Mental Health and Generation Z
In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Jonathan Morrow, Jenny Wang, and Erin Waller Roy discuss how the mental health of Generation Z has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and how the church can better minister in light of their experiences.
- Who is Generation Z?
- What contributes to anxiety in Generation Z?
- How has the pandemic has affected college students?
- Different reactions to the pandemic
- Differences between Millennials and Generation Z
- Student ministry in a pandemic world
- How to find strength during uncertain times
- How can churches partner with mental health professionals?
- Practical methods for coping with anxiety
Mikel Del Rosario: Welcome to the Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendrix Center. And our topic on the Table podcast today is mental health and Generation Z. Going to be talking about how Gen Z has been affected by the pandemic, some mental health issues and how the church and people who work with youth can better minister to people in Generation Z. And I have three guests who are joining me today, all via Zoom. This is actually my first time back in the studio in quite a while. First guest is Jonathan Morrow who we've had on the show before. He is the Director of Cultural Engagement and Student Discipleship at Impact 360 Institute. Welcome.
Jonathan Morrow: It's great to be with you again.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. so good to have you back on the show. And you have a DTS Hendrix Center connection. That' right?
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. Absolutely. So worked for the Center For Christian Leadership there and spiritual formation and loved my time there. It was phenomenal. And yeah. Big fan of Dallas Theological Seminary.
Mikel Del Rosario: Awesome. Well, we're so happy to have you, and the work you're doing at Impact 360 is awesome. I have another guest on the show today coming to us also via Zoom. It's Jenny Wang. Jenny is a licensed professional counselor with the Lifeologie Institute in Frisco, Texas. Welcome, Jenny.
Jenny Wang: Thank you. It's good to be with everyone.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. Good to see you Last time, you had – we had some kind of…I got to see you at an event we did. It seems like a long, long time ago now. But I think it was just last year.
Jenny Wang: Right.
Mikel Del Rosario: You got to help parents think about how to be better administering to their own children; their Gen Z children. So thank you.
Jenny Wang: Thank you. It was fun.
Mikel Del Rosario: Next person we have on is my friend Erin Roy. Erin Waller Roy is the Area Director with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Welcome to the show, Erin.
Erin Waller Roy: Thanks for having me on, Mikel.
Mikel Del Rosario: Now, Erin's DTS connection as we once had coffee at the coffee shop here [laughs] …and she's my good friend from church as well. Well, today we're going to talk about Gen Z. And I want to start in the beginning just talking about how Gen Z has been affected by the pandemic emotionally and spiritually. But first, I want to get a handle on this demographic. So, Jonathan, you partnered with Barna Research Group on a study that was all about Gen Z. Could you help us understand the demographic that we're talking about today? How would you describe them in general terms?
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. So for those of you not familiar with Gen Z, Gen Z is the generation after Millennials. So right now, Gen Z is probably wrapping up college. Like that age, kind of that 1999-ish, you know, birth all the way through. And so, basically if you have a current teenager in the home, if you have a pre-teen in the home, all the way through kind of finishing up college…kind of that age range right there is Gen Z. And so, yeah. So that's the generation we're talking about. And so, we studied that with Barna Group and really kind of looking at what's shaping them and how they're unique and different in ways than Millennials and different ways…and I know the Millennials are all thankful that people are talking about someone else now. Right? [Laughter] Yeah.
So it's like, "Thanks." You know? No. But it's a blast because, you know, every generation is – we have to pay attention. We're wanting to give our faith to the next generation. We want to disciple the next generation. And so, we want to care about what's shaping them, their – not only their world view but also the topic today and their emotional and mental well-being and everything else like that. So yeah. So that's the broad category for people watching.
Mikel Del Rosario: Some people have called them similar to Millennials in all but optimism. What do you think about that? [Laughs]
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. Yeah. I think Millennials tend to be probably a little more idealistic. And I think Gen Z tends to be a little more pragmatic. So I think that's fair. I think from a world view standpoint, they're – in terms of even biblical categories and world view – they're farther from even kind of orthodoxy and biblical world view than their Millennial older brothers and sisters in that regard and things like that. So I think those are some of the trends for lots of different reasons. But in terms of kind of that general outlook, I think you see Gen Z as a lot more pragmatic and kind of, "Okay. Realistic a little bit," than probably some. You know, there's always generalizations…than their Millennial counterparts.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. Well, we're going to put a Link to the study on the Webpage so people can check out that. We're going to come back to these things a little bit later on in the show. But over the summer, Darrell Bock and I did a kind of an apologetics workshop with some high school students over a period of weeks. And one thing that I ask is… I asked them to describe, "How are you feeling right now?" And a number of them said, "Very fragile. More fragile than usual. Overwhelmed. Exasperated." And I want to ask Jenny. I want to ask you. You know, even before the pandemic Gen Z was characterized as people who were suffering from some of the highest rates of anxiety. The National Institute of Health says 1 in 3 teens will experience anxiety or some kind of anxiety disorder. What are some of the things that you feel are contributing to this, even before the pandemic?
