It’s the age-old story.
Teens are cool and trendy. Adults are boring and outdated.
My apologies for putting it so bluntly, but honestly, that’s the Gen Z narrative. It’s the same way millennials used to think of Gen X as boring and we all think of the 1950s Baby Boomers as, well, just a little bit vintage. No matter how many times we’re told to “stay cool” in school yearbooks, eventually every generation steps aside to make room for the younger, trendier, more up-to-date teens coming up behind them.
Fashion trends come and go (and come back again), music styles have their heyday and then die out, cutting-edge technology eventually looks archaic, and in the midst of this cycle of generations, young people often buy a very dangerous lie—that we don’t need adults.
“These teens are wild!” the older generations say. “You adults don’t get it!” the teens retort. And the ever-widening gap has less to do with age and more to do with the age-old struggle to relate and have relationships with those older or younger than ourselves.
But the truth is that Gen Z does need adults. We need the influence of those older than us more than we realize.
I should know. I’m a Gen Zer.
The influence of older adults has been one of the most impactful things in my life
I can honestly say that the influence of older adults has been one of the most impactful things in my life. I’ve learned more, grown more, and been challenged more than I ever have in relationships with my peers.
Bridging the age gap is possible and doing so is critical in helping teens grow up with a biblical worldview and a solid relationship with God. While it’s not always easy, putting in effort to overcome the hurdles is definitely worth it.
So what does Gen Z need from the adults in our lives?
- We need their love for God
A life marked by all-consuming love for God is a life that looks distinctly different. And we need to see that difference. There is something compellingly beautiful about someone who overflows with the love and joy of Christ. Witnessing that overflow has a greater impact than words spoken on a stage or a list of rules and regulations ever could. It’s not that guidelines and rules don’t matter (they do) or that we don’t need teaching from pastors and speakers (because we do), but that simply witnessing the Bible lived out in a life, watching how Christ makes a difference in a soul, and observing people that faithfully pray, serve, and obey holds an impact that cannot be overestimated.
We need to see deep love for God in the lives of adults around us and we need to experience the overflow of that love in how they point us to Jesus, teach us the Bible, and forgive us when we mess up, because we undoubtedly will. Even if teens don’t seem to care in the moment, simple faithfulness always produces a harvest. The example adults set by living out a passionate and committed love for God will leave a mark on the next generation.
- We need their wisdom
Spiritual growth sometimes happens around a table of tea and chocolate brownies. My boyfriend and I recently got together with an older couple and listened and asked questions as they shared wisdom from their fifty-plus years of marriage. The two hours we spent around their dining room table were packed with wisdom (and sugar) and we walked away from that conversation with truth poured into us, prayers prayed over us, and the assurance of having others walking beside us as we navigated our own relationship. I’ve recently become more convinced of the deep need to receive guidance and counsel as I’ve entered several new seasons of my life and I’ve sought to be intentional in seeking mentors who can pray for me, keep me accountable, and give me their wisdom. Because Gen Z deeply needs the wisdom of older adults.
Any parent who’s ever received an eye roll from a teen in response to a piece of parental advice might not believe this point. But the truth remains and those humble enough to acknowledge and receive it are able to glean lessons that can greatly strengthen, equip, and enrich.
When it comes to wisdom, my biggest piece of advice for teens is: don’t be a Rehoboam. Rehoboam was the son of Solomon (the wisest man on earth), but instead of following in his father’s footsteps, he showed himself to be one of the most foolish. After taking the throne, Rehoboam consulted his father’s elders and advisors (good step one), but then he rejected their counsel and asked his friends (bad step two). In the nature of peer pressure, Rehoboam decided to follow the advice of his friends instead of his father’s faithful counselors. In the end, it didn’t go well for him or for the nation of Israel (see 1 Kings 12). This story proves the point that the advice and influence of peers alone will lead teens to make unwise and detrimental choices.
While few of today’s Gen Zers need advice on how to rule a nation, we do deeply need guidance on how to navigate relationships, finances, jobs, emotions, and the crazy world around us. Our culture alone provides countless obstacles to overcome, such as issues of sexuality, identity, gender, media, and justice. In challenges like these and more, attaining perspective from a set of eyes that have viewed the world longer than twenty-some years is critically important in navigating these hard issues with clarity and courage.
