Vol. 5, Issue 14 | April 5, 2019

Three Things This Week

1. MLK & Gen Z

What it is: 51 years ago yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on his hotel balcony in Memphis, TN for championing equal rights and an end to racial segregation.

Why it still matters: Though three generations separate them, Dr. King and Gen Z have similar worldviews. Both believe Christians are called to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. This justice-centered Christianity is rooted in the understanding that faith isn’t merely a set of tenets to believe, but also a way of life to be followed. And since today’s teens seem to be following in Dr. King’s footsteps, they don’t see salvation and justice at odds with one another, but rather understand them to fit together hand in glove. “Justice fits squarely in the framework of biblical Christianity. It flows fiercely out of the gospel as a practical implication of loving God.” Ask your kids what they are passionate about. What moves them to tears? Where can they put their faith into action to bring about salvation, flourishing, and peace in the physical world?

2. FOPO

What it is: Despite fame and fortune, NBA commissioner Adam Silver believes millennial players are “unhappy,” and he blames social media.

Why it’s not the what but the how: The Fear Of People’s Opinions (FOPO) is only exacerbated by social media. “It’s a dark place,” says Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Reddick, who quit social media last summer. “It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.” But there is good news. Unlike millennials, Gen Z is engaging social media for entertainment purposes, instead of social validation. Could it be that social media isn’t to blame, but rather how we’re using it and what we expect from it are? Ask your teen if they use social media more to engage with others or to find fun content to consume. How might that change social media’s impact on their self-esteem and identity?

3. Accountability > Filtering

What it is: This recent blog post reminds us that, as helpful as Internet filters can be (especially for younger device users), our tech-savvy tweens and teens don’t have to work very hard to get around them.

Why it’s eye-opening: The post lists just 6 ways to get around our well-intentioned filters, but the truth is that there could be many more. Our kids understand their devices much better than most of us ever will. But what’s more surprising is that stats show that people who have filters actually seek out p*rnography more than those who don’t have them. All of this reminds us that the world is not filterable—not forever, anyway. More than anything else, as our kids mature, they need conversation, accountability, and mentoring to learn how to use the Internet wisely. Training their hearts to love truth and goodness takes time and accountability, but is far more powerful and sustainable than any filtering software alone (Covenant Eyes’ tool Screen Accountability can help with this process).

The Pilgrim’s Progress Movie Spotlight: The most popular book of all time (next to the Bible) is coming to movie theaters for the first time ever as a feature length, animated movie! In partnership with the film, we’re excited to announce that every movie goer will receive our Parent’s Guide to Pilgrim’s Progress. To get your tickets today, Click here!

When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

17-year-old singer Billie Eilish has been beloved by her peers for awhile, but with the release of her debut studio album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, on March 29, she’s also become a de facto mentor to and voice of Gen Z. The album, which is set to have one of the biggest streaming debuts for an album by a woman, improves upon her previous work, showcasing a love of originality, sarcasm, darkness, playfulness, self-awareness, and ambiguity. Upon first listen (or watch, if you start with her music videos), we might be shocked by the lyrics and immediately censor the album. But rather than a knee-jerk reaction, embrace the discipleship opportunity her album presents.

Besides her strangeness, Eilish appeals to Gen Z because she is first and foremost an artist. Not only is her sound unlike other pop artists’, she writes all her own lyrics—something decidedly rare amongst her predecessors—and they’re neither trite nor expected from someone so young. Take some time to listen to a few of the tracks, noting the sound, style, and effects. Then read some of the lyrics to get a feel for what she does (and doesn’t) sing about.

Second, ask your teens why they like her. Why are they drawn to her more than other artists? Acknowledge any of the positive aspects they bring up (like her refusal to do drugs). Then ask them to give you their honest opinion of her lyrics. Does she give voice to what they’re already feeling? Does she get them thinking about new things? Is it possible that her words have more influence than they realize? Why or why not? Does singing about things like depression, suicide, and self-harm help people cope with it? Or does it simply glorify it?

Ultimately, like previous generations, Gen Z is looking for artists that “get” them and make them different from their totally uncool parents (a la Nirvana for Gen X). And like every singer before her, she has immense power through her words, persona, music videos, and lifestyle. As tempting as it sounds, our job may not be to completely shelter our teens from her music, but rather to help them discern, discriminate, and make God-honoring decisions about the music they listen to by honestly assessing the impact music makes on their mood, emotions, and faith.

9 PREMIUM INSIGHTS

A broader look at the world that teens inhabit.
Skim our summary or click the links to read more.
Engage your teens in conversation about their world.

They said it best:

“Social media has changed everything. Since we’re talking about what we do when we wake up and posting it, we’re talking about where we go on Sundays. It’s not just about where you work anymore. It’s about your life. Since everyone is sharing their whole entire lives, a lot of people are realizing you have to share your faith.”

ESPN analyst Maria Taylor

Technology

Apps/Websites
1. Good news, Google created an ethics committee to weigh in on its use of artificial intelligence and algorithms in all of its projects going forward. They even invited the president of conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, to take part. The bad news is that due to the controversial and polarizing nature that surrounds the very idea of an “AI ethics board” for the tech giant, it’s already been dissolved after just one week. It’s hard to imagine how the next generation will develop an ethics of technology when the people at Google can’t even figure out ways to talk about it.