Jenny Wang: Yeah. that's a great question. Let me just add to that, I see that in my own practice. I've been practicing for probably about 15 years now; graduated from DTS with Biblical counseling. And I have seen that increase in my own practice – of teenagers with anxiety. And, I mean, I think there's multiple factors. You know, I have to start out with saying that we're probably [laughs] a reason. And when 'm talking about "we," I mean us parents. I have four kids. I have kids from the age of 5 to 15.
So I have, you know – they're all Gen Z. Plus, a lot of my clients are. You know, I think part of it is that we haven't really learned how to deal with our stress very well. And so, we project that in our families; you know, in the way that we kind of raise our kids. I think our households are more stressed these days with all the – all of the things that we juggle at home. And so, you know, I think if parents are able to kind of deal with their stress, they can help the kids as well how to work through that as well. Definitely another one I would say is social media. I mean, there's just…not just information, but there's information. Just all the information that's out there.
And I think, you know, there's FOMO – the fear of missing out; constantly on your phone, with friends, and you don't want to miss out on anything. There's the whole, you know, self-image; like, "How do I present myself? I feel like everything that we show on social media is all the good parts." Right? All the quote-unquote "perfect parts." "So I feel like I need to be that all the time." You know, plus the pressures – I work in Frisco. So a lot of my clients are very high-achieving [laughs]. Plus the pressures, I think, of school and what I have to have on my…well, it's not my resume but on my college applications and all that. So there's multiple things. There's probably even more that, you know – to add onto that list.
Mikel Del Rosario: So how is the pandemic added to that?
Jenny Wang: Well, I think one of the things…so let me just king of add all of this together. I think one of the things is, for us as parents – and I'm including myself. I have to kind of watch myself sometimes…we expect the same things pre-pandemic than post-pandemic. You know? And not realizing that when we're isolated from our friends, when we're at home, when things are changing so much that our kids are not going to achieve as much as maybe they did before – even before it was stressful…it's even more stressful now. So I think that's part of it for kids, for Gen Z. And I think another part is the isolation. You know? The loneliness. I know there's been a lot of articles about having to be apart from their support groups.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Erin, how have you seen, in your ministry, the pandemic impacting Gen Z on campus?
Erin Waller Roy: Yeah. I can speak a little bit to the spiritual impact. I think, Jenny, that's a great summary of the emotional impact for a lot of students. I think spiritually what I'd say generally before the pandemic is that students are probably at their spiritually least healthy when they depart from the rhythms such as they are that they've set up at college. That might be a local church they're connected to. That might be a campus ministry or Bible study; Christian friends. So I see students go home over Christmas Break. They're excited for some rest. When they come back, you know, they feel like they have to rebuild their lives again.
Well, if you take that scenario and then you send students home unexpectedly in the middle of the year for five months, we had a lot of conversations just about daily life rhythms. "How do you get reconnected to your home church or stay connected to the church or in college? Are you going to be willing to get up and go to Bible study when it's another Zoom call on a day that's already been really full of Zoom calls? Will you choose to still connect with community even in ways that feel unsatisfying compared to what you had access to when you were on campus? How will you deal with parental relationships and family relationships and places where there might be strain?"
For some students, going home was a really – you know, was a welcome place to be. And for some students, that's a hard place to be. And so, I think we saw just a lot of spiritual challenges and kind of a winnowing-out of which students were going to be willing and able to press in on some of the ways they were pre-pandemic to prioritizing their relationship with Jesus in college. And I think it's a time of incredible stress.
A lot of opportunity for discipleship but incredible pressure on students to still finish out the semester and now to come back and do a great job when all around them – "Is their school going to close? Are things going to be able to continue as normal?" And some of the trends of isolation that we were seeing and concerned about long before the pandemic for this generation had been, I think, exacerbated by the effects of being away and then being back maybe on campus now but not in the same way that they were before March.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. Jonathan, what are you seeing with your ministry? You're working with students before college as well as college students. How have you seen that affected each of those groups?
