Youth Culture Window
They spent an entire week away from their computers, iPods, and TV's, enjoying instead a beautiful campground surrounded by gigantic redwoods that stretched toward the sky. On Friday night kids came forward in droves, every one of them with a small folded piece of paper clutched in their hands. Each one handed it to me and said the words, "I have some junk in my life that needs to be removed."
Later, I read the handwritten words scribed by these high school aged teenagers at this particular Christian camp:
temptations with my boyfriend
The list of "junk" went on-stuff that kids knew didn't belong in their life and needed to be removed. I noticed a common denominator. Maybe that's why I was so distraught when I watched Fox's Teen Choice Awards a week ago Sunday.
pictures on my computer
my relationship with Brian
"Who Ordered the Poo Poo Platter?" (A Bugs Life, 1998) That's what I said when I watched the Teen Choice Awards. I guess if we were flies we wouldn't mind it.
Our kids like this kind of stuff, but they don't see it as poo poo. "It doesn't affect me," they respond reflexively. After all, they are filling their heads with an average of six and a half hours of it per day.
I'm talking about the influence of the media. This is sad for me, because I love the media. I love movies, I love music, and there are even a couple TV shows that I enjoy. But lately I feel as if I'm trying to find a clean glass in a bachelor's apartment-rarely do I find anything clean. And the stuff that is dirty isn't just a little smudged. It is soiled like the floor of a stock show.
There's no denying it-kids are being molded by the messages coming through their iPods, cell phones, TVs, and computers. The difficult challenge for youth workers and parents is to become aware of what our kids are listening to, without getting poop on our shoes.
Becoming Aware Without Stepping in Poop
In my "Understanding the Unchurched Teenager" seminars, I'm consistently encouraging parents and youth workers to take a peek at what our kids are watching and listening to. And that's the trick... just taking a peek.
I'm not recommending that we all go out and buy Justin Timberlake's new Album Futuresex/Love Sounds or Nelly Furtado's Promiscuous. I'm not recommending that we start watching MTV every day or adding teen favorite films like Wedding Crashers or Scary Movie 4 to our Netflix cue. As a matter of fact-I'm telling you NOT to do that. Keep current, but keep clean. Don't immerse yourself in this stuff. Instead, go to the places where you can take a brief but realistic glimpse of what our youth culture holds on a pedestal.
Two of these sources fall in this month's calendar: Fox's Teen Choice Awards, that already aired August 20th, and the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards on MTV this Thursday night.
The Teen Choice Awards
Each year Fox's Teen Choice Awards gives us a glimpse of the role models our very own kids hold high, the music our kids listen to, and the movies and television shows our kids are watching. It's penetrating your own youth group-ask any kid to play their ring tone for you.
The Teen Choice Awards are all chosen by teenagers (this year 14.7 million teenage votes) and the nominees are usually comprised of a good sampling of top media influence in youth culture today.
Each year we learn more about our kids with awards like "best liplock." This award isn't a far leap from the MTV Movie Awards which in the past few years has given away awards for a kiss between a threesome in the movie Starsky and Hutch, and then two men in Brokeback Mountain last year. The Teen Choice Awards awarded Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves this year for their "liplock" in the movie The Lake House.
When the duo accepted the award on stage, the crowd yelled, "Do it again." Sandra responded. "It's kind of bittersweet. You say, ‘Do it again.' But I'm a married woman now."
The crowd continued to yell "Do it!"
Sandra explains further. "Kisses that are really hot... and warm and tight... I can't do anymore. I can't do that because I'm married and they only go to my husband. You don't do that when you're married."
Keanu responded. "Sandi? Weren't you married when we did that kiss?"
Sandra laughed, "I'm in so much trouble right now."
Of course, this was probably one of the more innocent banters of the evening.
Each year we get a glimpse of the inner character of our kids' role models through what they say. Not just in their "artistic" (I use that term loosely) content, but in their interviews and as they present awards live on stage. This year we got to hear Dane Cook joke about showing his private places to Jessica Simpson, only for her to retort, "Um, show me and I'll cut those places off!"
Marlon Waynes showed us a peek at his moral fiber when he began his presentation with a monologue about MySpace.
"The internet is changing the world. Everybody has a MySpace page. I've got one. My nephew has one. My momma has one. And she's mad because I won't put her in my top eight. Sorry Momma, but you gotta be naked... you gotta be naked!"A sampling of the awards speaks pretty loud as to the kind of content our kids are getting from even the newest of sources. The Choice V Cast Music Artist awards an artist for videos that are podcasted. Take a look at three of the nominees:
The first nominee was Black Eyed Peas, with their song My Humps: This video, which can be downloaded to anyone's video iPods or video phones, features Fergie, the Black Eyed Peas eye candy, showing off her "humps" and "lumps."
That song was only to be trumped by Shakira's Hips Don't Lie, a video where we see ...how can I say it? We see her hips "humping" even the air around her like a confused Labrador.
What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
What you gon' do with all that ass?
All that ass inside them jeans?
I'm a make, make, make, make you scream
Make you scream, make you scream.
Cos of my hump (ha), my hump, my hump, my hump (what).
My hump, my hump, my hump (ha), my lovely lady lumps (Check it out)
... and the winner of this one category was Nelly Furtado with her song Promiscuous. I probably don't even need to explain the video, do I?
