I read a tweet the other day talking about how teenagers were staging walk-ins and such in part because the stories that they were raised on were stories of students overthrowing oppressive governments. They said it better than that, but that was the idea. When that mixed in my head with a podcast I heard about how my generation was raised on the notion that we as kids could fight the monster, and solve the problem on our own (think E.T., Goonies, Gremlins, and the like).
So recently I have been thinking about how much the stories of our childhood shape what we think and what we do. The movies of my childhood (80s and very early 90s) were about rising up against the bullies. It was about taking back the school for the little guy or stopping the “local” monster or evil. It wasn’t often about saving the world, it was normally about saving yourself in the moment and a few other downtrodden people get helped too.
The generation today is raised on Hunger Games, The Maze, Divergent*, and a whole host of other dystopian future stories. In them the protagonist isn’t fighting against local struggles, but against all of oppressive society and control.
I was shaped by the stories of my youth. I see myself still as the little nerd who is fighting with his wits against bullies to protect the little guy. The generation graduating from high school this year see themselves as Katniss Everdeen taking on governments and overthrowing whole systems. It shapes the way that they see the world and themselves.
The thing is the generation (I am using that term loosely here) right below them, the middle schoolers of today are not watching any stories. They are watching other people play games on Twitch and watching other people talk about life on YouTube. I wonder what will happen when they grow up. How will a generation raised on YouTube stars see the world?
*OK, so Divergent. As a child of the 80s I like stories that are about the hero becoming more heroic. It is the hero’s journey that matters to me, the saving the world part is secondary. In Divergent by the end of the first book they have already had a revolution. That’s like sticking the Return of the Jedi ending on A New Hope and then talking about the extended universe stuff for the next two movies.
Have you heard about Pro Church Tools? If you are pastor or volunteer in your church do yourself a favor and go spend some time there. I actually don’t hit their website all that often, but I do watch pretty much every video from the Pro Church Tools YouTube account.
One of the big things that they are found of saying is that we are living in the biggest communication shift in the past 500 years. Not since Guetenberg changed the game with his printing press have we seen such a shift in the way that people process and have access to information. (you could argue that the TV revolution in the 60s was a pretty big shift and it was, but that was still one central location for content which was being made by others, the internet is different). I am an old man and I can remember people being dismissive of the computers in general, then people were mystified by the internet. I was online early, starting this Nailcars.com blog way back in 1998. In those days I was the only person I knew that was creating content for the web and still knew lots of people without internet access.
But now with the social media shift that is happening I feel like the old dinosaur talking about kids and their new-fangled toys. I understand that it is the way that people are communicating, getting information, and being creative, but walking into that world I still feel like a bit of an outsider, like I am the teacher who is trying to be cool and saying all the wrong slang.
But I am trying. That is part of the reason why I am doing a video blog, not because I really think it will take off, but because I want to be familiar with the genre and learn the tools needed to speak into this new revolution. I am still a long way from figuring it all out, but I am committed to helping teenagers connect with Jesus so that means I am wading into this thing as deep as I can get. It isn’t easy, and I feel lost most of the time, but I keep my eyes on the prize (that is a generation of souls that are desperate to find what Jesus offers) and resolve to do anything short of sin to proclaim the gospel.
So you may have seen this Burger King bullying ad. If you haven’t take the time to watch it.
What facinates me are the comments below the video. Sprinkled in with your typical responses there are 3 basic types of negative responses:
People who are mad that Burger King messed up the food (can you really miss a point this bad?)
People who think the kid should have spoken up for himself
People who think that doing something wouldn’t make a difference.
The first one is just…I don’t even know. The second two are interesting. I am pretty sure I would say something, but as a youth pastor I am wired to tell teenagers what to do. It is actually hard for me to stop doing it in public. But that is just me and my job. There are lots of other things that I tend to look the other way about. I think it is because there is this deep social contract that says “leave everyone else alone.” When you speak up to a stranger like that it breaks that contract. So people tend to think that those things shouldn’t happen.
