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Those Special Millennials

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Today’s teens are a part of the newest, youngest, and largest American generation known as the Millennials. They were born between 1982 and 2002. They have some unique characteristics that require some changes in our youth ministry game plan.

Over this next year, I will be detailing some of the qualities of this present generation and the ministerial implications. If we don’t address these unique characteristics, we risk losing a generation. Today, I want to begin with the fact that they have been hovered over and made to feel “special.”

The Millennials are the most watched, protected, and supervised generation in American history. The pendulum wildly swung from the Gen X teens (born 1961 to 1981) known as the “latch key kids” because they raised themselves to the Millennial parents earning the title of “helicopter parents” because they are always hovering over their children.

Beyond their parents, Millennials are growing up receiving a lot of specialized and personal attention. They are benefiting from recent educational policies that make sure each individual has an opportunity to learn. They watch reality TV were everyone is a star. Many are conditioned by expectations that you will care about them. This became clear to me while conducting a focus group of teens in Wisconsin. They revealed to me that they were very upset that their pastor did not call them by name Sunday mornings and gave them the same penances after reconciliation! (we are unique sinners who deserve unique penances!)

The implications for youth ministry are obvious. The Church needs to be a place where teens feel loved and personally cared for. If we lead them from a distance and through an impersonal programmatic approach, we risk losing them. They value highly and respond positively to relationships. We must truly practice relational ministry in both the larger parish and within youth ministry. We have to be more of a real community.

As Catholics, this can be a particular challenge in light of the recent protection policies developed from the sexual abuse crises. We certainly need to be wise, prudent, and protective of children, but we must be careful—especially with this generation—not to sterilize teens from any meaningful involvement with adults. We need to be relational and protective.

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