A young person’s decisions and spiritual formation can shape the rest of their lives. Their energy and growing understanding provide exciting opportunities for learning, growing in spiritual awareness and faith, and living out that faith. However, children and youth are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation by peers, family members and those in positions of responsibility.
Children and youth are a gift entrusted to the care of parents, supported by their extended family and surrounding community. Parents, caregivers and church communities have the privilege of leading children and youth to know God, and to understand and navigate the world around them. Children and youth can be more vulnerable because of their age and stage of development, so it is especially important to care for them and promote their well-being.
The EFC is a key partner in a research partnership that has studied the transitions into and out of church for youth after they complete high school, and as they enter the next phase in life. This multi-year project called Young Adult Transition Research began publishing its first resources in 2018 (at renegotiatingfaith.com), focused on helping young adults keep the faith after graduating high school.
An older research report from many of the same partners, called Hemorrhaging Faith, examined trends in how Canadian young people are relating to the Church. Go to hemorrhagingfaith.com to obtain the report. Read an introduction to the report from the Sep/Oct 2012 cover story of Faith Today in which the authors of the study introduced their work and its implications.
Love Is Moving is an EFC initiative that helps youth put their faith in action.
Many issues impact children and youth disproportionately. Their dependence on adults means they bear the consequences of adult decisions, whether good or bad. Kids in unsettled, volatile or violent homes are especially vulnerable. They may be placed in foster care or choose to leave home and end up homeless or in shelters. Adoption can be a positive way to meet the need that all children and youth have for a permanent family and home.
Children and youth have a developing sense of self and the world that is shaped by their family, peers and community. Like never before, children and youth are being shaped by mass media, which increasingly models anti-social attitudes and harmful behaviours that foster disrespect for personhood and property. Violent and degrading sexual images and messaging that normalize abuse are readily available and easily accessible online. Adults have a responsibility to help children and youth filter and think critically about the messages they see and receive. Churches and ministries have positive opportunities to teach and disciple the young in ways that can lead to lifelong, deepening faith and service.
Adoption and foster care
It’s estimated that there are 30,000 children and youth in Canada’s child welfare system who are legally eligible to be adopted. Youth who age-out of foster care have a significantly higher risk of homelessness, low-income and sexual exploitation.
With the use of reproductive technologies, there is a possibility that children will be treated as objects to fulfill the desires of adults, rather than as human beings with inherent human dignity to be respected and protected. The best interests of children should be the primary consideration, including their ability to know their parents and their biological heritage.
Effects of pornography
The average age of first exposure to online pornography is between 11 and 13 years of age. For many, their formative sexual experience and education will be with the porn they encounter online. Research shows links between the use of internet porn and sexual violence, especially when it’s viewed at younger ages. Those who consume porn are more likely to have a callous or adversarial view of sex, be accepting of sexual violence and non-consensual sex, and see women as sexual objects.
Age of consent to sexual activity
Early sexual activity has the potential to bring lifelong consequences. Protecting children and youth means protecting them from the actions of others and from undertaking serious or dangerous activities before they have an appropriate level of maturity and brain development. Lifestyle choices which entail risk, such as buying cigarettes or alcohol, are regulated according to age and prohibited for those in their early to mid-teens. The age of consent to sexual activity should be the age of majority, when many rights and responsibilities accrue to Canadians.
Prostitution and trafficking
Research shows that most people in prostitution were forced or coerced to enter prostitution, or that it was a last resort for those without other economic options. Risk factors for sex trafficking include poverty, social dislocation and being a youth in government care. Prostitution exploits those who are already vulnerable because of a history of abuse, family breakdown, racialization or economic circumstances.
The research reports Hemorrhaging Faith (2012) and Renegotiating Faith (2018) indicate that many of the youth raised in churches are leaving them. It finds that 4 in 10 young adults raised as Evangelicals still attend religious services weekly, and that only 1 in 10 raised in Catholic or mainline traditions still attend as young adults.
Love Is Moving is an EFC initiative that helps youth put their faith in action. Previously the EFC hosted the Child in Church and Culture Partnership (from 2000-2011) as a resource hub and advocate for children in Canada.
God calls His people to care for those who are vulnerable. In the Old Testament, this is evident in the call to care for the poor, the widow and those without parents. In the New Testament, Jesus calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that our neighbour is anyone who is in need.
Children and youth who do not have parents to instruct and care for them lack essential protections and are exposed to risk. Many young people age-out of the child welfare system and face life without the support of a family. They are at significantly higher risk of homelessness, low income and sexual exploitation.
Adoption is a loving, positive alternative that welcomes a child or youth into a permanent family. As Christians, adoption is a key concept of our faith, as we have been adopted into God’s family through Christ (Romans 8:14-17).
Youth who have experienced abuse or family breakdown or who are in government care are particularly at risk of being exploited through prostitution. Prostitution is a form of violence, abuse and control of vulnerable women, children and men. Prostitution treats people as sexual property that can be bought and sold, and violates human dignity.
God calls each family to care for its members physically, emotionally and spiritually as it enables them to serve God, other people and creation. Parents have the privilege and responsibility of leading their children to know God and his ways, as well as the world around them (Deut. 11:19).
When Jesus gave his followers the Great Commission to make disciples, and to baptize and teach them (Mat. 28:18-20), He established the church to be the primary community of witness to a watching world. Engaging younger generations is one of the ways that we fulfill our calling to show love, to bear witness and to serve.