At the age of 3, our brains have more neurons (the cells in our brain that send and receive neurotransmitters) than we will have for the rest of our lives. From the ages of 3 to 25, our brains go through a process where unused neurons are pruned. The brain is in a constant state of growth and change in the early years, which this image illustrates:
As the brain develops and matures at a rapid pace in the early years, so do our emotions and belief systems. The early years are critical; the coping strategies and beliefs learned in adolescence are hardwired into the brain—and the heart.
Experiences make a far greater impression in the hardwiring process than words.
If a boy or girl’s parents tell them they love their son or daughter, yet yell or scream at them often, especially for what are mere inconveniences, the yelling (which is verbal abuse, especially when accompanied by harsh words or insults) will override “I love you” and burn “Mom or Dad don’t love me” into the belief system. Then comes the spiritual battles, when Satan steps in with his lies and whispers “Mom and Dad hate you… you’re not worth loving, no one loves you.”
Neglect, abandonment, distracted, or passive parents burn in the lies that “you’re not worth paying attention to, no one cares about you.”
The force of impact to a child’s heart goes to another level when the child is physically abused, tormented, or, as in my case, sexually molested. I’ve spoken to adults whose parents have threatened to kill them. The trauma of these events send a wrecking ball to a child’s soul while screaming that they have worth only when being used by others, they will be violated if they share their heart, they cannot be loved because they’re too damaged, defective, shamed, or soiled, and that they’re on their own. Love is nearly impossible for them. Their heart becomes a breeding ground for rage, fear, and depression. Intimacy with another may be terrifying or trigger anger.
Now their heart is vulnerable.
Where will they find answers and help?
If life at home doesn’t improve, or if Mom or Dad’s relationship with God is a sham, they may look to the church for answers.
21-year old Rebekah Genung wrote the following about her experiences in church youth group:
“At my church youth group, it felt just like high school. There were cliques and it felt hard to fit in or make new friends. There was a foosball and air hockey table, and always loud music playing. Not that there is anything wrong with those things, but I feel like that is what the kids focused on more. The messages were always short. I didn’t feel prepared for the real world, on the topics discussed that youth are struggling with and want answers to, like porn, depression, suicide.”
The sirens of the world are calling to our youth with sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, video games, a promise of a spiritual experience through witchcraft, and more. If what Rebekah experienced is the norm in youth groups at church, it’s easy to see why 75% of youth have been exiting the church for the past 25 years. We’re not helping them with the areas they’re struggling in or being attacked with by the enemy. We’re missing their hearts. With suicide now the number 2 killer of teens, it’s more critical than ever that we help them.
Especially, when pornography is destroying the hearts and minds of so many of our youth. Just two days ago, the Christian Institute, a UK based organization, posted the following on their website:
“More than half of child abuse cases in England and Wales are now committed by other children, amid the online pornography epidemic.
The National Analysis of Police-Recorded Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation Report found that 52 per cent of 106,984 offences recorded by 42 police forces in 2022 were committed by ten to 17-year-olds, at an average age of 14.” The report called it a “growing and concerning trend (previously thought to be a third) involving a wide range of offending” from sharing indecent images to rape. National Police Lead for Child Protection Ian Critchley said the problem is being exacerbated due to children’s accessibility to smartphones and the “ease in which violent pornography is accessible to boys”.”
No church can stand before God and say that they won’t talk about sex or pornography because it’s “not proper” or for any other reason in the Sodom-like cultural sewage we’re living in.
Fast-forward to the adult years. Many men who come to us for help had their first exposure to porn at the age of 8 (some, from stumbling onto Dad’s porn stash). They’ve been in bondage for decades; their marriages and families are in pieces. Most if not all have wounds from youth that have been untouched and bleeding for years. Their lives are marked by anger, depression, anxiety, and a sense of desperate emptiness.
Perhaps you’ve read this and realized you need healing. Reach out to us.
Perhaps you’re a parent, see how you hurt your kids, and need to make amends to them. Today’s the day to start. If you apologize to them, do not make excuses, blame, justify, or say something like “I did the best I could,” which will rub more salt in the wound. Sometimes the most powerful words that need to be heard in a family are not “I love you,” but “I’m sorry.” An apology without conditions conveys worth and love to the person we apologize to.
It continues to amaze me how rarely the 25-year exodus of youth from the church gets attention. This should have set off bright red screaming lights that we’ve lost our way a long time ago. Our youth and the battles they’re facing need to be addressed openly, industrial strength, from the pulpit and in our youth groups. Parents need to be offered healing for their own wounds, equipped for their role as parents, and challenged to go all in on the Christian life. Lukewarm, porn addicted, distracted, or angry parents give our youth little reason to believe the Christian life has anything to offer them.
Our kids don’t need video games and screens at church; they get enough of that at home. The average 21 year old will have spent 10,000 playing hours video games before his 21st birthday. We need to show our youth how to be prayer warriors, break strongholds, overcome temptation, and offer them healing. We need to open up topics such as masturbation, pornography, promiscuity, sexting, the occult, suicide, video game and smartphone addiction (which cause depression and anxiety, the physical, sexual and emotional abuse many are going through and more. They need connections with other believers where they can share their struggles, not cliques where they feel like outcasts. Our youth need to be equipped in the same big 3 the early church focused on – God’s word, prayer, and fellowship.
But then, the adults need help in those areas too.