We need guidance on how to navigate relationships, finances, jobs, emotions, and the crazy world around us
Too many teens, like Rehoboam, think they’ve learned it all in their short one or two decades on earth, but there are countless lessons we have yet to learn—lessons those who have lived a few decades more have already learned. The teens and early twenties are a season of major life decisions, tremendous change, and invaluable growth opportunities. Why should teens think it’s possible to handle all of that alone? Proverbs gives sound advice when it says, “In the multitude of counselors, there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
- We need their friendship
It’s always sad to me when I see it: the huddle. Teens clustered together in one section, everyone over thirty gathered in another. Our society has lost the blessing of intergenerational friendships. We don’t know how to be friends—actual friends—with those not of our own age bracket. That is deeply saddening, because all are missing out on the richness of relationships that can span every age demographic.
“I never thought when I moved here that my best friends would be twenty-year-olds!” an older man I know sometimes laughs. But as much as he might have benefitted from our friendship, we who know him have benefitted far more from his mentorship, wisdom, and prayers. Friendships provide an ideal context for mentorship and growth. When mentorship begins with friendship, the prior relationship establishes trust, safety, and openness in communication, which can help teenage hearts be more open to receiving counsel and guidance.
- We need their prayers
Regardless of how much counsel we receive or how many mentors we have, every teen will make mistakes. Mistakes are simply a part of being human. But prayer is the bridge that can span the gap of our human mistakes and help keep us on—or bring us back to—the path of God’s truth. “I’m so thankful I had a praying mother,” my pastor often says when he reflects on a season of rebellion. Countless others can say the same.
Even when observing an adult’s love for God isn’t making a dent, when a teen’s heart is closed to hearing wisdom, or when friendships aren’t possible, prayer is still a powerful weapon that can fight for that teen’s heart. When all else fails, prayer never does.
Not only does prayer help keep us on the right path, it gives us strength for the journey. I’m so thankful when I know that my mentors are praying for my relationship or my writing or simply for my holiness and walk with God. The tremendous power of prayer can act as a protective suit of armor in the spiritual and cultural battle teens are facing each day.
A Call to Relationship
While tackling numerous hard issues in my book Stand Up, Stand Strong, I began to notice how frequently I encouraged my teen readers to seek out the guidance and help of a parent or mentor. Whether the issue was a pornography addiction, a struggle with identity or sexuality, or simply discouragement over standing alone on a current controversial issue, I knew that having a wise and invested parent or mentor would make all the difference in navigating that issue.
Yet I couldn’t help but wonder: Would every teen be able to find such a relationship?
Who will walk with them through their struggles and hard questions? Who will be the safe place, the disciple makers, the ones willing to invest time and energy into one-on-one mentorship?
We need those people. But those people are hard to find.
There is a true lack of mentors in the church today. People who are willing to invest in someone younger, take them “under their wing,” and simply go on the journey of life together. It’s not a flashy ministry, but it is a desperately needed one. Titus 2 lays a foundation for this kind of mentorship, encouraging older women to “admonish the young women” and older men to “exhort the young men” (Titus 2:4–6). Relationships build legacies and the legacy of one life pouring into another can impact countless generations to come.
Please hear the heart of a Gen Zer—we need you
To the older and wiser adults, please hear the heart of a Gen Zer—we need you. Even if we say we don’t or reject your counsel for a time, please don’t give up on showing us your love for God, giving us your wisdom, investing in friendship, and praying faithfully. Because it makes more of a difference than you realize.
To Gen Z, please grasp hold of this wisdom and don’t reject the counsel of those older and wiser. In the words of Solomon, “Keep sound wisdom and discretion; so they will be life to your soul and grace to your neck. Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble” (Proverbs 3:21–23). Run after the counsel of adults in your life and intentionally pursue relationship with them, because doing so will impact your life more than you know.
Sara Barratt is the 22-year-old editor-in-chief for TheRebelution.com. She’s the author of Stand Up, Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith in a Confused Culture and Love Riot, & a frequent speaker on topics including using your teen years for Christ, engaging culture with a biblical worldview, & godly dating and relationships. She’s the host of the podcast Do Hard Things with the Rebelution & has been a guest on numerous radio shows & podcasts. Come hang out with her on Facebook and Instagram & her website sarabarratt.com.