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Why Do Teenagers Think the Way They Do?

By Dr. Glen Schultz

We can never underestimate the power of one’s mind. Consider what the Bible has to say about the power of the mind. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

How and what a person thinks will eventually determine how he lives. I learned a little saying years ago that has proven to be quite true: “Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny!”

In the forward of my book, Kingdom Education, Josh McDowell wrote: “The ideal way to help our kids not only reject the postmodern worldview but also embrace deepened Christian convictions is to align church, home, and school into a unified whole that arms our children with the truth and protects them from distortions.”

This is where we need to give major attention. Parents, pastors, church leaders, and Christian educators must renew their minds and be equipped with a biblical worldview if they are going to have the ability to change the way their children think and act. We must renew our minds before we can teach others to do so. What worldview will we pass down to the next generation?

Influence Teens Receive from Church, Home, Media, and School I was scheduled to speak in a session for the youth leader track at a one-week training for church leaders on an important topic: why teenagers think the way they do. I said to the attendees, “I realize a lot of leaders in the Church want to know why teens are thinking the way they do. Before I can address this topic properly, I need you to share with me some important information. Would you please tell me how the average teen in your church thinks.” Many hands went up as different leaders told me their teens displayed these characteristics:

  • Disrespectful to authority

  • Materialistic

  • Expected immediate gratification

  • Conformers to culture

  • Selfish

  • Possessed a victim mentality

  • No accountability

  • Sense of entitlement

I then asked these church leaders several more questions:

Question 1: How many hours of biblical instruction does the average teen receive at your church each week?

The youth pastors started giving me a wide range of hours. One youth pastor told the group his students received between eight and ten hours of instruction every week at his church. It was interesting to watch other youth pastors from other churches challenge his estimate. After they got him to rule out pizza parties, game nights, etc., the group settled on between two to four hours of biblical instruction each week at church. A short time ago, I heard a children’s pastor share a study that shows the average child attends church for approximately 1.4 hours per month. For the sake of this article, we will stay with the answer of two to four hours these church leaders gave.

Question 2: How many hours of biblical instruction does the average teen in your church receive at home each week?

This question led to an interesting discussion. They were adamant the teens at their churches were not getting any biblical instruction in their homes. I then asked how many people in the room had children or teens living at home with them. The vast majority of them did. So I asked them if it was true their own children were not receiving any biblical instruction in their homes. After some more discussion, the group hesitantly responded that teens in their churches might be receiving between one to two hours of biblical instruction each week at home. They may be busy taking their children to school, ball games, shopping, dance or music lessons, and a host of other activities, but not much biblical training seemed to be going on in the homes of these churches.

Question 3: How many hours of influence does the average teen in your church receive from the media each week?

There was an immediate reaction to this question. Everyone agreed the average teen receives between five to six hours of influence from the media each day. When asked how many days per week this is taking place, they were unanimous in their answer: at least six days every week. That totaled up to 30-36 hours of influence from the media each week.

Question 4: How many hours of instruction does the average teen in your church receive from school each week?

The participants explained how all of their students went to school, and the average school day was six hours in length. Since school meets five days each week during the school year, it meant their teens were receiving approximately 30 hours of instruction each week at school.

I then asked the participants to elaborate more on their answers to questions three and four. I wanted to hear what type of influence their teens were receiving from the media and school. Specifically, I asked how much of this influence was secular and how much of it was Christian. Notice that I didn’t ask how much of this influence was biblical. I expected them to say this influence was 50% secular and 50% Christian or possibly a 40% to 60% ratio between secular and Christian influence. They were adamant the media’s and the school’s influence was 100% secular. My next step was to total the influence teens were receiving from these four different sources. The results were very revealing.

The average teen in these churches received between three to six hours of biblical instruction each week from the home and church. The average teen in these churches received between 60-72 hours of secular influence each week from the media and the school.

They Have Been Taught to Think That Way

After receiving the answers to my questions, I announced to the group I was ready and able to answer the question: Why do teenagers think the way they do? Your teenagers think the way they do because they have been taught to think that way! A solemn silence fell across the room that seemed to last for several minutes. I waited for someone to respond. Then I saw one pastor raise his hand and with tears coursing down his cheeks said, “I am afraid you are absolutely right!” Then another pastor quietly asked, “What can we do to change this?” I saw many heads nod in agreement. These church leaders knew something had to change immediately or they would continue to lose their students to the world.

Quite a few years have passed since that conference, and I have asked myself many times: “Have things gotten any better in our churches?” Unfortunately, what those church leaders described over 15 years ago hasn’t improved. Instead, it may be even worse today.

The influence of the church and home has not increased and may have actually decreased over the past decade. The influence on today’s teenager from the media and school is still close to 100% secular in nature.