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. Absolutely. So at Impact 360, we have a nine-month Christian gap here. And so, we have 18 to 20-year-old's who are on our campus. And so, a lot of things Erin was talking about in terms of going home, re-entry, coming back from parents…that's a big thing. Like, "Well, okay. I just moved out sort of. And now, I'm starting to figure out who I am and who I'm becoming and what my rhythms are going to be. Now I have to go back and re-entry into that world."
But all that. And so, one of the things I think I'm seeing is kind of two-fold; is, one, obviously some of the fragility. Some of those things that you guys have already mentioned. Obviously all the social media, the isolation, the disruption, the disillusionment, the disappointment with things that aren't happening that they were expecting to happen. Everything from sports to plays to, you know, getting together at the church in different ways or whatever that might be. So there's kind of disappointment. But then, there's an opportunity side to that of amazing resilience. And this is the piece where I think we have to be kind of balanced in how we kind of cast vision.
Because the Lord is not surprised by 2020. And Acts 17 reminds us that, you know, the times and the places are determined by the Lord so that we might seek him. And so, you know, this is their moment to be resilient disciples and follow Jesus. And this maybe is not what they picked. But what does it look like for me today to follow Jesus and seek the truth and grow and engage and" – because we've been able to do some of those things; engage in spiritual conversations, still talk to people who are lost; engage – you know, looks a little different but still do those things. Right? And so, there's excitement. There's energy around those things. And so, kind of both of those things together of, "Okay. How are we caring well for them? Are they able to talk and process?"
But also, we're still calling them for something. We're still calling them to grow, and all of those who care about youth and the next generation know – it's just such a unique season where God does so much not only in your life but also uses you in ways that older generations can't have certain conversations or go certain places in different ways, typically. And so, kind of trying to balance both of those factors together. And so, that's kind of one of the things we're seeing here at Impact 360 for all the students but also try to be mindful of kind of, "How you doing?" Process, "What are the things – are there any release valves we can give while at the same time still passing vision for moving forward in the future?" So trying to balance those two together.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm. Are there new kinds of spiritual conversations that you see students wanting to have or in terms of how you prepare them to explain their faith to others? How has that been impacted?
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. That's a good question. I think one of the things that we always try to do is, we always try to equip them to ask good questions in every conversation, obviously, and have clarity if they have opportunity to share the Gospel. So clarity around what the Gospel is. And I've found as we've talked about, you know, there's never been a better time to talk about things of eternal value and life that people are just awake to listen to or right and wrong or justice or, "that's not right," or, "That's not good,' and how God might play into that.
So kind of framing some of those conversations a little differently; just helping them navigate and ask questions. "Hey. How can I pray for you?" You can ask that question. And all of a sudden, 20 other things might come out, and then you're off into a different conversation with either a family member or a friend or roommate or somebody else. And so – or somebody on campus or on a different experience. And so, I think the questions – some of them are the perennials that are always still there.
You know? "Where is God in the midst of things that are disappointing for me in my life and/or purpose? And where does everything look different for me now? How do I navigate that?" So I think some of those things. Some of the existential kinds of questions are definitely forefront. But again. Also, "Hey. Is it true? What's the good news? Where's our help ultimately rooted?” In the resurrection, in the risen Jesus. Right? So he's risen. That's not changing. How do we then live that out in this moment that we're in?" So I think framing around that as we engage and we equip them to engage.
Mikel Del Rosario: Erin, when you're on campus, how much of a spectrum do you see between students who are just super isolated and, say, you know…people say like, “I’m a prisoner in my dorm," and then others who are like, “I'm so over this pandemic thing, and the college parties are going on?” How much of a split do you see in your ministry about how people are responding that way?
Erin Waller Roy: Yeah. I think the kind of critical part of your questions is the seeing. There are students that we will not see because of being on either kind of far end of that spectrum. So I would say that a lot of the fringe members that have been part of our Christian communities on campus, we're hoping to influence. We're excited they're in the room even if they aren't maybe at fully engaged; might fall into that first category you mentioned of, "You know, I’m taking another step back of social engagement." Or, you know, financially or personally they've had to take a physical step back from campus. Right?
They may have stayed remote this semester and not come back at all. But you're right. The other end of the spectrum is people who are pretty [laughs] over COVID and pretty over the experiences having on their campus. And I think you see probably those two extremes a lot in the media. I'd say the more of what I have actually seen on campus is in the middle. I've actually been really impressed with the series with which students have taken the precautions that they're asked to make on SMU's campus fairly often and seeing – you know, driving by, seeing students walking alone outdoors with masks on. You know? So choosing to engage in that kind of level of care even when they're on their own.
