The year 1977 saw the release of a fantastic movie: Star Wars: A New Hope Awakens. The first Star Wars movie introduced Luke Skywalker and began the story of his journey to become a Jedi knight and how he and his companions saved the galaxy from the evil Empire. Their success depended, in part, on Luke learning to use The Force. While Luke was “strong in The Force,” it took the help of two wise and experienced guides, Obi-won Kenobi and Master Yoda, for him to succeed.
Now, fast forward forty years later to the seventh and eighth movies in the Star Wars series: The Force Awakens andThe Last Jedi. A young woman, Rey, is also strong in The Force and gets thrown into a battle to save the galaxy. While similar to Luke’s situation, Rey has to do without a guide. But then, she doesn’t need one, as she learns quickly and without help. She later tries to get Luke Skywalker to teach her, but he has become a self-absorbed, morose cynic and refused. Overcome with guilt, he has come to see the Jedi system as fault-ridden and responsible for much of the trouble they have faced. As it turns out, Rey doesn’t need him anyway, because she’s a natural.
Oh, what a difference forty years makes!
The Cookie-Cutter Dilemma
I think young people have always wanted to find a way to distinguish themselves. Adolescence is a time to establish an identity that’s different from our parents—one that’s our own. People mistakenly think that rebellion in the teenage years is a given, but that’s a mistake. Young adults can figure out who they are without having to turn it into a battle.
The maturing process used to occur naturally as a young person working in a labor-intensive world would have to step up and take on responsibilities. Thrust into adult life, they drew upon personal resources and overcame obstacles. These successes validated their emerging identity. Their parents and other adults often served as guides during the transition.
Things are a bit different today. In her book1about the latest generation, the iGens, author Jean M. Twenge sees this group growing up more slowly than their predecessors. Nearly half of high school seniors don’t work for pay, and they don’t want to, either. Teens are getting their driver’s license later, stay with their parents longer, volunteer less, participate in fewer extracurricular activities and marry when they’re older than Gen Xers or Millennials did. Religiousness among this generation has also declined, and with it, an independent understanding of God and morality.
The result is that iGens are not taking the usual routes to establish themselves, or at least, not as early, as in the past. The drive to find their identity is still there. So what are young people doing to meet this developmental challenge, today?
The iGens have far greater access and use of social media then we’ve ever seen before, and it’s become prime real estate for declaring who you are. Electronic media allows one to create a virtual identity that doesn’t have to match reality. You can show the world how happy you are and that you have it all together, even when you don’t, and you feel like a miserable failure.
Young people want to show others that they’re unique—that they don’t fit in a mold or look like they’ve been cut out with the same cookie-cutter used on everyone else.
All of this creates a dilemma that can lead to one or more of four outcomes:
- They’re unable to form a distinct, healthy, and independent sense of identity.
- They form an identity shaped by the culture around them.
- They act differently for the sake of being different.
- They form a virtual identity.
iGens want to feel unique and valued, but now, instead of working for it and relying on wise guides to help them get there, they’re supposed to be like Rey—a natural winner—and they’re not. They might be connected to more people through their smartphone, but they’re lonelier than ever. I think this is part of the reason why we’ve seen a dramatic rise in depression and anxiety in this age group.
Forget The Force
So what should we do?
If you’re a young adult who’s struggling, then…
Don’t compare yourself to others.
You and your situation are unique and what you’re comparing yourself to probably isn’t the real deal, anyway.
Take on responsibilities. Even ask for them.
Besides seeing the shock effect you’ll have on your parents, you’ll be accelerating your launch into adulthood.
Learn from your mistakes.
Screw-ups may seem like the end of the world, but they’re part of life for everybody. The sooner you see the value of learning from your mistakes, the sooner you can bounce back from them.
Use social media only with people who you know personally and who are authentic with you.
Ignore the rest, or you’ll end up on an emotional dive bomber.
Find a caring, authentic, and faith-filled adult as a friend and guide.
This can be one or both of your parents. Regardless, you want someone with experience who you can rely on to tell you the truth with gentleness and love.
Seek out and grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
A life of knowing, loving, and following Jesus is the healthiest way to live and discover who you really are.
If you’re a parent, then…
Give your kids responsibilities.
Reward them for their efforts, and increase their level of responsibility as they mature.
Tell your children who they are.
They need to hear this. Don’t feed your kids fake stuff because you want them to feel better about themselves. If you end up talking about a weakness or mistake, help them see how they can grow from it and do better.
Be real with your kids and share about some of the mistakes you’ve made.
Instead of losing respect for you, they’ll learn that it’s OK not to be perfect. Demonstrate how you learned from your goofs.
Grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ, then share him with your children.
They need to know Jesus and how He works in our lives. You can’t fake that.
Form relationships with other families who put Christ first in their lives.
Your relationship with the adults will be a model for your children, and your kids and theirs can become an encouragement and support for one another.
Create opportunities for your kids to talk about what’s on their heart.
This doesn’t usually happen at the dinner table or through a forced conversation. You need to spend time with your kids where you’re hanging out together running errands, playing basketball, etc. And make sure to listen!
1Jean M Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, Atria Books: New York, 2017. Kindle Edition.
Jedi’s and Cookie-Cutters is part of a series on opractices that promote psychological and spiritual health.