Who’s Life Are You Teaching?

Teach this generation to live their own life, not yours.

There are times when we engage Generation Z from our struggle or our lack in our childhood. We have several conversations that are the cries of what we wish someone would have told us. If we peel back the layers in our parenting or ministry, we get trapped by the idea our kids have the same struggles or desires. As a parent (and previously a pastor), I am guilty of having said, “I just want to give my kids to have what I did not have.” Another way we phrase this sentiment is, “I just want my kids to have a better life.”

Might I say that while all of this may come from a noble place in our hearts, it grossly undermines the individual makeup of a generation we have been called to love and serve.

Consider the following assumptions we make that potentially flow out of these undermining statements:

  • We assume that teens struggle with the same things we did when teaching because of our struggles at their age. 
  • We assume that our teens need or even want to hear the wisdom we wish we heard growing up. 
  • We assume that our teens want the same life we did not have, and we aim to give them what we wish we had. 

Each of these statements deeply undermines this generation’s uniqueness and how God has made them. While there are similarities between struggles, challenges, and even the maturation process during adolescence, how we interpret these situations is different. Going through similar things and interpreting those things differently is based on our primary pain and pleasure points.

What matters to me at the core does not always matter to others at their core. When you add childhood upbringing, home culture in which someone has been or is still being developed, the nuances of interpreting particular messages received become even more significant. 

This became real for me some time ago. I was talking with one of my sons concerning his thoughts on my marriage that ended in divorce. He mentioned that he wished his mom and I had dated and hung out more. At the time, he was about 13 years old. I shared that I understood how he could have that thought and bring that up to me. I know that my son is a very social person who values community. He values including his family and friends, ensuring that all involved are accommodated and have a good time. This is core to who he is. Relational connection is a point of pleasure for him and also a point of pain. Through his point of pain, he mostly read and interpreted his mom and I’s marriage. My other son completely saw a different marriage, one that he wanted to emulate his own marriage (one day) after. This son did not see the marriage in the same way as my other son. His pain point had not been affected or offended. Rather his pleasure point had been incited. So for me to teach my sons exclusively out of my own life, pain and pleasure points would be to miss their hearts. Let’s be clear, at some level, they might hear what I am saying, but to what degree that message takes root in their hearts carries a low percentage.

If my own sons experienced the same marriage differently than I intended to model, how much more is this concept true for those we only see at best a few hours a week? Most influencers don’t have the privilege of living with those they are called to love and serve. Most pastors get to speak to their audience, with the occasional connecting events outside of structured teaching spaces. This rhythm makes missing the heart of Gen Z’ers even more possible, and in some cases, highly likely. 

As a parent, we always have the primary values that we want our kids to pick up. But, if I am honest, this will rarely happen because our kids are not wired like we are. They have different primary points of pleasure and pain. They have been created differently than we have. At best, that which we hope to teach will become a small part in the bucket of what matters most to those we are called to influence. If you don’t believe, ask your audience what message they have heard or what they’ve seen modeled most from you, and then reflect on if that’s what you have meant to communicate. 

To this end, as influencers, we should not teach based on the life we wish we had or the struggles our own life have been plagued with. Instead, we should look to the central point of healing that led us through the pain of our own lives. We called to help this generation believe in that same point of healing while assisting them in exercising that healing in their own lives, according to their points of pleasure and pain, aligned with how they’ve been made. 

Dewayne Hawkins is a Certified Life Coach in Arizona.

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