And I'd say the students who, again, are willing to take those risks for community – 'cause it is a risk, like, as we gather together in person. And it's also a risk to spend the time that they could take to dig into their studies and try to get ahead in some of the ways Jenny was pointing out. And for those students to risk spending that time with Jesus instead; spending and investing that time in Christian community. You have students this week at SMU doing outreach in person, on campus and also on Instagram. And those are risks that students are still called to take for the Gospel, even as they're balancing these safety questions. [Laughs] The COVID fatigue questions. And of course, like the election and all of the tension that's kind of looming in their worlds.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Jenny, what are you seeing as you talk to teenagers about how they're processing. I know a lot of Gen Z students are angry right now. Where is that anger being directed towards? Mistrust of authority figures. How does all that play into what you're seeing in the counseling room?
Jenny Wang: Yeah. I mean, I'm thinking through – I mean, I have high school students and college students. And my counseling practice, I would say, the majority are actually not Christians. So maybe I can speak a little bit into the non-Christian Gen Z. Because I would love for, you know, people to reach out to [laughs] them, you know, in their anger. Yeah. I will say I have students who are in leadership positions in college, and they've having to tell other students to wear their masks. And that's a lot of pressure for a peer to have to do. I have clients who are – yeah. I mean, I think the anger has more to do with like the…a lot of division that we see. Right? Social justice issues. Things like that.
And so, as a counselor I had a friend of mind, a peer of mine, who said – colleague who said, "You know, our society is so focused on self-care. But really, what we're needing is community care." And I definitely see that with, you know – I'm hearing…I'm a little bit envious of the ministries because they have groups around them. I think a lot of non-Christian Gen Z's, they tend to be a little bit more isolated. It's hard to find that group – especially during this difficult time. I don't know if I answered your question at all, but I'm just thinking [laughs] of my clients and what you guys are sharing.
And I would love for there to be that kind of outreach for people who are struggling. And I think that, you know, my demographic is very different because my Gen Z clients that I see are…they are struggling with anxiety, are ones that are struggling with depression. And so I think when you talk about that anger, you know – depression, anxiety, there are some cognitive distortions there; which means that there's, you know, automatic negative thoughts that we're working through in the counseling office in our sessions. And they're needing community. They're needing people to kind of help them see that there are beautiful things out there, and there are people who want to spend time with them and want to be in community with them and want to share love with them. And I hope God's with them as well. I kind of went off on a tangent. I apologize for that.
Mikel Del Rosario: That's all right. Would you say that the anger that you're seeing is directed more towards the government, or it's parents, other authorities or just the whole situation? And how are they directing that anger?
Jenny Wang: Yeah. Can I say all of the above? [Laughs] Yeah. I would probably say…I mean, my theory – you're going to have me kind of go on another tangent. My theory of counseling is, you know, cognitive behavioral therapy – which is everything that is our thoughts – I do think that that's very…for Christians, we can look at the viable and challenge those automatic negative thoughts. Right? Into the truth and what the word says and what God says about our worth and our value and His love for us. But the other part of my counseling theory is something called attachment theory. And attachment theory has to do with connection and especially connection with our primary caregivers and how that translates in the future with those that we are in relationship with.
So, I mean, I think it all connects together in terms of, "Okay. Is anger directed towards government or parents or" – well, I think it's all….I would have to have a – so when they say that they're angry at the government, I need to dig a little bit deeper and say, "Where does that disconnect come from?" Right? "Is it something to do with, you know, a hurt that you have, a pain that you have from your childhood or from growing up? Well, let's work through that." Yeah. So I see – a client might come in with what we call a presenting problem. "Okay. You know, we're talking about angry specifically. Angry with society at-large. Well, there's a deep pain there that's connected to" – so I don't know if that answered your question. Yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. Lots to think about. It's a very complicated. I have a Gen Z kid myself, and we're all trying to figure it out right now. There's no textbook on how to parent through a pandemic like working with your Gen Z student.
Jenny Wang: Uh-huh.
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. And each personality's different too. Right? 'Cause, I mean, some parenting is…so it's like one might respond in one way, and the same thing is not going to be helpful to another. And that's…
Jenny Wang: That is such a great point, especially if your child has anxiety. You know? You want to tell your child to toughen up. But that's not necessarily what they're needing. They need those steps. They need you to walk with them in terms – in helping them to take those steps working through things. That's a great point. Yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Oh, there is a couple ways we could go here. [Laughs] There's so much to think about. Let me ask Jonathan this a minute. I want to come back to the comment that you just made. Jonathan, there is a Millennial pastor who tried to connect the two generations and kind of see what's different. And he says that for him being a Millennial pastor in a Gen Z ministry, he feels like for his generation, they needed to be told that, "No. You can't actually fix the whole world," and that you are – you do have weakness. But he feels that the Gen Z people need to be told that they can be strong. What do you think about that?
