Vol. 5 Issue 19 | May 10, 2019

Vol. 5 Issue 19 | May 10, 2019

Three Things This Week

1. YOLO App

What it is: A brand new, third-party app that works with Snapchat to allow users to anonymously respond to other users’ questions.

Why it’s huge: Skyrocketing to the number 1 free app on the iOS App Store almost overnight, YOLO once again proves teens’ desires to have space to share thoughts anonymously. It’s yet to be seen if it will ultimately be banned like its predecessors (e.g. Sarahah, TBH, etc.) for facilitating bullying and hate speech or simply die because teens move on to something cooler, but for now, ask teens if they’ve used the app or want to. Ask them how they know where the line between anonymity and bullying (or anonymity and gossip) is. Do they think the anonymity is worth the risk of being hurt or getting negative responses? (Also, watch this video about the app for other helpful tips.)

2. Does Tech Change Our Emotions?

What it is: In their new book Bored Lonely Angry Stupid, cultural historian Susan J. Matt and computer scientist Luke Fernandez go back in time to analyze how our perceptions of self, boredom, and loneliness have been impacted by technology.

Why it’s eye-opening: Their research shows that “emotions don’t just hold steady and get expressed through new devices. Devices transform them—teach us new habits, nurture new expectations, and model new behaviors, too.” For example, they discovered that the word “boredom” didn’t exist until the mid-19th century and that our ancestors expected times with nothing to do, so they weren’t thrown off when they came—unlike today when we expect to be entertained, validated, and surrounded by community at all times. Their book (or this interview about the book) is worth discussing with students. How do they think their expectations have been shaped by technology, both for good and bad? How do they view boredom? Alone time? Why do they think they see them that way?

3. The Last Summer

What it is: Netflix’s newest entry into the coming-of-age, teen romcom category is…lame.

Why it lacks substance: Graduating from high school, going off to college, and figuring out one’s future is simultaneously exhilarating and daunting, exciting and overwhelming, full of promise and paralyzing. The Last Summer could have offered an honest glimpse into how teenagers deal with incredible change and surging emotions during this time, but instead it seems to prey on these surging emotions to get teens to watch their lackluster, confusing, trying-way-too-hard film. Even though one teen described it as “the worst representation of teenagers I’ve ever seen,” others may yet be lured in by its attractive actors, beautiful visuals, and representation of a mysterious-yet-highly-anticipated phase of growing up. If that’s your teen but you don’t want them to be exposed to the vapid normalization of drugs, alcohol, and sex, consider offering them a timeless, coming-of-age film that’s honest, real, and asks important questions like Dead Poets Society or Rebel Without a Cause.

Question: Each week as we write the CT, we hope it brings your family together to start meaningful conversations. But we’re often left wondering just what impact this little resource makes in real life. If The Culture Translator has had a direct impact on how you engage your kids, we’d love to hear about it! You can email me directly at garyalan@axis.org to share your stories. Plus, we’d love to know where you’re from! If you live outside the United States, email us and let us know!

What Teens Want

“I was participating in a conversation. They took me seriously. No one ever took me seriously—not you (mom), not my teachers, no one. If I expressed an opinion, you thought I was just a dumb kid trying to find my voice. I already had my voice.”—A teen reflecting on why he joined the alt-right at the age of 13.

In a heartbreaking exposé, The Washingtonian tells the story of a young man’s initiation into the alt-right through grooming tactics on message boards like 4chan and Reddit. Luckily, his story has a happy ending—with the help of his parents, he eventually saw the flaws in their thinking and tactics and removed himself from their toxic influence—but it highlights an important reality: Teens are no longer the helpless babes who need adults to do everything for them. They’re slowly becoming autonomous adults with their own thoughts, perspectives, desires, and opinions, and they want to be taken seriously. And if we don’t do that, they’ll find a community that will.

The alt-right and “men’s rights” movements appeal to students where they are most vulnerable: in their need to belong, be heard, and be valued. In this case, “Sam” was sucked into a such a community because the group welcomed him and treated him with respect at a time when he was susceptible, possibly depressed, and discounted by everyone.

Hopefully for the rest of us, it won’t take our kids being indoctrinated into a neo-Nazi online community to take seriously our role in creating a safe space for our children’s voices to be heard, validating their opinions and entering into healthy conversations with them about their passions. We highly encourage you to read the article and notice the courage and wisdom it took for Sam’s mom to enter into his world, gently expose the lies he’d accepted as truths, even do some things that made her uncomfortable, and teach her son critical-thinking skills. Whatever your teenagers are into or doing that you know is harming them, be encouraged by her story and remember that it took lots of time, many conversations, immense patience, and probably many sleepless nights, but eventually her persistence and love made all the difference.

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