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1. Evangelical Ratings

What it is: Research published this week by the Pew Research Center showed that Americans feel more positive than negative about most religious affiliations. People who were not evangelical Christians, however, felt more negative toward that group than they did toward mainline Protestants and Catholics.
Why it’s more complicated than polling numbers: Pew conducted this poll by asking respondents to rate their esteem toward different religious traditions as “favorable” or “unfavorable.” They also point out that many Americans might not feel comfortable rating an entire group of people. Christianity Today aggregated Pew’s data into their own chart, which showed that 32 percent of non-evangelicals felt negatively toward evangelical Christians, and 49 percent of that same group said they didn’t know enough to state an opinion. Americans overall had a 27 percent “unfavorable” view of evangelicals, even when evangelicals themselves were included in that percentage. Of course, public opinion alone is no reason to change one’s personal beliefs, but for evangelicals seeking to share the Gospel, knowing these numbers is important to understanding how their message is being perceived.

2. Risk vs. Reward

What it is: A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that fewer opportunities for independent activity could be contributing to the overall decline in teen mental health.
Why it’s a countercultural narrative: The study’s authors noted several factors that may contribute to less time for today’s children and teenagers to engage in what’s called “self-managed” activity. Previously normalized behaviors, such as climbing trees and roaming through the neighborhood, have been culturally reframed as risky, and well-intentioned parents have aimed to maximize the amount of guided instruction and adult supervision in their children’s lives. But free play has been shown to have a direct correlation to children’s happiness, and without it, it’s hard for kids to establish trust in their own abilities to navigate the world outside of a closely controlled environment. One of the study’s authors put it this way: “If children are to grow up well-adjusted, they need ever-increasing opportunities for independent activity, including self-directed play and meaningful contributions to family and community life, which are signs that they are trusted, responsible, and capable. They need to feel they can deal effectively with the real world, not just the world of school.”

3. No, Please

What it is: The word “please” has officially taken on a passive-aggressive connotation in conversation, according to some linguistics experts (language).
Why the word is evolving: As the Atlantic article demonstrates, the word “please” was originally derived from a four-word phrase: “if it pleases you.” The phrase was then shortened to “if you please” and then “please you.” The current usage of the word “please” presumes that an action will be taken. In other words,  it doesn’t always ring with humility; to some, it indicates entitlement. To the modern listener, “please” can sound more like a curt demand rather than a hopeful request. For adults raised in households where etiquette was tantamount, dropping “please” from our vocabulary might be a horrifying thought. But for parents and caring adults, it’s worth recognizing that “please” (whether used verbally or in text form) may be seen as a sharper weapon than the diluted, “I’d hope you could” or “Would you mind?”—both of which better reflect the original intention of the “if it pleases you” phrasing. If your teen recoils when you use the phrase, it might not be about what you’re saying as much as what they’re hearing.

Song of the Week

“Thinkin’ Bout Me” by Morgan Wallen: Reaching #2 on Apple, #9 on Billboard and #11 on Spotify, this song is about wondering if your ex wishes she was still with you, even though she’s already in another relationship. The wondering becomes this song’s entire fixation. Wallen fans will know that this song is just one of several songs charting near the top from his new 36-song album “One Thing at a Time.” For the lyrics to this song, click here.

Translation: Risk vs. Reward

One of the tasks parents have during the teenage years involves helping their young men and women become responsibly independent. In order for this to happen, our teens need to be taught how to make good decisions on their own. This requires that parents and caring adults begin to occupy not just a position of authority and protection, but also a position of influence and trust.

By asking good questions in conversation, adults can provide good influence for these budding independents. In contrast, when adults constantly tell teens exactly what to do and what to think, we prevent them from learning how to navigate reality on their own. It conveys to them that we don’t think they’re capable of doing that and when teens don’t feel capable, it makes sense that there would be a decline in overall mental health.

Different levels of maturity require different approaches. We see this even in the development of Israel. The first five books of the Bible make up the Torah, which contains and centers around God giving Israel the law. In the same way, when a child is growing up, they also have to be given the law: “Do this, don’t do this; this is good, this is bad; this is right, this is wrong.”

But slowly, they start asking the question, “Why?” And as they grow and mature, they start to learn that the world is made up of more than just  black-and-white scenarios. In the same way, the Bible also segues into wisdom literature, with books like Ecclesiastes and Job, and from there, into the prophetic writings. Speaking through Isaiah, the Lord says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Interactions with (especially older) teens should also segue into more nuanced conversation and interactions, with the goal of helping them to mature and become stronger on their own.

As Dallas Willard puts it in his book “Hearing God,” “Suppose a parent would dictate to the child minutely everything he is to do during the day. The child would be stunted under that regime. The parent must guide in such a manner, and to the degree, that autonomous character, capable of making right decisions for itself, is produced. God does the same.”

Here are some questions to help spark this important conversation with your teens:

  • What’s one thing you feel like you’re getting better at?
  • When was the last time you did something you felt proud of?
  • What’s one thing you think you don’t need as much help with anymore?