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. It's a good question. So yeah. I think generally speaking, I mean – I think some of the idealism is like "Hey. You know, let's change the world. Let's also wash the dishes and clean up after ourselves along the way." You know, there's a Millennial – and again. That's a negative. That's all of us. But there's a step of only really big, visible things matter to the Lord as opposed…you know, if I didn't build my own nonprofit, start my own platform – if I didn't accomplish all these big, visible things, I haven't done anything.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Jonathan Morrow: So I think there's some of that, obviously. And then, obviously you've got kind of the celebrity activism kind of piece in terms of Instagram influences or YouTube celebrity or whatever that might be. So there's a lot more of that. And even those are starting to shift in how people see things. But I think…I mean, my experience with students – and maybe it's just some of the students that we're around here – is, I do see a lot of strength. What I would impassion…but there's not as much clarity. I think there's more confusion about what to aim it at.
So for example. I think if I was going to put underneath it…I think there's a crisis of knowledge. We don't talk about that. That's kind of the under-the-surface kind of thing where I don't think many people think there's really moral and spiritual knowledge anymore. And because they make that assumption, things about purpose, right and wrong, goodness – all of those things, those are left to kind of, "Well, just do what you feel. You do you. You've going this culture of relativism," all this stuff. So you have people running to go do "good" quote-unquote in all sorts of directions. And they're slamming into one another. And then – so you've got those elements.
And so, you have the idealism, the pragmatism. Now you throw a global pandemic on top of that in this coming-of-age season. And so, I think you're seeing them strong in some ways and really hesitant in others. For example. I'll make one example. There's a big difference being judgmental and making evaluations. Nobody – I mean, none of us…no one I know, students, "Hey," wakes up in the morning, "Hey. Can I be please judgmental and self-righteousness." No one does that. Right? And yet, there's a real hesitance to offend. There's a real hesitance to evaluate. Because tolerance is seen as agreement in our culture.
And that's just not true. Tolerance is giving people the right to be wrong about things and then talking about those things. The strength in those conversions isn't happening as much for a lot of reasons; the social media, all of those kinds of things in terms of the way people kind of come after different people. So you see hesitance to be strong on the things that really, really matter. But you see strength in kind of this, "Well, this is who I am," this kind of self-definition piece. Which is really subjective, and that could be a really good thing, or it could be a really not-so-good thing according to God's good design, for flourishing, all that or not.
And so, you see this strange mix of kind of hesitancy and strength. And I almost wish they were flip-flopped where they were a little more hesitant on the self-perception identity pieces – you know, especially as a teen. Look. I mean, none of us had it figured out as teenagers. We're all starting to figure it out – you figure out new things at different stages about your identity. I would love to see a little less confidence there in terms of assertions about who I am for the next 60 years and a little more increase of confidence about what is good, what's true, what's beautiful, what's right, what's wrong, what I'm called to do objectively and lean into that.
And so, I think in discipleship I think that's a real gift we can give to Gen Z – is helping them spend time wrestling with those internal questions but also saying, “You know what? You can be confident in the direction of these.” And this is where a lot of fulfillment, meaning, purpose and goodness and hope is going to come, when you live that out. And you don't have to wonder about these core things. And so, that's kind of a broad way to answer your question. But that's how I would start – I would kind of parse some of those things out if that makes sense.
Mikel Del Rosario: Erin, who are you on your campus ministry encouraging students nowadays in terms of, how did you guys have to pivot in terms of the messaging? And how do you help people spiritually?
Erin Waller Roy: Like, we committed in every way possible. [Laughs] I mean, you guys are all parts of churches and ministry. So you know nothing feels the same as it was six or seven months ago. I'd say the biggest pivot I've seen is an increased desire to use and redeem social media in this season; particularly Instagram. Instagram just feels like a much bigger part of my world as a campus ministry practitioner than it did six months ago. So recognizing that students aren't going to wander down a hall, and the students that peek into a room, see an event, hear the music, see that these people like each other, maybe wander through the door. Instead, they're going to see our Instagram stories. They're going to see a peek into the ministry that happens that way.
And so, we've had to become a lot more self-conscious, I think in good ways, about how we represent our ministry, how we represent our hope in Christ through social media, and, "How do we encourage students to engage well with their peers where their peers are?" Which in this season is more online and is more in those spaces. Without [laughs] our students falling into some of the traps that Jenny was laying out. Right? Social media has a huge impact on this generation and how they see themselves and others so how do we have our students leaders on Instagram maybe daily sharing about the work we're doing within InterVarsity, inviting people into that community, creating a hospitable presence where people can engage without then also [laughs] going down this vortex of their own social media usage and managing perceptions of themselves?"
