. Mom will be home in an hour or two, and until
then he'll just do what he always does -- wait and occupy himself
with video games or TV shows. That's just the way it is since Dad
left. Mom has to work, and Aaron has to fend for himself. He
doesn't usually get scared, except when Mom gets home after
• • •
Sarah walks home from school with tears streaming down her
cheeks. The other sixth grade girls were so mean to me today! Why
can't I just fit in? she thinks to herself. Sarah comes from a
conservative Christian home, and she got a little lost in the
conversation when the other girls started talking about boys. "It
was just a silly question about what they were talking about," she
whispers to herself. "Hardly a reason to make fun of me in front of
• • •
Brandon's in fourth grade. He doesn't come home to an empty
house or have to worry about other kids not liking him. Brandon
plays soccer, and he's really good at it. So good, in fact, that he
plays for two teams. He practices four days a week after school and
has games on at least two nights or on the weekends. When he's not
playing, he's usually going to his practice or a game for his
sister. And both of them attend the church midweek program (when it
doesn't interfere with sports). Of course, the guitar lessons are
important because he wants to play in a band soon, and his parents
keep telling him to study hard because one day he'll need those
good grades to get into a good school where he can keep playing
Yikes! I need a break just thinking about what some of our kids
go through every day! Stress and pressure are nothing new to kids;
every generation has had to deal with them in some form or
But today's kids seem to face pressures that would make previous
generations cringe! Peer pressure, broken families, media overload,
activity upon activity, education demands, and so much more.
Today's kids are burdened like never before, and there's very
little relief in sight.
Consider this example of how our world has changed: In the
1940s, the Fullerton Police Department did a study to find the most
significant problems in the public high school. According to the
study, the top problems were talking in class, chewing gum, making
noise, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, improper
clothing, and littering.
Compare this list to the top problems our kids dealt with in the
1990s: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape,
robbery, and assault. How do kids get to this point by the time
they're in high school? It has much to do with the stresses and
pressures they face when they're in elementary school.
Our kids are targets, and there are assaults on their minds and
emotions coming from every direction. Just a few examples help us
understand what it must be like for most kids living in today's
• The strain of broken families is significant. With a divorce
every 30 seconds in our country, and the rate higher among
Christians than non-Christians, how can our kids not bear the
burden of this tragedy? There are 1,300 stepfamilies formed every
day in our country, and 30 percent of today's families are led by a
single parent. Even under the best circumstances, this produces
stresses for today's kids that are difficult to handle.
• The bombardment of the media brings a definite challenge to
kids. Spike Lee, a Hollywood producer and director, said in the
late '90s, "The most powerful nations are not those that have
nuclear bombs, but those that control the media. That's where the
battle is being fought; that is how you control people's
Just a little research in this area unveils the truth that the
media's agenda isn't strictly harmless entertainment. As the
children who spend nearly eight hours a day taking in today's media
in some form or another will attest, it's difficult assimilating
what the media teaches versus what God teaches.
• The devaluing of life is troubling to today's kids. The issues
of abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and abuse all communicate our
society's lack of value for a human life. The thousands of violent
crimes the average child watches on television and in the movies
each year communicates the cheapness of human life. How can kids
help but adopt that value system, no matter how unsettling it
We all see what's happening around us to stress out kids. But
what can we do about it? How can we help our kids? How can we
minister to the kids in our churches and communities? What can we
teach parents and others who deal with today's kids? Let me propose
that we help kids by following five simple principles to give kids
Be an example. Before we can hope to influence our kids, we have
to have our act together. Perfectly? No, but kids are watching us
-- our own kids, kids at church, and any other kids we're
A frenetic life filled with the things of this world will
transfer in some way, large or small, to the kids we influence.
Sure, as adults, we all face our own stresses that can't be
helped sometimes. But we need to do what we can to minimize
unnecessary stresses and, more importantly, learn to handle stress
in a manner pleasing to God. Philippians 4:6 says, "Be anxious
(stressed) for nothing!" This is the example kids ought to see in
us, and when they do, they'll learn how to handle their own
Relate to kids. Do you remember the person who was most
influential in your life as you were growing up? For many, it was a
parent. For others, it may have been a school teacher, a Sunday
school teacher, or a family friend. Why did that person have so
much influence on you?
In most cases, it was the relationship the person had with you
that allowed, or caused, the influence to happen.
Today's kids respond to relationships just as kids have in past
generations. In fact, today's kids are probably more responsive
because relationships are so difficult to find in today's
Sometimes, though, our own stress prevents us from extending
ourselves into real relationships with kids. We're too busy. We
feel inadequate to relate to today's kids, but ministry happens
best through relationships.
Now, going back to the person who had great influence in your
life, think about how that relationship formed. Most likely, it
involved spending time together, sharing an interest, listening,
and cheering you on. Today's kids need the same thing from you.
Pressures and stresses in the lives of today's kids are so much
more bearable when they have someone they know is there for
Educate yourself about the dangers facing kids. Today's kids
face more stresses in life than most of us did as children. Do you
know what those stressors are? Do you know about the culture our
kids enter into every day when they go to school? Are you aware of
the agendas that the media and public education systems have? Are
you aware, on a more personal level, of the home situation of
little Johnny? Are you familiar with the simple and predictable
patterns of growing up -- those age-level characteristics that are
typical of all children? We're far more capable of relating to and
helping kids as we educate ourselves with tools such as reading
this magazine in your hands, attending workshops, scanning the
news, talking to kids, and listening to experts who understand
Ask questions. You know the commercials of parents "nagging"
kids about where they're going, what they're going to be doing, who
they'll be with, and other "intrusive" questions? In reality,
that's not a bad idea! No, we don't want to be nags, and no, we
don't want to be intrusive, but how will we know what kids are
facing if we don't ask? Concerned questions help us understand what
a child needs. Questions help us look through the eyes of children
to see the world as they see it. And questions of concern
communicate that we really care for children and what they're
facing. Don't be afraid to ask kids appropriate questions.
Keep praying. In the end, it's our loving Savior who'll do the
work in our kids' lives -- not you and me. Oswald Chambers once
wrote that "prayer does not equip us for the greater work, prayer
is the greater work." Prayer is our first line of defense and our
ultimate weapon in dealing with the pressures and stresses facing
today's kids. Let us pray fervently and without ceasing for our
kids as they face the challenges of living in today's world.
Greg Baird is a children's minister in San Diego,
California, and the founder and director of Kids In Focus
KIDS UNDER FIRE
- 31 percent of kids age 9 to 12 say they "worry a lot," and 47
percent of the same group suffer from insomnia.
- Adolescent suicide rates have increased dramatically in recent
years, becoming the fifth leading cause of death among 5- to
14-year-olds in 2000.
- All television is educational, but what is it teaching?
Violence is a way of life? Sex is acceptable under almost any
circumstances? Or materialism is the way to go -- it's all about
me? Yes, these and other misguided principles are taught every day
through the airwaves, creating unnecessary pressures on our kids,
who typically watch four to six hours a day, including 20,000
commercials per year!
- Accidents are the leading cause of adolescent deaths; stressed
children are two and a half times more likely to have an
- 42 percent of kids from kindergarten through third grade are
regularly left alone at home, and kids left alone are twice as
likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or experiment with drugs. In
addition, kids left alone more often have more difficulty handling
- One in seven kids reports being bullied. Of these bullying
incidents, intervention occurs in only 15 percent.
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