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.

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:

“We have to remind ourselves constantly that we are not saviours. We are simply a tiny sign, among thousands of others, that love is possible, that the world is not condemned to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed, that class and racial warfare is not inevitable.”

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth (Vanier died this week at the age of 90)

Technology

Apps/Websites

1. Chris Hughes, one of the cofounders of Facebook, is now calling for the tech giant to be broken up. (Alternative scenario: Wait 50 years, then the number of dead Facebook users will outnumber the living, according to recent data projections.) The anti-Zuck backlash marches on, but the reaction to Facebook’s “lack of accountability” is related more to anxieties about privacy than a concern about capitalism gone awry. This same privacy anxiety is what’s behind the public’s growing concern over facial recognition technologies.

Pop Culture

Film/TV/Streaming

2. Trigger warning: The following sentence will make you feel old. The Pokémon franchise started in 1996. That means Pikachu and company have been in our lives for over 23 years. CGI has come a long way in that timespan, which means that technology is finally available to make a decent live-action Pokémon movie. According to The Atlantic’s review, Detective Pikachu isn’t just decent, it’s actually good. The Vergeloves it, too. And since loving Pokémon is both transgressive of cultural expectation and adorable, chances are high that your teen is going to be into giving this film a try (in theaters this weekend).

Trending/Memes

3. You know those weird ads that run at the bottom of every single article we link to in this newsletter? The ones that promise “one weird trick for aging,” and inform you of the “celebrities you didn’t know had died”? Those ads are called “chum boxes” in the media industry, and the most infamous (and prevailing) one is about a gut doctor who is begging people not to eat an unnamed vegetable. This particular ad trope raises so many questions, like, what is a gut doctor? Followed by, what is this poisonous vegetable?! Obviously, the teens are meme-ing it. While clicking on these chum boxes pretty much never results in any enriching discovery of information, it’s worth knowing more about how this particular industry funds its reporting and monetizes traffic. Apparently, the gut doctor is a gold mine. (And probably, the veggie he hates is corn.)

Media/News

4. Theories abound as to the reasoning behind the name of the newest addition to the British Royal family, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. Maybe Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, was nostalgic for her family’s old pet cat. Maybe she just loves famous redheads. Whatever the true intent of Master Archie’s name, nobody has been more excited about it online than fans of The CW’s comic noir soap, Riverdale. The Riverdale fandom has a notoriously strong meme and hashtag game, so this really is a pinnacle moment for them. Maybe it will even be enough excitement to make up for the program’s entirely cringeworthy Season 3 plotline.

Teen Culture

Positive Things

5. Major retailers are changing their tobacco rules in an attempt to curb the youth vaping epidemic. By September 1, Walmart, Walgreens, and Rite Aid will all have policies in place that require anyone purchasing tobacco products to be 21 or older, with ID. Dessert- and fruit-flavored nicotine products, which appear to appeal especially to teen vapers, will also be discontinued. This is the result of pressure from parenting groups as well as the FDA, whose warnings about vaping have grown increasingly dire in recent months.

Latest Statistics

6. The phrases “affirmative consent” and “positive consent” are becoming more popular within Gen Z. While the importance of self-restraint and consent when it comes to sexual situations are something we should recognize and even celebrate, the moral arbiters of these cultural developments are still pushing promiscuity as the norm. In a study at the end of last year, researchers concluded that students at Columbia and Barnard University were still confused about how consent practices should play out in the real world. It’s so important that we acknowledge the tricky position our teens are in when it comes to expressions of physical intimacy, as they are getting mixed messages from every possible direction.

Gaming/eSports

7. Our conceptions of “the average gamer” may need some updating, according to reporting in Reuters. While teens still love gaming as much as ever, gaming on mobile phones is becoming increasingly popular. And the average age of gamers is now 33 years old! “Casual games” like Candy Crush lead the pack in terms of what people play on their phones. The best news to come out of the study, which included over 4,000 U.S. adults, is probably this: “Game players were no more prone than other Americans to live isolated, sedentary lives.” Yes, screen time rules and content monitoring are essential boundaries for teens who love to play video games. But nope, your teen isn’t doomed to live in your basement forever if those rules go out the window once and again in favor of a Fortnite binge.

Theology

General Observations

8. It’s only been a few months since President Trump used his Twitter bully pulpit as a platform to promote biblical literacy classes in public schools. While most people have probably forgotten about this talking point already, the biblical literacy movement is actually spreading rather quickly through the nation. This is mostly due to the work of a coalition of Evangelical groups called Project Blitz. While the initiative might seem beneficial on the surface, what precedence is it setting? Should the government force faith on the populace? What if public schools required students to read the Koran instead of the Bible, how would that change your view of the policy? And since teaching Scripture is highly subjective, who gets to decide which interpretation of the Bible is taught? Whether this makes you feel hopeful or concerned about the growing theocratic movement in America, it’s an important conversation to keep an eye on.

Going Deeper

9. It’s hard to find the words to describe this week’s tragic shooting in a Colorado high school. Calling it “yet another school shooting” cheapens the psychological impact of these truly horrifying events. Brave student Kendrick Castillo, 18, lost his life tackling an assailant, while 8 other students were injured.

News of these shootings, along with the politically charged rhetoric that comes hot on the heels of each of these events, are changing the way our children understand violence. It’s possible that they understand the political climate and implications of gun policy far more than we do. At a vigil held for Castillo, politicians and activists used the event to push their exhausting policy talking points. Students responded by walking out of the event. “We are people, not a statement,” seemed to be a rallying cry.

The students at STEM High School were trying to give public voice to their pain, but the adults in the room turned their vigil into a political circus. When public lamentation is censored or ignored, questions about justice and change are never heard and easily dismissed. The failure to lament conceals a multitude of sins. Instead of political stunts, our kids need a compassionate space to grieve. Joining them in their grief “constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt they feel is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal.” What our kids need, what our country needs, is national lament. May we join our children in mourning the loss of life due to this sick cycle of mass shootings.

Keep the Faith!

The Axis Team

 

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