I think there's also been a shift…so as much as – I mean, we're an Evangelical organization. We're oriented towards outreach – like as Jenny describes her clients who don't have Christian community, I long to be in their lives. You know, long to make that available to them. But at the same time, we're trying to focus on, "who are the students who are coming?" How do we be faithful to discipling and developing the students who are learning to stay the course in this pandemic?"
I think a lot of that has been a trend we've been on the last few years but an increasing way to help students to look at spiritual disciplines and, "What are the building blocks of their daily life and walk with Christ?" I actually found one of my most enjoyable aspects of being a minister during the pandemic was, I felt like I got to talk about students' real lives with them at a deeper way than I had been, say, like in February [laughs] to March. Because now, we're talking about things like, "How are you using your cell phone? Are you reading the news? Like, is the news the last thing you're reading before you go to bed? Is Instagram the last place you are before you go to sleep? How do carve out space even there for prayer?
How do you set healthy limits to yourself to say, "I probably need to check on the global pandemic once today. And I might not need to check on it 15 times." And those are conversations I long to have with students in normal times, but the pandemic and I think students' awareness of their own spiritual and emotional needs give a lot of opportunity for having those conversations. And I think pivoting into talking more about spiritual disciplines, more about, 'how are we walking daily with Christ," has been a really important part of how our ministries have responded differently now than we were a year ago.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm. Wow. Those are really practical things that we can take away from how you're now engaging with students. Sometimes social media gets a bad wrap for all the negative stuff, you know, and rants and fear of missing out and all that. And certainly, even today there's that going on where students are comparing themselves to, "How come these people are like hanging out at a party all by themselves with no masks," and what not, "And we're doing this with our families." So there's that. But there's also the positive ministry side that you guys are able to do.
So that's amazing. I want to come back to Jenny. I want to – there's so many things that I wanted to come back to. But let me just pick up one of these things. In terms of our messaging now, encouraging people to be strong and giving them hope in Christ, there was a college professor who, at their school, they said, "Hey. The exams are going to be optional at this point. But it's up to the prof." And so, the prof sent out this email that was like, "When this pandemic is over, you have to be able to look back and say, 'I was strong.' And so, we're not going to cancel our exams in the class." Well, apparently he had caused so much anxiety with that particular email he had to take it back and apologize for what he had written 'cause it had caused so much anxiety amongst his students. So my question is, "Is it ever harmful to tell someone to be strong?"
Erin Waller Roy: That's a good question. You know, I'm thinking about…who is it that wrote the Grace-Based Parenting?
Jonathan Morrow: Tim Kimmel.
Erin Waller Roy: Tim Kimmel. That's right. You know, I'm thinking about just his stories about when he prayed with his kids. You know, I've taken that with my children as well; to pray that God would help you be strong. Right? And I think, like – I don't think it's…I think that, yes, it can be harmful to tell our kids sometimes to be strong when –if they take it as an, 'I need to be strong on my own strength. Like, it's up to me because I'm feeling – if I'm feeling anxious right now, if I'm feeling like I can't cope with things right now" – I have a child who has panic attacks. And when he's having a panic attack, I start getting panicky.
So really, it's my own anxiety. Right? I start getting like…even as a counselor, sometimes I feel like I'm overwhelmed. Like, "How do I help them?" My natural, automatic thing I want to do is to tell him, "You can do it." Like, "You can be strong. Like, you can do it." You know? But I know that I need to work through my won anxiety, take a deep breath, tell him, "Let's pray about this together." You know, pray that, "God will help you feel" – but then help him with his coping techniques; help him breathe.
You know, just tell him, "One step at a time. He knows that if he goes outside that helps a lot. Like, if I can give him the tools and take him…you know, he's little still. He's still, you know, a young child. If I can help him, then I know that he's – it's my strength. Right? That's the thing. I think if I can share anything with our viewers, it's that as parents, as leaders, as adult leaders, we're the ones…our strength is what our kids are needing to lean on during this time. Our strength and God and Christ. Right?
And obviously that they don't have the tools right now as young kids or young adults. Their brains are still developing. What they say up until age 25, "We are their leaders that God has placed in their lives. We're the ones that can help them." One of the biggest things that I can tell my teen clients is, "You're not alone. I’m with you in this." Yeah. So I think if the message is, "You need to be strong on your own," then I think that can be difficult and hard and damaging. But if the message is, "You know, let's pray for God's strength in your," or, "I'm here. You're not alone," then I think that kid…that is supportive, and that is…yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario: That's good. Yeah. I go think we need to balance that. There is a realism that comes from admitting your weakness. But the call to be strong not in your own strength but with the Lord…that's a whole different thing. Right? So Paul can tell the Corinthians, "I boast in my weakness," but he can also say, "Stand firm the faith. Be courageous." Right?
