Happy New Year! For many, the beginning of the new year is a time to make resolutions to change their behavior. This tendency starts early—the first time I remember making a New Year’s resolution, I was ten. Resolutions can be healthy or unhealthy. It’s great to make a resolution to get more sleep, read the Bible more regularly, or get better at setting boundaries. Unfortunately, society often encourages us to make unhealthy and unattainable resolutions that can trap us in negative patterns or leave us feeling like failures when we don’t measure up to our lofty goals. 80% of people fail in their New Year’s resolutions, usually by mid-February.
One of the most common New Year’s resolutions—the one that spawns annual articles in newspapers and online—is the resolution to lose weight. While there are healthy ways to try to exercise more or eat fewer sweets, trying to lose weight can also be a dangerous pursuit, especially for youth. The latest data that the National Institute of Mental Health provides on eating disorders is from the early 2000s, and it indicates that, at the time, 2.7% of adolescents, including 3.8% of adolescent girls and 1.5% of adolescent boys, struggled with an eating disorder. That’s 1 in 37 total adolescents: 1 in 26 girls and 1 in 67 boys.
How many youth are in your youth group? What does 2.7% look like to you? At a small church, if your youth group is, say, six kids, it’s possible that none of your youth will face eating disorders. At a large church, it’s a challenge you’re almost guaranteed to run into. While it’s not your job as a youth director or pastor to heal youth of their mental illnesses, it is your job as an adult who interacts with youth to avoid making the problem worse.
Do you ask about New Year’s resolutions? Do you share your own New Year’s resolutions? Do any of those focus on your body? If so, it’s probably time to rethink the way you talk about bodies with your youth—you want to teach them that their value is rooted in their status as children of God, not the number that shows up when they step on a scale.
Even if you don’t personally make resolutions about losing weight or getting in shape, do you ask about your youth’s resolutions? Do you have a plan for how to respond if someone has a resolution that seems unhealthy? Again, it’s not your job to heal youth of their mental illnesses, but there might be space to help youth reframe some of their thinking around their bodies and their worth as people, or to speak with parents if you’re truly concerned about a young person’s wellbeing.
So here’s wishing you a blessed new year, and hoping that you can be a blessing to the youth you serve.