Have you ever heard an older adult say, “What is wrong with young people today?” I have heard that question many times, usually in the context of a news story of a young person who has done something wrong, a comment about the way they dress or in regard to their words or actions. It is a difficult day, and the challenges our young people face are greater than ever.

My own observation and informal survey of those who work with our youth in churches and schools point in one very clear direction—what is wrong with young people is directly related to the significant adults in their lives.  In fact, in most cases, it boils down to home life or, more appropriately, the lack thereof. It is proven that with more parental involvement and positive parental example, young people are more faithful to church and excel in school.

Youth ministry has changed radically across the years. Many of the youth in our churches have little parental encouragement or support. Parents don’t attend church, and don’t encourage their children to attend. A family attending church together becomes more and more the exception.

Young people find it difficult to discover examples, parents or other adults, who live authentic Christian lives. By authentic, I do not mean perfect—I do mean a purposed Christian life. Having parents who love Jesus and seek to live for Him 24/7 devoid of hypocrisy is not always the norm. Pew-sitting parents who fulfill their duty to God on Sunday morning are different than authentic followers of Jesus who purpose to bring all their lives under His Lordship.

Failure and compromise on occasion is different than living a life of failure and compromise. The former is authentic living, while the latter is hypocritical living. Parents who own their failure, confess and seek forgiveness, are different from those who fail and do not care.  Our children do not need perfect parents, but they do need authentic followers of Christ who talk the talk and walk the walk.

Parents are of greater influence than they know. Parents have often been deceived in thinking they are not major influencers in their children’s lives. Studies prove again and again that parents continue to be near the top of the list of those who shape the values, attitudes and actions of kids. The question is not whether we influence our children, but how we influence them.

The words of Paul to young Timothy come to mind. Paul reminded Timothy of the genuine faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother, a faith that was not compromised and did not cave during the difficult times. Paul knew that genuine, living faith is more caught than taught. Paul also reminded Timothy of the powerful influence of Timothy’s mother and grandmother as they taught him the truth of Scripture. This Scripture, Paul said, was able to prepare, to mature and to grow Timothy into a fully-devoted follower of Christ.

Authentic followers of Christ are the kind of adults our kids need. So when you ask, “What’s wrong with our youth?” just start looking at the adults who surround them. While young people can and do make their own decisions, it is more likely they will make good choices if they have been led through example and word by authentic followers of Christ.

Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.