It’s probably no surprise to anyone that rates of teen depression in the U.S. continue to trend upward. Take a look at a teen’s social media accounts, and you will likely find expressions of disappointment and cynicism. Not in response to issues at hand, just a generally jaded outlook on life. Over the past few years I have mentored and counseled dozens of teens. Each of their stories are unique, and each faced real issues in life. (and I always encourage people to respond to depression whenever you see it.) Yet, their general malaise only worked to confirm my theory that this next generation has accepted a narrative of life that starts with pessimism, and works downward. It’s a downward spiral of despair that will only lead to severe depression.
I have led some through the typical counseling techniques designed to combat acute depression without much success. Some of the therapeutic interventions worked, but their motivation inevitably waned. Therapeutic interventions never seem to produce the kind of health that they were hoping for, and certainly not in the timeframe they were willing to invest.
However, when I suggest that a person can only achieve balance and joy in life when they make these therapeutic activities parts of their everyday life, for the rest of their lives, I have been met with dejection and dread.
At first, like all “old people,” I attributed it to the millennial’s tendency to be shallow, selfish, and shortsighted.
But there’s a big problem with lumping every person in a group together without looking for the common problem.
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – C.S. Lewis
Many have been quick to dismiss this next generation altogether. Some have attributed their depression and anger to bad parenting, too much violence in the media, participation trophies, or vaccines; but I can’t believe that its that simple.
It seems to me that the biggest problem sighted by the individuals who I have counseled or mentored is that they don’t see a world around them that’s worth living for. They don’t see a prize worth working for. So why work for it?
They don’t see a life ahead of them that’s worth fighting for.
When we get what we’ve worked for, we can enjoy it. But if we get something we never worked for, can we enjoy that? The again, maybe that’s just the low hanging fruit. Maybe it’s not that simple.
It may be that the next generation is just as determined and hard-working as any that have come before them. It’s just that the payoff for their work has become so trivial that they’ve lost the motivation to continue.
What about the kids who won trophies because they earned them? What about the ones who have great parents…with or without vaccinations? What about those who have no interest in violence and/or sensuality in the media?
Why do we see depression in these teens too?
The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it has just let you down. – Ravi Zacharias
Perhaps the issue is that we keep telling teens that they can have that “Ultimate” experience outside of an eternal God.
Confronting sin in your own life is difficult. It can be even more difficult if there are competing views about what is profitable for the faith. However, I’ve seen many Christians allow their determination of sin to be based on their perception of guilt resulting from that sin.
We sometimes try to justify behaviors that make us feel good. A previous post about how Selfies might be a form of idolatry discussed how defensive we can get about some stuff. For example, if you were to steal money from your employer and feel guilty about it, you might define that as sinful. On the other hand, if you felt underpaid by your employer, and took the money as compensation to support your family, you might feel less guilt about that. However, the definition of sin is far less subjective.
Additionally, your lack of guilt associated with a particular activity may be evidence of a far more problematic issue. It may be that you’ve become numb to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Just because you feel free to engage thoughts or activity that blatantly contradict Biblical standards set for followers of Jesus Christ, that does not indicate that you are the exception to that standard.
But could your freedom to sin indicate something far worse?
Sin sometimes looks like freedom because God has given us over to the unrighteous pursuit of pleasure. He (graciously) allows us to experience the fullness of sin in order to teach us of its complete emptiness, dissatisfaction, and exhaustibility. Only in that knowledge will we begin to know the fullness, satisfaction, and inexhaustible nature of a relationship with God.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
I’m really not trying to be ominous or heavy-handed, and I hate the idea of works-based justification. I am simply pointing out that the conviction of the Holy Spirit is something that we should cherish. The Lord’s conviction and correction is evidence of our transformation.
Looking forward to correction may seem silly, or even sadistic, but its not. Children do this all the time. They know a boundary, and test it anyway, just to make sure that their parents respond. The process reminds them that they are not alone, and they can trust what their parents say. Similarly we are looking for evidence of the Lord’s presence in our lives. We are looking for his guidance.
We must not test the Lord’s patience, grace, or mercy, by indulging in sin. Neither should we be offended when our behavior results in the Lord’s correction.
Our aim must be to please the Lord and advance the gospel. And in that pursuit, we will likely engage discipline, and correction from the Holy Spirit, but we must not be discouraged.