The sea change in the approach that American teens and young adults take in regard to Christian faith just in the last decade has been rapid, palpable, and sometimes stunning. We live in a time in which “nearly half of cradle Catholics who become ‘unaffiliated’ are gone by age eighteen. Nearly 80 percent are gone and 71 percent have already taken on an ‘unaffiliated’ identity by their early twenties.”
According to Jean Twenge, a professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, the experience of faith has been complicated even further by the staggering increase in social media usage among these same teens and young adults, which has been accompanied by a correlative increase in feelings of depression, joylessness, and uselessness—as well a significant increase in suicide attempts. One of the most notable attributes of this generation, which Twenge calls “the iGen generation,” is its marked aversion to practicing, or even identifying with, Christianity.
We have seen many of these same trends in the high school in which I have taught theology and operated as campus minister during the last twelve years, but our overwhelming experience is that underlying most teenagers’ sense of disconnect from Christ and/or their Catholic faith is a sense of pain and confusion caused by suffering in their lives. Even when they do not share these things openly, we know that our students have suffered through broken homes, health problems, various kinds of anxiety and depressive disorders, romantic breakups, betrayal from friends, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and every other imaginable problem. Knowing that the students don’t always have the desire or, in some cases, the ability to share these things, we make it a priority to find a way for them to share it with the Lord.