The Homelanders: A Generation Born in Fear

13 10 2014

Every generation has their own “where were you when” moment.

For me, it was when the September 11 attacks happened.

I was a sophomore in high school, and I remember the day with crystal clarity: listening to our principal choke back tears as she informed us in a school assembly that our country was under attack.

Watching a classmate sob wildly as she received news that her father had missed his flight—which meant his life was spared, as he was originally booked onto one of the fatal flights.

Looking around at my somber friends as classes were suspended and we simply sat on the floors in our classrooms, crying and questioning what the future would look like.

Helplessly watching a teacher—who was born and raised in New York—fret inconsolably about her friends and family members who she couldn’t reach.

It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, and I’m now teaching teens who were infants when America was rocked by the events of that day.Worry

I was mentally unprepared for the comments of my teenagers a few weeks ago, when we discussed the recent terrorist activity in the Middle East that’s been sending shock waves across the world.

As we talked, one of my students said quietly, “The world of terror is all we’ve ever known.”

Please let the gravity of that statement sink in and affect you as profoundly as it affected me.

As I asked my students to elaborate, fears erupted from their mouths. Our kids worry like I’ve never even realized.

My teenagers told me about their fears of terrorists, saying how they get physically anxious—sweaty hands and tense muscles—when their parents watch the news about beheadings and threats against our government.

They also shared how scared they are of school shootings, and admitted that they’re equally worried that it’ll be a classmate or a teacher that goes berserk on them.

They told me how they battle back feelings of nervousness and uncertainty and apprehension every day, as they cope with the fear that the world as they know it may collapse at any moment, without warning.

For those of us who work with youth, this is a primary difference we must realize about this particular generation: it’s a generation born in fear.

More alarmingly, it indicates the deep-seated and unconscious distrust of fellow man.

You see, this generation doesn’t know when, where, or why terrorists might strike innocent people. They can’t fathom why evil individuals would barbarically decapitate and torture people who are trying to make the world a better place.

These kids also can’t understand what causes a classmate to methodically execute his peers in cold blood. They can’t wrap their brains around the reality of one of their own hunting them down.

As a result of not being able to understand the psychology of evil people, I wonder if this generation is growing up to be secretly afraid of everyone, never knowing who exactly might snap—and thus never really trusting anyone.

Backing me on this is White House this week dubbing those born after 2005 as the “Homeland” generation. Though they give no detailed explanation of why this moniker was selected, one can surmise that it’s directly tied to the popular television show that deals with—you guessed it—terror and fear.

Do you realize the profundity of this mindset?

Our teenagers may be growing up secretly afraid of us. They may be unwilling to fully trust anyone, not even trustworthy and beloved adults. The implications of not trusting mankind are complex and worrisome—especially when it comes to things like finances, security, national identity, and the corporate church.

Oddly enough, this generation hasn’t endured the same challenges that the previous generations have dealt with. In America’s past, we had few battles on our continent and thus our danger was more abstract. Our media exposure was limited and controlled by fewer voices, and our nationalism soared as we sought to conquer enemies together. Our country was proud to give up little luxuries and pitch in to help our soldiers.

As technology has advanced, people’s voices have expanded and more diverse populations have come to our country, and our identity as one nation has gradually been eroded. Today, we’re battling a more fragmented society with technology that brings all the evils of the entire world into the palm of our hand.

How can we possibly contemplate a threat from within if we are swamped with weeding out the vast number of evils we confront from all over the world, all day, every day, all the time?

Additionally, when we factor in the threat of widespread virus or disease, such as Ebola, we ratchet up the fear that our kids are feeling. Think of the sinking feeling we get in our gut when we turn on the news and hear about it. Now intensify that feeling and try to understand how an undeveloped brain feels about it. It’s pure dread to our teens.

Perhaps this is one reason why we’re seeing such an influx of clinically depressed and emotionally ravaged young teenagers. They perceive the world around them falling apart, yet they are expected to strive for perfection every day. They’ve had high standards set for their futures, yet they don’t even know if the world will be around in a decade.

Older generations are perplexed, admitting that they never grew up with the depth of fear that our children today are dealing with.

Perhaps one difference is that our past involved a clear enemy who attacked from outside of our country. Now, our enemy is often hiding within, disguised as patriotic Americans or even unknowingly lurking inside our own classrooms.

A primary distinction, of course, is the prevalence of social media and technology in today’s generation. Our students are faced with the bloody and horrifying violence of the news every day mere inches from their faces, on phones and tablets. They can’t escape from it, even as they try to do something as innocuous as chatting with friends online.

I wonder if dystopian literature and movies are trendy right now precisely because they hit on this fundamental fear our children are encountering. Could it be that our students are seeking a way to cope with their fears by projecting their worries into sci-fi scenarios with clearly defined good and bad guys battling against each other?

We often overestimate the emotional maturity of our teenagers—after all, they seem so adult-like in so many ways.

Reality paints a different picture, though. Our teenagers are worried about their classmates and teachers. They fear the future. They’re pained about the world around them. They’re physically stressed out and constantly on edge as they await bad news.

As adults, our tendency is to hug our children close to us in dangerous situations. However, perhaps that’s part of the bigger problem. Our kids are being kept stunted and dependent on us for longer than past generations, which is disabling them from feeling capable of handling these fears.

It’s not a matter of not wanting to expose our children to evil. It’s a matter of preparing our children to face the evil that they will unquestionably encounter in their lifetime.

As adults, our greatest challenge is to have the courage to be responsible adults. Our primary task is to prepare our children to be the leaders of tomorrow. In the words of Tim Elmore, “We must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”

We can’t ignore the problems in our world by turning off the television, but we can wisely process the news with our children.

We can’t just snap at our kids to “get over it” and discount their fears, but we can demonstrate self-control and understanding to a generation that worries incessantly.

We can’t just spout off that it was different in our day and we managed to survive just fine, because this is a new world and the old way has already disappeared.

Every teenager I’ve ever met wants a trusted adult to confide in. Whether that means crying, venting, or processing matter-of-factly, it’s desperately needed. Most importantly, we need to comfort our teens with Christ’s unchanging love and His hope. In this generation steeped in fear, our teenagers will never know peace outside of Jesus—and it’s our job to help navigate them towards this Truth.

Our fervent prayers need to be surrounding this “Homeland” generation as it continues to grow up. These kids need strength and self-control that many generations before them have never exhibited. They’re navigating a world brimming with evil, and they need wisdom and understanding as they wade through these dangerous waters. We must teach them the true cost of freedom and the meaning of right and wrong.

I foresee a return to a united national identity and justice, but we must prepare this generation for the terrible cost of such a lofty goal.

True peace is an ever-constant effort, fraught with setbacks and detours, and it can never be abandoned.

In the words of Thomas Merton, “Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”