Ask Rooted: The Pressure to Perform

Knowing that parents are always eager for wise perspectives on how their teens think and feel, we asked our Rooted youth ministry writers what they would tell parents about the pressure today’s kids feel to perform. We. think you’ll find some insight here, as well as some conversation starters.

Liz Edrington, Fellowship Groups Director and Young Adults Coordinator at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN:

As a counselor, I come across so many teenagers who feel invalidated by their peers and their parents. They fear that “no one else feels like I do” and often believe there will be no escape from the flooding emotions they have. I want parents to understood that validating these emotional experiences as real, legitimate, and meaningful (even if you can’t deduce the meaning) is crucial for helping a teenager (or an adult, for that matter) to walk through them. Their pressure, heart break, or shame will not be easily alleviated by a statement of logic, a Bible verse, or positive framing (E.g. “let’s look on the positive side…”).

We have to practice this with ourselves, as we tend to relate to others’ hearts the way we relate to our own. It can be much easier to ignore, numb, deny, rationalize, spiritualize, or shame ourselves for experiencing our own emotions; but the mystery of Jesus’ empathetic, incarnate presence invites us to identify them, be known in them, honor them, and move through them versus trying to circumvent them. We don’t want to make our camp in something like pressure, heartbreak, or the like, but we don’t want to avoid it, either. Here’s to navigating grace and truth in gentle, curious, compassionate ways with our teenagers and ourselves.

Chris Li, Director of Student Ministry at Living Hope Community Church in Brea, CA:

Pressure is real and powerful for our students. There is pressure from parents, from friends, teachers, pastors, coaches and colleges—even pressure they put on themselves. Pressure can be a good and healthy thing but there is a dark side of pressure that is often unspoken. Students silently struggle alone and find unhealthy ways to cope.

I have a pressure cooker at home, and if pressure is not properly released, it will explode. I would encourage parents to regularly have conversations with their kids to diffuse the pressure. Here are a few questions to start off with:

            1. Who gives you the most pressure to perform?

            2. In what areas of your life do you feel the most pressure?

            3. What does it mean for you to perform well?

            4. What will happen to you if you do not perform well?

            5. How do you deal with the pressure?

I also hope that parents can encourage students to find a gospel community. Sometimes parents can unintentionally pressure students. So sometimes students need to let off steam in a safe place outside the home. Hopefully a leader or friend can listen, show grace, care for them and speak a timely gospel word.

Dave Wright, Coordinator for Student Ministries in the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina:

Last year I finally got an Instagram account. I dont use social media much but was curious about this platform. What I discovered shocked and concerned me. There are so many teenagers and young adults on Instagram purely seeking affirmation. They need someone to tell them they are acceptable. On Instagram it seems to take a lot of affirmation to feel okay about oneself. Both guys and girls post images that relate to exercise, accomplishments, and body image. They have learned the right poses to look their best (hide their imperfections) and garner the most amount of likes. On top of this, I have always worked with high achieving students. The pressure to perform academically, athletically, and socially has not diminished. If anything, social media has increased the pressure.

The truth of the gospel is that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Our worth is not in our physical bodies but in our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7 and Matthew 5:8). Students need gospel truth more than ever now to counter the compounded pressures that they face which are far greater than any generation before them.

Ben Birdsong, Minister of Students at Meadow Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL:

Unconditional love and acceptance is what your students are seeking. Somewhere to be loved, valued, and matter despite their own performance or lack of performance. In their own struggle for identity and to fit in, students feel they live their lives constantly on a stage before judges. Their every move is critiqued and their every failure highlighted. Make your home a safe haven from the life on the stage. Look for ways to encourage your student that they are loved by God and loved by you despite their performance.