Erin Waller Roy: That's right. Yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario: And we need to strength of the Holy Spirit really to do this. Yeah. It's just not something that we can do on our own. What are some-
Jonathan Morrow: And you can be courageous and still have, you know….be afraid of something. So both of those can co-exist in the same way that, you know, Jenny was talking about. And so, anyway.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. No. That's a really good point as well. Yeah.
Erin Waller Roy: And if I can add on that…Mikel, am I allowed to interrupt you and add onto that?
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. Please.
Erin Waller Roy: [Laughs] I'd just say this has felt like such a unique time in ministry because, instead of leaning on the things that God has done in our own lives in the past and helping students walk through something I walked through as a college student however many years ago, I'm now helping students walk through something that I'm also walking through live and helping my staff walk through something that's live for me. It's not like I have, you know [laughs] cope-with-pandemic checked off my to-do list, and now I can help others.
But I think that that's a posture of Christian humility in which we get to lead to say, “Not, you know, these things were helpful to me a decade ago, but these things are helping me right now. I need to read the news less often and pray more often. And that's why I'm encouraging you to do that." And I think I've seen students really – I think students really enjoy getting to hear the realness of our own lives and walks with Christ in this season and that we're impacted by these things too; we're struggling with these questions too. And the kind of strength that Jenny is talking about is coming out because we're engaging with the Lord and because He is meeting us and He is providing for us in this season.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Really does give us the opportunity to come alongside and say, "We're going through this together, and let's ask the Lord to help us because we're all dealing with it in different ways." As parents, as students, teenagers. Jenny, how can you give advice to churches who want a better partner with mental health professionals? Because there are some things that pastors, youth pastors, recognize. They just don't have the clinical expertise to handle…so how would you encourage a church to be more proactive about partnering with mental health professionals?
Jenny Wang: Yeah. That's a great question. Thank you so much for asking it. So here in Frisco, we have partnered with Stonebriar. Stonebriar I think might be actually a great example. Because I think it was last year. Last year seems so long ago. It seems like five, ten years ago. But last year, they had a luncheon for just area counselors. And they, you know, just kind of said out there that they wanted to partner with the therapists in the area. And, you know, churches definitively are front lines. If you don’t mind me sharing the story, this kind of showcases the strength of this kind of partnership between churches and therapists.
I had a young teen who Stonebriar realized was having some difficulties and some struggles in life. And I saw her for, you know, a – maybe six or eight sessions that the church paid for. So that's another way that churches can come alongside, if that they have a fund that can help their congregation with therapy costs. And, you know, I saw her for a few sessions. And, you know, they went fine. She got the tools that she needed. And then, you know, a year later she was able to tell her parents, "I'm struggling right now with the pandemic. I think I need to go see Jenny again." You know?
And after the session, she was like, "You know, I can tell that I'm more ready for therapy than I was last year." You know, she was asked to go by the church. She saw some struggles. But that wasn't necessarily her choice. But this time, it was her choice. And to be able to say, "You know, I can ask for help when I'm struggling. And, you know, I have leadership. I have church leaders who will support that for me," I think is one of the joys that I have, you know, in what I do. So I would love for more area churches to be able to partner with Christian therapists that they trust and that they have a partnership with that we meet together regularly so that they know that we're not sharing anything that they don't want us to share.
Mikel Del Rosario: And can campus ministries and other peer church groups do that as well?
Jenny Wang: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I'm sure that a lot of them do. I also have some clients who have come through peer church organizations. Yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario: Well, our time is rapidly getting away from us. We got about five minutes left. Let me leave us with this question. I'll have each one of you respond to this. How can parents and adults who work with Gen Z or parents of Gen Z students – how can we help them cope with uncertainty and anxiety? Just some really, really practical tips. Let me start with Jonathan.
Jonathan Morrow: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. You know, I think a couple things. I think this is just a good principle in general – especially all of us who work with other students or in a ministry or a church context or a campus ministry or counseling. As a parent, sometimes we forget to have the lens that we would have if somebody else came and asked us the same question that wasn't in our immediate household, "How might we respond to them," without all the context and" – so meaning, like, if a student came to me and was struggling with X, Y or Z, what questions would I ask, and how would I relate to them? Would I be gracious and kind as a default? Right?