Recent studies show today’s youth have absorbed some additional ways of thinking that only add to the dangerous conditions I heard about at that conference. Some of these ideas are:

  • My purpose in life is to be happy

  • I’m not worth anything unless I’m beautiful

  • My life can’t be complete without ______________

  • Don’t judge—just coexist, and be tolerant

  • Be true to yourself, and follow your heart

Do you see the young people you serve each day exhibiting the type of thinking mentioned above? Are there other things you are observing in their lives that cause you concern?

A Reaction I Didn’t Expect The church leaders at that conference understood the serious condition their church families were in, and they were desperately asking for help. I presented a plan of action I believed would change the way their teens were thinking. It started with the need for parents to take control of how their children were being influenced through the media. Everyone agreed the influence from the media had to be more controlled by parents.

Then I presented some biblical principles that tell us how God wants us to educate our children. I began listing these principles on the whiteboard along with the corresponding Scripture references. These are the same principles that I included in my book Kingdom Education: God’s Plan for Educating Future Generations.

The education of children and youth...

  1. is the primary responsibility of parents.

  2. is a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week process that continues from birth till maturity.

  3. must have as its primary goals the education of and discipleship of the next generation.

  4. must be based on God’s Word as absolute truth.

  5. must hold Christ as preeminent in all of life.

  6. must not hinder the spiritual and moral development of the next generation.

  7. if and when delegated to others by parents, must be done by teachers chosen with utmost care to ensure they all follow these principles.

  8. results in the formation of a belief system or worldview that will be patterned after the belief systems or worldviews of the person’s teachers.

  9. must lead to true wisdom by connecting all knowledge to a biblical worldview frame of reference.

  10. must have a view of the future that includes the eternal perspective.

It was when I wrote down principle #6 that it happened. Suddenly, one youth worker spoke out and interrupted the presentation. She firmly stated, “We can’t follow these!”

I was a little shocked, and I asked her if she thought these were biblical principles. She said, “Yes, these are biblical principles, but we can’t follow them.”

Puzzled, I asked, “Why can’t you follow these?” Her answer wasn’t what I expected. She said, “If we follow these principles, we would have to pull all of our children out of public school.”

I explained to her that the word “school” is not mentioned in any of these principles because these are universal biblical principles that apply to the total education of children and youth. She agreed with me but went on to explain that public schools do not follow these principles so we couldn’t leave our children in them.

I then asked her if she was saying that we can’t obey what the Bible says if it means we would have to change the way we educated our children. She emphatically said, “Yes, that is what I am saying!”

My next question was, “Why wouldn’t you obey Scripture even if it meant you would need to provide your children with another form of education?” Her answer was something I had heard many times before: “We can’t take our children out of public school because they are the only Jesus lost students will see.”

Fortunately, I had left how the teens in these churches were thinking on the whiteboard. Pointing to the list on the board, I asked, “Is this the way teens at your church think?” She nodded her head, yes. Then I asked her, “Where do you see Jesus anywhere in this list?” She didn’t reply.

Consistent Theology of Life A few months later, I was invited to a meeting of the Discipleship Department at LifeWay. The director wanted me to present these biblical principles of education to the leadership of his department. As I presented the principles, a similar reaction took place. One of the leaders interrupted me and said, “I don’t like this ‘abandonment’ language.” I asked what he meant by his statement. He replied, “This is language that would mean we had to ‘abandon’ the public schools.” Again, I reminded this group that there is no mention of school anywhere in these principles.

I responded, “Suppose a new family moved into your neighborhood. You visited them, and you soon were convinced the entire family had accepted Christ as their Lord. However, you also found out they were attending a local Mormon church. What would you do?”

He replied, “Of course, I would explain to them they needed to be in a strong, Bible-believing and teaching church.” To which I quickly asked, “You mean you would ‘abandon’ that Mormon church?”

In both of these situations, the same dangerous condition existed. These church leaders were living a compartmentalized life. What they would never allow in their “church lives,” they would fully embrace in all other areas of life—even if it meant they would have to violate biblical principles! My challenge to both groups was quite simple. You need to develop a consistent theology of life.

This is the same condition I find in today’s Church. It is time to stop living out a sacred/secular divide in our lives. As Nancy Pearcey writes, “Either Christianity is total truth or it is not truth at all.” It is time for us to develop a consistent theology of life no matter what changes it will demand of our lives. What we decide to do today will impact how the next generation thinks and acts.


Dr. Glen Schultz has given his life to educating future generations according to God’s plan. After five years in public education, he entered the field of Christian education where he has been a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent. He has directed the Christian school work at LifeWay Christian Resources, served as the Association of Christian Schools International Southeast Regional Director, Superintendent of Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Headmaster of Sherwood Christian Academy. Currently, Dr. Schultz serves as founder and director of Kingdom Education Ministries. He is the author of Kingdom Education: God’s Plan for Educating Future Generations and several parenting booklets. Glen and his wife, Sharon, have three children and six grandchildren and live in Summerville, SC. He is a member of the Renewanation Board of Directors.


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