What parents of younger kids are asking the church
By Aaron Wilson
Caleb and Amy are two members of your church. Caleb is in second grade and is excited about his upcoming Super Mario themed birthday party. Amy, a teenager, recently got her driver’s license and is eager to begin her first summer job.
While Caleb and Amy may not think they share much in common, both are members of Generation Z—a population currently bookended by young children on one side and young adults just entering their 20s on the other.
While much modern research on Z’s focuses on those who are older, younger Z’s have parents in your congregation who are hungry for spiritual leadership that speaks to the unique challenges their kids face. Here are three questions parents of younger Z’s want church leaders to help them answer.
How do I navigate technology with my kid?
Perhaps no event more clearly divides younger and older Z’s than 2007’s invention of the iPhone. Older Z’s grew up learning smartphones alongside their parents.
Younger Z parents, on the other hand, had a significant head start over their kids and are well-informed about technology’s dangers, such as sexting, pornography, and online bullying.
As a result, parents of younger Z’s are nervous about how to protect children who are asking for their own phones. A Nielsen study in 2016 found close to half of kids (45 percent) who have a mobile phone and service plan, received it between the ages of 10 and 12.
This makes the question, “When do I give my children their first smartphone?” one of the most pressing issues facing parents of younger Z’s.
When a child receives a smartphone isn’t as important as the parental training that surrounds the event, says Bekah Stoneking, who edits children’s curriculum at LifeWay Christian Resources.
“Putting age and time limits around technology is wise, but it’s not the whole answer,” says Stoneking, a former second-grade teacher and children’s minister. “Modeling right behavior and giving opportunity for guided practice is what helps kids use technology responsibly.”
Your church can help encourage this discussion by having parents write articles on your church website or news bulletin about navigating technology with their kids.
Also consider holding classes for parents to examine the heart issues behind the use of new technologies. A good resource for this is the new book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, by Tony Reinke.
How do I help my kid, who hates to read, engage Scripture?
Older Z’s grew up on the tail end of the Harry Potter series and during release of The Hunger Games books and movies. They watched older siblings line up at midnight to buy books and grew up with a cultural phenomenon that told them reading was cool.
Younger Z’s, however, have never had a book series define them in this way.
The statistics reflect this. Common Sense Media reports that in 1999, children ages 2 to 7 were read to for an average of 45 minutes per day. In 2013, that number dropped to about 30 minutes.
In 2014, the number of 13-year-olds who said they rarely or never read for pleasure was 22 percent, a statistic that’s almost tripled over the last three decades.
These trends are sobering for Christian parents who want to instill in their children a worldview that revolves around a book—God’s Word.
Jana Magruder, director of kids ministry at LifeWay, recognizes the need to teach Z’s Bible skills while also meeting them where they are. This is one reason LifeWay creates apps for each of its main curriculum lines, she says.
“While we know most kids don’t use iPads and iPhones at church, they’re going home where the technology is. Christian apps can be tools for parents to quickly review what their kids are learning each week.”
Your church can also host reading programs with incentives throughout the year to help kids get excited about reading. And if your church is connected with a Christian school, consider hosting book fairs in the spring and fall.
LifeWay Christian Stores provide a free summer reading program for kids and also partner with churches and Christian schools to host book fairs designed to draw kids into the Word.
How do I teach my kid about patience?
Younger Z’s have never known a world without streaming media or two-day shipping. According to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the average willingness for a person to wait for an online video to load is only two seconds. For younger Z’s, these norms feed a sense of immediate expectation.
Jenna Gerringer, a fourth-grade teacher in Gastonia, North Carolina, laments that her kids now bring these speedy expectations into the classroom.
“They’ll hand in a test and immediately ask what they got as a grade,” says Gerringer. “I’m looking at them saying, ‘You seriously just put it in my hand; did you see me grade it?’”
A church’s worship service can be a great place for younger kids to learn patience. Kids not only sit still and listen but also absorb content leading them to ask their parents questions about communion, prayer, baptism, and other parts of Christian worship.
Consider ways your church culture can welcome kids into the service without making parents feel uncomfortable when their kids are disruptive (it will happen).
AARON WILSON (@AaronBWilson26) is associate editor of Facts & Trends and the father of two rambunctious lowercase z’s.