Because they're a student – they're somebody I'm trying to minister to. You know, sometimes in our own families we kind of skip that step of kind of that initial lens of kindness and awareness or even objectivity sometimes. I mean, I'll admit it as a dad, "Yeah. I'm close to this. I care about this." You know, at the same time, if a parent is watching this, it's good to say, "Just because my son or daughter is coming to me with a question or a doubt or an insecurity or an anxiety or something like that, it doesn't mean that everything is falling off the…I just say, "How are you doing? Tell me about that. Say more about that."
Draw them out. You know? "And tell me about – say more about that. Tell me more," is a great question. And just until they kind of keep talking. You know? And so, kind of that framing. Because in our – and then I'll be quiet because I know there's other great wisdom that you guys have more on this than me. But I think it's so easy sometimes because parent are so close they don't see it the same way as if they kind of stepped out of themselves a little bit and said, "Okay. Well, if my best friend's son or daughter came over and asked me the very same question or was struggling with the same thing, how would I relate to them?" I think that's just a good mindset shift to sometimes, you know, look at some of these things.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. No. That's good advice. It comes to you not during office hours, right? It comes to you at 11:00 o'clock at night when your son or daughter wants to talk to you. And you're like, "I'm in the middle of something right now." But how would you approach that if that was somebody who came to you during your quote-unquote "ministry time"? Right? Erin, what would you say?
Erin Waller Roy: Oh. It's a good question, Mikel. For me, I think the bedrock – you're coming back to the basics with students. My own son is a toddler, so I can't speak to the parenting from that perspective. But I know with students – one of my best moments of this semester is sitting down with a student – Bailor, who I'm coaching – and saying, "You know, I'd love to spend some time in Scripture together today." And she said, "I was really hoping we would do some Bible study."
And that just pierced my heart, right, that I have all these practical things I want to talk to her about to help her succeed and thought, "No. I need to prioritize that we spend time together in Scripture," and that that's the place that we're coming back to as we do ministry and as she learns to walk with Jesus in the season. And so, I think coming back to those basics of, "How can I be praying for you? Where can we be in Scripture together?" Even in simple, basic [laughs] ways. It wasn't a fantastic, in-depth Bible study that day. But the very act that we're going to come back to the Lord with the things that are on our plates I think is how I've been served in this season and how I hope to serve others.
Mikel Del Rosario: Well, thanks for sharing that. Jenny, how would you respond?
Jenny Wang: Yeah. I love all our answers. They're all my subject. Mine will be what – specifically with anxiety is to move your body. [Laughs]
Mikel Del Rosario: Good point.
Jenny Wang: Yeah. You know, and it's neat. I think about David dancing, worshipping God. I think a lot of times we're so in our head – when anxiety's actually a very physical thing. We feel it very physically. So, I mean, I do this with my kids, with my clients. I would say move in some way; be aware of what you're – how you're feeling in your body. And dance. You know? And move around and walk around. And yeah. Be outside. [Laughs] It's okay to be outside right now. [Laughs]
Erin Waller Roy: Amen.
Jonathan Morrow: Yes. Go outside.
Mikel Del Rosario: Very good advice. Yeah. When the pandemic hit, I – to be honest, I'll be a little personal on the show and say I struggled with some anxiety as well. But the Lord really helped me through it. but part of that was, I became quite a fitness dude. [Laughs] And I just like running, working out every day pretty much, and I lost 20 pounds since the pandemic started. Kind of a latent function when you feel your heart beating a little harder, you're like, "Yeah. I felt this this morning when I was running."
So it just kind of helped a little bit. And so, that's certainly part of it; relying on the Lord. We need to point people to the hope we have in Christ and no just say we can do it on our own strength. So there's that Biblical humility that comes from recognizing our weaknesses and then the call to be strong but not in our own power but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Well, thank you guys so much for joining us on the show today. It's been amazing to have the three of you share your wisdom. Thanks, Jonathan.
Jonathan Morrow: All right. Thanks for having me. Great to meet you.
Mikel Del Rosario: And thank you, Erin.
Erin Waller Roy: Oh, a pleasure. Thanks.
Mikel Del Rosario: And thanks again, Jenny.
Jenny Wang: Thank you so much. That was so fun.
Mikel Del Rosario: And we thank you so much for joining us listeners and viewers once again on the Table today Please Subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts, and we hope to see you again next time here on the Table where we discuss issues of God and culture.
About the Contributors
Dr. Mikel Del Rosario is Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, Adjunct Professor of Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics ministry. He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies with an Emphasis in New Testament Studies from DTS, a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.