Liam’s dad passed away last December after a long bout with cancer. At the age of 14, this military teen faced the death of his father and the subsequent deployment of his mother, an Army officer, in the span of just a few months. His burden seemed almost too much to bear for even the strongest adult I know, let alone a teenager.
But, while living with his grandparents during his mother’s deployment, Liam benefited from leaning on our Club Beyond team, the staff and volunteers of Young Life devoted to reaching military teens, and began to stabilize. His grades started to trend upward, and these days, he regularly meets with Chuck, one of our volunteer leaders, for check-ins, mentoring, and accountability.
As we acknowledge Veterans Day, we must stop and recognize the sacrifices the current 1.6 million military kids in our country are making and their significant role in our nation’s culture and history. Whereas their parents signed up to serve, these children, many of whom demonstrate amazing resilience and strength each day, did not.
For most, the presence of a consistent adult, like Chuck is to Liam, has been the key to keeping them grounded, focused, and able to bounce back. And I believe that all kids, whether military or civilian, crave consistency.
It’s no secret that military kids often move seven or eight times during childhood. This sometimes results in an uptick in risky behavior. Yet, while military kids are vulnerable to precarious situations, studies also show that many typical teenagers are now experiencing a huge increase in grief, loss, and suffering as well. More than two-thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16, including community or school violence, the sudden or violent loss of a loved one, serious accidents, and a plethora of other reported incidents. Moreover, compared to previous generations, Gen Z as a whole is more likely to report poor mental health, perhaps attributable to the stress of living in a digital age.
Our modern world does not always set kids up for success. Still, as adults stewarding our next generation well, I believe we are responsible for shepherding young people today with more intentionality than ever before.
The most important thing we can do for the next generation is simply to be present. If you’re willing to show up and be a positive role model and influence, they’re sold — especially when it comes to watching them do their thing. Kids long to be noticed, recognized, and known.
Nadia was a good kid. She played soccer, loved her friends at Club Beyond, tried her best in school, and was an average American teenager. As a military kid, her parents, who were on active duty, couldn’t attend all her soccer games. Their absence prompted Julie, Nadia’s Club Beyond leader, to spring into action.
Recruiting several of Nadia’s friends, Julia and her crew painted a sign that read, “Go Nadia!” and sat at every one of Nadia’s soccer games, cheering as loud as their little ensemble could. Although somewhat embarrassed, Nadia was secretly thrilled, and she excelled in her sport, with her newfound fan club inspiring her to win the title of all-conference player.
Julia’s consistent presence in Nadia’s life made a difference. We need more adults willing to be in at least one teenager’s corner for months, and even years, at a time. If we all found at least one teenager to invest in, it could mean tremendous results for our local communities and even our world.
Being present matters, and we can only do this by paying attention. If you know a single-parent family at your teenager’s school, check in with that parent to see if there’s a time their son or daughter could join your family at dinner while they’re at work. Or, invite your daughter’s best friend to come over and get ready for the school dance at your house if you know her parents aren’t able to be around.
As adults, we must strive to be attentive to those around us, making sure we’re consistently present for the teenagers in our world — whether they’re military teens processing the loss of a parent, student-athletes craving applause on the soccer field, or the kid needing a home-cooked meal and the ability to sit around the dinner table with family and friends.
The ongoing presence of a caring adult can change a life and maybe a destiny.
Let’s be the biggest cheerleaders on the block for kids — the adults we wished were there for us when we were younger. And as we strive to introduce the world to Jesus, let’s not forget the youngest among us. This is our time. They need us now more than ever.
Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/Ivan Pantic
The views expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of Christian Headlines.
Marty McCarty is vice president of Young Life Military/Club Beyond and Military Community Youth Ministries’ chief executive officer (CEO).
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The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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