If youth culture is the soup our kids swim in everyday, what are some of the ingredients that serve to shape the values, attitudes, and behaviors of our kids that warrant our response? If you were to stir up today’s youth culture soup, here’s a surfacy look at eight of the “big” cultural ingredients and trends you must monitor, understand, and respond to as you cross-cultures to do ministry (missons work!) with children and teens.

1.      Family Breakdown: Every child you know and minister to was created to live in a family. That’s the place God made for a child to be nurtured into a spiritually, physically, and emotionally mature adulthood. But for a variety of reasons, the family is failing miserably. More and more of your kids are growing up in homes marked by emotional detachment, father-absence, divorce, unmarried parents, single-parents, cohabitation, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. When it comes to the state of the family, things are not the way they’re supposed to be, and our kids are paying the price. And, when the family fails to function as it should, the doors and windows of the home are thrown open, allowing other institutions to raise and shape the kids. And by the time they’re old enough to raise families of their own, a growing number of our kids will have never had a healthy model of family and family roles.

2.      Media Influence: Ever wonder who’s raising the kids in today’s world? It’s the world of today’s media. The latest research from the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the average 8 to 18-year-old is now spending 7 hours and 38 minutes a day engaged with media. . . and that doesn’t include time spent on computers in school or doing schoolwork. . . nor does it include time spent texting! In addition, over 70% of 8 to 18-year-olds have a television in their bedroom. That means they can watch anything and everything, without the benefit of wise and Godly parental filters to help them process what they see in healthy ways, or to make good viewing choices. Perhaps the most powerful media force is advertising, which comes at them 24/7 through every media outlet. With kids seeing upwards of 4000 marketing messages a day, you can rest assured that they’ll never buy every product they see in the ads. But the reality is that the greatest power of those ads is not to sell product, but to sell a way of looking at and living life. Sadly, few if any kids have parents or other adults in their lives taking the time to teach them to think Christianly about this marketing glut.

3.      Narcissism: Researcher Dr. Jean Twenge has studied the epidemic of Narcissism sweeping through our culture. She’s concluded that the Millennials are the most narcissistic generation ever. That’s our children and teens. They have grown up learning that the only holy trinity worthy of their worship is “me, myself, and I.” Narcissism is excessive self-love and self-indulgence, a way of looking at and living life that is totally contrary to Christ-centered and other-centered lifestyle Jesus calls His followers to embrace. In today’s world, even the positive trend towards getting involved in missions and service projects is sometimes motivated by this dangerous focus on self. More and more kids are doing for others in order to pad a resume that will allow them to get into the “right” college, a place they see as a passport to self-centered privilege.

4.      Materialism and Entitlement: Do you know that Jesus spent more time in the Gospels talking about the dangers of money and wealth, than He did about Heaven and Hell combined? It’s true. But we have to wonder if we or our kids have ever heard what He’s saying. Marketing and Narcissism have combined with other cultural forces to create a volatile mix that feeds the belief that “things bring happiness.” The accumulation of stuff is now seen as redemptive and fulfilling, which means that the vicious cycle just moves along faster and faster leaving us emptier and emptier while looking for more and more. What parent hasn’t lamented the sense of entitlement that’s sweeping this generation of kids?

5.      Over-Sexualization: The marketing-mantra “sex sells” has been around for a long, long time. Sex sells for the simple reason that we have all been created as sexual beings. Marketers and media-makers have tapped into these inherent desires and exploited our sexual-fallenness by selling a message to our children that’s left them believing this: When it comes to your sexuality, you can do whatever, wherever, however, whenever, and with whomever. Since 1997, MTV’s “It’s Your (Sex) Life” campaign has been sending this message to our kids: “Fundamentally, it’s your body and it’s up to you what you do with it.” The result is that many kids indulge themselves while exploiting others, with kids experimenting with sex before they’ve even reached puberty. Among the results of the sexualization of everything is the casual sex revolution (friends with benefits, hooking up, etc.) same-sex attraction, and a growing fascination with pornography.

6.      Peer-Pressure: It doesn’t matter how old you are. . . you remember this phrase. . . and the mention of it still strikes fear into the heart of parents. For my generation, peer pressure usually took the form of a spoken, verbal invitation to come and do something that both you and the person inviting you to do it knew was wrong. That led you to sneak around for fear of getting caught. While peer pressure still exists, the nature of peer pressure has changed. In today’s world, peer pressure is an unspoken expectation to participate in behavior that the overwhelming majority of your peers think is normal and right. That means that peer pressure in today’s world is not only stronger, but much more difficult to resist.

7.      Amorality: During my childhood, my wrongdoing usually set a series of events in motion. If (let’s just say!) I got caught doing something I shouldn’t have been doing at my friend’s house, three things would happen. First, my friend’s mother would get angry and discipline me, usually with a restriction from playing with my friend for a couple of days. As I would head home with my head down, I knew that she was calling my mother on the phone. Which then. . . would lead to the third thing. . . the punishment I’d get when I got home. Everyone seemed to agree on matters of right and wrong. Behavior either conformed to a standard of morality (moral behavior) or it didn’t (immoral behavior).  With that shared standard disappearing in today’s world, everyone does what’s right in their own eyes. Not only that, but we give everyone else the latitude to do what they want, even if that differs from our own personal standards of right and wrong.

8.      Over-parenting, Over-protecting, Over-praising: This ingredient works to up the ante on several of the culture-soup ingredients we’ve already mentioned. In today’s world, we over-parent by doing everything and giving everything to our kids. Kids who have everything done for them don’t learn how to do things for themselves. Kids who get everything only get spoiled and want more. And when we over-protect our kids by running interference for them anytime they make a mistake, we teach them that actions don’t have consequences. . . which then leads to entitlement. Finally, when we over-praise, we teach our kids to think more highly of themselves than they ought. . .which could eclipse the understanding we want them to have of their sin and desperate need of God’s grace. Make sense?
Tomorrow, I’ll blog in Part 3 of this series on “What now?”

2 thoughts on “Major Youth Culture Trends You Need To Know. . . Lessons From Sandy, Part 2. . .

  1. Thanks for this great summary, Walt. It’s difficult for me as a youth worker to stop and analyze the big picture of what’s going on, so I found this post very helpful. Looking forward to hearing what you have to say in Part 3.

    -Adam from Boulder, CO

  2. Regarding Family Breakdown:

    I am a retired French teacher, and my advanced class watched the film “Argent de Poche,” which deals with family life in France in the 1970’s. I asked the students to write about the similarities and differences between family life in France and family life in the U. S. I was stunned when many of the students wrote that families in France always had dinner together but that Americans ate dinner alone, sometimes in their bedrooms.

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