Ushering 20-to-30-year olds to counseling


Raising church kids in the suburbs may be setting them up for psychological distress in their 20s and 30s. A few weeks ago at a youth group from a very large church in a middle class suburb of St. Louis, I asked the following question: "What are your parents doing to you right now that will probably guarantee that you will be in counseling when you're in your 20s and 30s?"

I knew about the nearly irreversible lacerations of divorce or the nuclear fallout when negative comments about appearance are delivered to daughters. I was shocked by the other laments. Here is just a small sample from that night.

Parents should not say, "I wish I never had." Parents should refrain from "name calling," telling their son that he's "not manly enough." The following is ushering kids right into counseling later in life: "Babying," "over-punishing," "not accepting their [child's] preferences" (meaning that children should be free to have different interests than parents), "putting a lease on a child"(literally), "showing favoritism with other siblings," "living their lives through their children," and "spoiling their kids."

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The mood in the room grew even more gloomy as students mourned "being ignored," parents "being absent from home," "giving up on difficult kids," offering "negative comments about physical appearance," fathers being "too passive," parents "overprotecting" their kids, "pressuring to be the best among [our] peers," "not saying 'I love you,'" having "too high of expectations," "constantly fighting," girls not hearing that "[they] are beautiful."

Once this dam broke the youth pastor had to cut it off so he could give his talk about how the Gospel addresses all of their issues related to past pain. Many hands were still up in the air. It was sad. Dr. Madeline Levin, in The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (2006), summarizes new national data saying, "America's newly identified at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country." It seems that this is no different in churches of affluence. What happened?

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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