The thing is often it is just a word that is needed to remind people what they are supposed to be doing or to defuse a situation. Simply speaking up and calling out bad behavior goes a long way (especially in the minds of a teenager) to helping them see their actions are inappropriate.
One thing I have noticed in this board game club thing that I am doing is that there are some people who a bullies without processing they are being bullied. For instance there was this guy who had a little leather bag he was carrying. It wasn’t a purse, but it looked like one. One of the girls we were playing games with looked up and said, “Hey! Nice purse!” in this very mocking tone. The boy defended himself said it wasn’t a purse, but you could tell that he had been dealing with that comment all day.
So I looked at the girl and said, “Why would you say that? Were you just trying to be mean?” She looked back at me genuinely perplexed. She had no clue that she had said something wrong. She had a thought and without pausing to think about how that thought made someone else feel she spoke it.
When someone is able to stand up to those type of bullies it makes them pause and think about their words at least for a moment and it gives the person being picked on an adversary and a feeling like maybe everything isn’t against me. So watch the commercial and practice speaking up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.
I am working my way through a newsletter/seminar type thing for parents about social media and their teens (or actually pre-teens too). I use Facebook and Twitter some, but I am just not a social network guy for anything that restricts my word count. But I have been trying to dig through and pick up some helps for parents.
Let me tell you this whole social media world that teenagers live in is a rabbit hole of epic proportions. I was pretty creative when it came to doing nefarious things with the opposite sex when I was in high school, but 1) the tools that teenagers have now is staggering and 2) their ability to use them creatively to keep from being caught is pretty amazing.
Of course part of the problem from a parent perspective isn’t that their kids are trying to hide things it is the exact opposite teenagers are putting way too much of themselves out there and as such are opening up a whole new level of potential problems.
I keep thinking about me back in middle school. I was a big kid sort of goofy and not popular by any standard at all. In fact I was tormented for a while and generally ignored or lightly bullied for much of my teenage years. BUT I had a good home life and parents who loved me and a decent church (even with only a few students my age) and when I wasn’t at school I wasn’t around people who wanted to bully me. I could leave that world and enter into the world of parents and love and acceptance.
But these days the world that teenagers live in doesn’t have those defined boundaries. They are always sharing their lives and living in a world where everyone they know can “like” what they say, what they wear, and what they look like with just the touch of a button. Is it any wonder that teens are showing more skin online because that is a quick way to make sure that you are at least nominally “followed.”
Anyway, I have been digging through a bunch of stuff and trying to find where I am going with this and I am not quite there yet, but here are some cool things I have found online.
In an article on Newsweek.com about labels that are put on us when we are in high school this sentence really caught my eye.
And how do those labels shape who we become in an age when, thanks to social networks, we don’t really ever leave our adolescent friends behind.
This is one of the profound effects of social networks and to a certain degree cell phones. It is much harder to get away and reinvent yourself.
I keep thinking about my own experiences in going away to college. I got away, and far away, and that distance effectively cut me off from my past and from the labels that I had always carried with me. In a new place I was able to start fresh and discover friends who saw me for who I was then, not who I had been in the 3rd grade. It was a scary, sure, but it was also liberating. For the first time in my life I was able to be free of the labels of my life and strive to find new ones.
Although I have reconnected with my old friends recently, getting away from them was vitally important for me. It shaped me into the person that I am today, and helped me to break out of some very negative habits and thoughts. I will never forget the first time that my wife went to hang out with my high school friends and she commented on two things 1) the way that they treated me (not negatively, just different) and 2) how I was different around them. She didn’t know me as the person I had been in high school.
But now this separation from self, this starting over that has been part of our culture for a few generations is shifting again back* to a time when your past is always known. As an increasingly old fart I think this is a bad thing. But then again I think that about cell phones too.
*not many generations ago people never left their hometown. They were born, lived, and died all within a few mile radius with the same people for their whole lives. Try “reinventing” yourself when the whole town remembers when you were a baby.