What’s Hard About High School?
Searching for Answers
“The high school age group needs so much attention,” says Siri Hodges, staff at InterVarsity’s Pioneer Pacific Camp. Siri leads high school-aged campers in a three-week program called Pioneer Youth Crew.
“A lot of students in this age group leave the faith . They have so many genuine questions and they’re looking for answers.”
High school is unique in that it’s a starting point for young people to begin forming their own identities, trying new things and testing their limits. But with that comes new possibilities and pressures.
High schoolers who are followers of Jesus may have an added pressure.
“They don’t have many friends in their high school who are Christian, if any at all,” says Ben Holwerda, another staff with Pioneer Youth Crew. “Even if they do, they may not act like they’re Christian because they’re embarrassed.”
According to a study in Child Development, “‘Forming strong, close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience.’” Quality over quantity of friendships is what matters.
“’Being well-liked by a large group of friends cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later.’”
Not in Any Textbook
Siri says teens ask her questions ranging from why bad things happen to good people, to why some people are healed and others not, to questions about self-worth and relationships.
“And the great thing about being in community,” Siri says, “is that instead of just giving the cliché answer, you can share your own experience and how you’ve dealt with things or how you’ve also been bothered by not knowing an answer to something.”
The Child Development study defines high-quality friendships as those “with a degree of attachment and support, and those that allow for intimate exchanges…[T]eens who prioritized close friendships…had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth and fewer symptoms of depression by the time they reached 25 than their peers.”
This is the kind of community we pray for at our camps, and it’s the kind we foster in high school and university groups.
A Picture of Vulnerability
“Last year in particular,” says Janna Ehrenholz, InterVarsity High School campus minister in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, “our groups were becoming places where students could share vulnerably about their struggles, from eating disorders to loneliness to health concerns to grade 12s worrying about being accepted into their first-choice universities or programs. Some of those are things they might share with their friends anyways, but some they wouldn’t, and certainly not as quickly or freely as they did with people they didn’t necessarily know super well.”
Specifically, Janna recalls a day when one student in particular was able to be vulnerable with the group.
“I had asked the students about their struggles or prayer requests, and everyone gave pretty tame answers, until a fairly new student told us that she was undergoing tests for stomach cancer.
“I looked past her to one of the students who had been with the group for much longer. His expression was like, ‘Oh wow! This just got real!’ Suddenly, they were faced with how they might need to care for their new friend if the tests came back positive (which they didn’t, thank God!). So, I think that the InterVarsity groups we have here have offered a safe environment for sharing struggles and asking the questions that students feel they can’t ask anywhere else.”
Students need real, deep friendships. Ones where they can discuss questions of faith and be supported in the tough moments that will inevitably come.
Find out more at www.ivcf.ca/campus.