On Thursday, December 2, the world lost a giant in youth ministry. Mel Walker was a mentor, friend, and surrogate uncle to me. He was always willing to talk, pray, and guide me through the path of personal and ministry life. We spoke regularly about the future of youth ministry. I can honestly say, I would not be still in ministry if it were not for his prayers and inspiration. He is a personal hero and I was blessed to have him a part of my life.
I was also privileged to have Mel be a regular contributor to my websites over the years, including this one, when I launched it. With permission from his family, I will be re-sharing over the coming months some of his wise insights. I do this to honor him and so his legacy will live on in the next generation of students that he loved so much.
PARENT TRAP OF ‘COOL KIDS’
I’m a member of an exclusive club in that I’ve been a youth worker for approximately 45 years. I first started working with teenagers in the mid-1970s and accepted my first position as a full-time youth pastor in 1976. This past Spring, I turned 65 years old, and I still am actively involved in local church youth ministry. My wife and I have three grown children (all of whom are serving the Lord in full-time career ministry), and we now have nine grandchildren.
I am still incredibly passionate about reaching and ministering to young people. From my perspective, there’s nothing more important than investing my life in the next generation.
During my time in youth ministry, I’ve seen a wide variety of cultural trends come and go – and I’ve witnessed multiple generations of both teenagers and parents face an assortment of social movements. But, without trying to sound like an out-of-touch, irrelevant (“get off of my lawn”) old man, I need to address something that greatly concerns me about the way many parents are raising their teenagers today. That concern is the parental desire for their kids to be “cool.”
According to an article in the NY Times(1), the term “cool” was coined and popularized in the 1940s by the jazz musician Lester Young. Young’s terminology took off. As someone who grew up in the 1960s and early ’70s, I admit that being cool was a driving motivation for most “Baby Boomers” (like me). So, perhaps the members of “Gen X” (the generation that followed the Boomers) learned that drive from us.
The authors of what may be described as the definitive work describing this generation of young people, Generation Z; A Century in the Making (2), have observed that most of the members of today’s “Gen Z” are the offspring of the “Gen X” parents.
Maybe it is because of the influence of the preceding generations, but for whatever the reason it seems to me that most of today’s parents of pre-teens and teenagers have a compelling desire for their kids to be “cool”.
I’ve noticed that so many of today’s parents want their kids to be popular, many want their kids to live out their often-unfulfilled goals and dreams (like as an athlete or musician), and many want their kids to be successful as adults – meaning well-to-do financially with a high-paying job. Of course, these motivations are not true for all parents.
But all one must do is to take a look around at almost any middle school in the country, and they will observe members of today’s “Gen Z’ers” living out the expectations of their parents.
The pressure these “Gen X” parents put on their kids to be cool is incredible. Perhaps this is part of the reason why members of this generation feel so depressed, anxious, and stressed out (3). The quantitative results of the well-publicized statistics may be somewhat overblown and overreported. However, there is some truth to the headlines reporting the high levels of stress and anxiety this generation is facing.
Now that I’m an “older” and admittedly “not so cool” senior adult, I will acknowledge that my wife and I would much rather have our kids, and now our grandchildren, grow up to be Godly rather than “cool.” When our kids were growing up, it didn’t bother us to think that they may not be the most popular kid in class, that they were the best baseball or soccer player, or that they would grow up to have a successful careers. We wanted our kids to grow up to love the Lord and to serve Him with all their hearts!
Part of the solution to the “trap of having cool kids”, must be a parental refocus on the Biblical imperative to bring children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (See Ephesians 6:4.)
Let’s do all we can to encourage today’s parents to develop God-honoring goals for their kids!
2 Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, Generation Z: A Century in the Making. Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group), New York, NY, 2019.
3 For example, this article in Psychology Today reports that over 90% of Generation Z are “stressed out,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-stressed-years-their-lives/201812/why-90-percent-generation-z-says-theyre-stressed-out.
Mel Walker was the co-founder and president of Vision For Youth (an international network of youth workers), and he was the youth pastor at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Mel & his wife, Peggy, were the parents of 3 grown children, all of whom are in vocational ministry. He was the author of 12 books on various aspects of youth ministry, including Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up & Go On For God. You can find more about his ministry at: www.GoingOnForGod.com.