1. In Their Own Words
What it is: A flurry of new research and features explore what it’s like for today’s teens to grow up online—and if avoiding social media altogether could have unintended consequences.
What we can learn from it: A piece in The Cut shares small excerpts from real interviews with teens who dove into their complicated feelings about social media. Those who were interviewed seemed to conclude that while they had all experienced the dark side of social media at a young age, avoiding it completely would cut them off from potentially positive experiences. Also, a longform feature in The New York Times followed three thirteen-year-old girls to understand how social media and smartphone use is shaping their adolescent experience. One of the girls isn’t allowed to have any social media at all, but noted that not having access makes her insecure about what’s happening without her. “People are always talking about things that happened on social media. I can’t relate to any of it,” she says.
Start the conversation: How would avoiding all social media impact your in-person interactions?
2. Don’t Call Me
What it is: The Washington Post dishes out some very basic advice on modern phone etiquette.
Why it’s still interesting: Something that might surprise parents is the seemingly universal way younger people despise voicemail messages. The article suggests that voicemails should be left only at truly pivotal moments—like your mother wishing you a happy birthday, or a friend sharing a snippet of a live concert you couldn’t get tickets for. Voicemails are simply inconvenient to retrieve, and often go ignored. Another piece of advice: when calling a Gen Zer, shoot a warning text. While teens don’t all hate talking on the phone, many feel the need to mentally prepare for the conversation instead of simply picking up an unexpected call. Unless it’s a conversation that requires a back-and-forth dynamic (like a brainstorming session or an argument), most younger people really, really, really would prefer you simply text or email them to share information.
Start the conversation: Besides warning texts and avoiding voicemails, what are some other differences in how younger people prefer to use phones?
3. Wanting More
What it is: #yearning has 53 million views on TikTok, appealing to a certain set of moody music loving, poetry reading, introspective users.
Why it’s trending: The phrase “yearnposting” is vague enough that it can be applied to a wide array of posts and emotions. The defining feature of this genre of post is that it romanticizes longing as a virtuous emotional state. Frustrated desires and foolish hopes are seen as worthy of nurturing. Even heartbreak is elevated to some degree of desirability as it invites self-reflection. Autumn feels like the prime season for this type of thing; there’s something sentimental about warmth fading from the air as leaves fall to the ground. Yearnposting will sometimes offer a quote from a song lyric or classical literature, juxtaposed over a teen who is understood to be wanting something they can’t possess. This corner of the internet is strongly associated with a specific genre of music, and songs by singer-songwriter musicians like Lizzy McAlpine, Noah Kahan, Mitski, and Phoebe Bridgers feature heavily in posts about yearning.
Start the conversation: What do you think about these kinds of posts on social media?
Slang of the Week
“That’s a body”: Rising in popularity on places like TikTok and X (formerly Twitter), this phrase derives its meaning from the term “body count”—which refers to the amount of sexual partners someone has had. Saying “that’s a body” is often a way of calling someone out for trying to get with someone else. It might be said (more jokingly) after a guy says “bless you” when a girl sneezes, or (less jokingly) when a guy hangs out with a girl (who’s not his girlfriend) one on one. For teens, the term could be a way to kickstart important conversations about male-female friendships and the things we should set boundaries around. It could also lead to conversations about how we should treat members of the opposite sex when we’re in dating relationships.
In an article discussing the topic of #yearnposting, the author concludes that the trend demonstrates that “we have FOMO rather than any internal urges.” Meaning, an effect of the presence of smartphones is that we no longer tend to turn inward to assess our desires; we’re shown what we should long for all the time. We can then form communities around these desires, engaging in infinite feedback loops that draw strangers together under the banner of “have-nots.” Leaving these communities would mean we’d have to face not only the FOMO of leaving, but the internal urges that would arise in the absence of external ones. In other words, we’d have to face who we really are, and what we really want.
Part of what makes these internet-instilled desires so addictive is that they are relatively easily met. Whether it’s a product, an experience, or a relationship, there is a way to get it (or at least, simulate it) online. And yet, the things we really long for, the things our souls crave, are not so easily obtainable.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise… If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The issue is not that we yearn too much, but too little. When all we know is what we see, it’s all we want. But the secret of Christianity is that the deeper longings we don’t always make time for, and don’t always want to acknowledge, were put there to be met by our Creator.
Here are some questions to open up conversation with your teens:
- Where do you think our desires come from? Do you think social media changes that?
- Why do you think people like thinking about what they’re missing? Do you think that’s helpful or harmful?
- When have you experienced Jesus meeting your needs? What are some needs you want him to meet?