Pop Culture

Film/TV/Streaming
2. Last weekend, Amazon Prime added a new streaming series called Hanna into its lineup of original content. Hanna may appeal to teen audiences because its main protagonist is a teenage girl, one who was raised in the woods and trained as an assassin. The show actually raises significant questions about familial relationships, revenge, and independent thinking. There are some sexual elements in the storyline, and when Hanna is contrasted with a more “typical” teenager and her family, the banality of Gen Z is depicted like a cringe-worthy parody of itself. But in the end, the show does seem to champion loyalty and justice—things we could all benefit from thinking a little more about.

3. Teen Spirit is an upcoming movie release (April 12) that will also appeal to teens with a creative bent. Starring Elle Fanning, Teen Vogue describes the film as “a gritty commentary on what it takes to become a star while retaining some part of your original self.” Not every member of Gen Z necessarily wants to become famous, but for many teens, the pressure to be constantly seen on social media and project a sort of “authenticity” creates a similar ethical quandary—the “original self” becomes a thorny question, and it’s hard to determine what it looks like. This interview with Elle offers some additional insight to what your teen might feel is the pervasive influence of Instagram on the people they are growing up to be.

Social Media
4. Speaking of the ‘gram… The next big streaming platform might be Instagram TV (IGTV)—that is, if Instagram has anything to say about it. This feature story about how the app scouts “talent” that it can then instruct on how to reach internet fame is a great insight into the way that tech companies think about people as commodities. It’s also sobering to realize that for many teens, “influencer” is not just a pie-in-the-sky aspiration, but actually an incredibly viable pathway to wealth, attention, and success. Influencer careers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it’s worth reminding our family members how fleeting and empty the things of this world are for all of us, whether we have 1.2 million followers or 200.

Trending/Memes
5. Prince Harry, grandson of the Queen and father-to-be, gave a speech at a London YMCA where he shared his strong opinions on the Fortnite craze. The newlywed prince expressed his belief that there is “no benefit” to having Fortnite in your home, calling it “irresponsible” and “an addiction.” Of course, there are plenty who agree with Prince Harry’s assessment that Fortnite can be harmful, but fans of Fortnite were, to the surprise of no one, less than pleased. Prince Harry’s hatred of the game quickly became the latest meme amongst the Battle Royale faithful, so if you’re teen is suddenly against the monarchy—you know why.Global Awareness

6. “Twitter, meet my dad.” These are words you’d probably never expect to see on your teen’s social media account. But that’s exactly the text of one of the weirder memes to come out this week. After a Twitter user named Collin posted some photos of his father, an aspiring model, the tweet went viral and spawned countless imitations. Don’t worry, though, your teen won’t be posting your old yearbook photos—the joke is that users are simply using stock images or celebrities and calling them their dads.

Global Awareness
7. While the debate over the President’s border wall rages on, the “travel ban” legislation has been forgotten by many. But we would do well to remember and to pray for our Iraqi Christian brothers and sisters, hundreds of whom face deportation back to Iraq. While the ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of this population, many of whom applied for religious asylum under the threat of their very lives, their fate remains in limbo. Regardless of our political leanings, the fact that these Christians lives could be in peril for their faith should concern us all and convict us to wrestle with the lasting implications our public policy is creating.

Teen Culture

Substances
8. Today in reasons not to vape: The FDA is investigating 35 seizures that occurred after vaping, believing there might be a connection. E-cigarettes were involved in cases of seizures reported to poison control centers nationwide, and impacted both first-time users and experienced vapers. It’ll be awhile before the seizure risk of vaping become clear. But according to the write-up in Vox, this story is further evidence that vaping might be more dangerous than originally thought. 

Theology

General Observations
9. Rapper and fashion mogul Kanye West is holding “secret” church services that everyone knows about. These invite-only services have included huge celebs like Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom. Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, says that they’re more about “healing,” and there is no sermon at these services. Why is this relevant to teens? These services demonstrate a cultural movement toward church as performance rather than church as a place for spiritual formation. But is this any different than many mega-churches that have abandoned liturgy altogether in their “seeker sensitive” worship experiences filled with lights, smoke-machines, and rock bands? As the definition of what church is (and is not) continues to be shaped by a consumer driven, entertainment-based model, the expectations that teens have for what a church service should be might be influenced along with it. Interestingly enough, there is a movement among many young people toward more high church worship styles, as seen in this article.

Going Deeper

10. Buzzfeed offered a deep-dive into the rationale behind a prom photo that went viral back in October. You might remember it: the photo depicted the young men in the Baraboo High School graduating class of 2019, in what appeared to be a massive “Seig Heil” salute. The article is winding, but it’s worth reading if not only for this paragraph:

That the internet has changed the way teenagers test boundaries is obvious. But it has also broadened the audience for these behaviors from small, isolated, and socially contextualized groups of bored students to an entire contextless media ecosystem that also encompasses the internationally resurgent, internet-savvy, and sometimes lethally violent white nationalist right. This is a space where intentions don’t matter, where one person’s bad joke is another’s propaganda.It’s clear that temporary, low-risk cosmetic procedures are having a moment, and a domino-effect is in the works. If one or two girls in a high school class get these procedures and like the results, all the other young women will be begging to go under the needle by the next weekend.

Of course, outside of what the article calls the “contextless media ecosystem,” intentions do still matter. Very much so. While there’s no such thing as being too careful in the age of viral infamy, the truth about who kids are lies inside of their hearts. What we need to communicate with our teens is that while our world values perception incredibly highly, and perception may even triumph in the public square, reality will always make itself known to people of discernment. More importantly, the reality that God sees is something so far the opposite of the “contextless media ecosystem” that we cannot even fathom it—His contexts are literally without limit, and still He has compassion for us.