Oh I know I am on tonight my hips don't lie
And I am starting to feel it's right
All the attraction, the tension
Don't you see baby, this is perfection
Oh boy, I can see your body moving
Half animal, half man
I don't, don't really know what I'm doing
But you seem to have a plan
My will and self restraint
Have come to fail now, fail now
If the videos aren't bad enough, Nelly Furtado performed Promiscuous live at the awards, and she didn't do the word "promiscuous" any shame. It was amazing. A room full of teenagers on national TV watching a girl and a guy dancing provocatively on stage while singing about "getting it on." But it didn't end with her performance. When she accepted the award she kindly added, "We wanna say real quick though... out there... if you are going to be sexually active, then please be safe and use a condom."
Wait! I don't mean no harm
I can see you with my t-shirt on
I can see you with nothing on
feeling on me before you bring that on
Bring that on
[N:] You know what I mean
Girl, I'm a freak you shouldn't say those things
I'm only trying to get inside your brain
To see if you can work me the way you say
How could you not be sexually active after that?
I'm amazed that parents allow their kids to not only watch this stuff, but show up at an event like this. Especially with the release of reports like the recent one from The Journal of Adolescent Health that states:
"These findings show that adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in their media diets, and who perceive greater support from the media for teen sexual behavior, report more sexual activity and greater intentions to engage in sexual intercourse in the near future."Host and comedian Dane Cook probably wasn't too far from the truth when he joked about the two teenage guests who won the "Teen Choice Casting Call Contest" and handed out the awards all night. Dane jested about the two 15-year-olds, "So young and innocent... and they'll both be pregnant by the end of the night."
This year's show featured plenty of eye candy beyond the music videos and performances. Awards like "choice hottie" weren't even necessary. The show featured three bikini clad girls in a hot tub, center stage, right in front of the podium for the entire evening. Between every award and in every transition to each commercial break... roll camera three, the hot tub cam... eye candy.
Fox's Teen Choice Awards always give an accurate taste (accurate, but sour) of our youth culture. If you missed it, there's another glimpse into youth culture worth watching, one that comes along only once a year.
The MTV VMAs
This Thursday is one of the two times a year that I watch MTV. As many of you know, MTV is one of the best reflections and strongest influences of youth culture. (Check out Jonathan's 2005 article about these youth culture "Dannys.") And twice a year we get to see a "cross-section" of this channel's content and methodology: The MTV Movie Awards, and the MTV Video Music Awards (The VMAs).
I encourage you to put the kids to bed and watch the VMAs on MTV this Thursday night. If you want a glimpse at past years, check out a MTV VMA special on Thursday morning titled Scandalicious. You'll catch everything from Madonna and Brittany's controversial kiss to Beyonce's risqué outfits.
This year I don't expect much different. I don't want to rewrite last year's article about what to expect from this event; instead I'd like to focus on what we can do about these influences? But for those of you that are familiar with some of the names you see at these events, I'll provide a quick rundown: The show will be hosted by Jack Black. You'll see performances from Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, The Killers, Panic! At The Disco, Beyonce, Ludacris, The All-American Rejects, and others. The Cast of Jackass Number Two will be there, along with appearances from Rihanna, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Missy Elliot, Chris Brown, and many more. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Shakira both lead the list of nominees this year with seven nominations each including video of the year. You can check out this RollingStone link if you want to see the breakdown of the most popular awards.
What Can We Do?
I still remember the faces of the kids who came forward and handed me the confession of their "junk." These were good kids, polite kids...kids that brought their Bibles to every session. But these "good" Christian kids had the same songs on their iPods, the same movie ticket stubs in their pockets, and the same TV shows set to record on their TiVo.
Youth pastors are always amazed when they discover the little disparity between the content our "Christian" kids are exposed to, compared to secular kids. They're basically letting the same stuff in their heads. And it's affecting them.
So what can we do?
Glad you asked.
1. KEEP TELLING THE TRUTH: In a world where these lies are so readily available, keep telling the truth. Help kids understand the danger of this kind of junk creeping into their lives. Teach them discernment.
Our web site has a bunch of great free teaching resources you can use. Here's a few examples:
2. KEEP BEING A RESOURCE: If you're a youth worker, keep being a resource to the parents of your kids. Use articles like this one and others on our PARENT RESOURCES page. Bring speakers out to do parent seminars. Educate your parents about these influences, and equip them to filter out some of this stuff and teach discernment to their kids.
3. KEEP CURRENT: Take a peek at the stuff kids are letting in their head. Watch a couple of these key shows each year. (I choose to only watch the three I mentioned above.) These "artists" are the people our kids are listening to. You can regularly check who's hot and who's not with web sites like Billboard's Hot 100. Then check out what they're saying at one of the many lyric sites on the web. Read articles from our web site or other great youth culture sites like Walt Muellars CPYU.org
4. KEEP CLEAN: Don't allow those songs in your iPods, those ticket stubs in your pockets, and those shows on your TiVo.
Peter says is well in 1 Peter 2:11-12 (emphasis mine)
Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here. So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very souls.  Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world. (NLT)It's tough living a G-rated life in this R-rated world. But with Christ in our lives, we can model it. They can "see our honorable behavior" and believe.
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