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1. Chef’s Kiss

What it is: Physical gestures that originated on TikTok have become an integral part of how Gen Z communicates in real life.
Why people are noticing it: Touching the two tips of your index fingers together (👉👈) to shyly ask a question, darting your tongue out of one side of your mouth (🤪) to indicate silliness, and miming a “chef’s kiss” with a closed hand drawn toward, then away from your lips to communicate delight are all prime examples of how internet language has migrated off the screen and into everyday face-to-face interactions. Many of these gestures have been adopted from anime, emoji, and video games. The shorthand makes up a shared language for a generation for whom digital existence superseded the physical realm, at least during the formative years they spent restricted by the pandemic. Teens may even appear to be “performing” communication, acting out their words with coded signals to punctuate or elaborate on their words.
Start the conversation: How often do you notice people copying online gestures in real life?

2. Decking Out the Dorms

What it is: College students now spend an average of $1,367 outfitting their dorm rooms, a spending increase of 40% in two years.
Why they’re doing it: Gone are the days of sparse, drab, and relatively uniform-looking dormitory bedrooms. Custom curtains with matching bed linens, twinkly lights, and an intentionally cultivated aesthetic are now the norm. One college’s director of housing administration told NBC news that students loaded up with Keurig coffee makers and air purifiers are now arriving en masse on move-in day. The expectation of what your personal space—even a temporary one—can and should look like has been totally revamped in the last several years. (After 18 months of inflation, essentials also simply cost more now.) Back-to-school spending isn’t up across the board, however. Consulting firm Deloitte forecasted in July that back-to-school shopping for kindergarten through high school will drop by 10% as customers hunt for bargains and focus on covering necessities.
Start the conversation: Do you feel pressure to make your bedroom or personal space look a certain way?

3. A Shorts Story

What it is: YouTube’s TikTok competitor, Shorts, is gaining traction—and, The Wall Street Journal argues, limiting attention spans.
What to know about it: Some parents who won’t allow their teens to use TikTok may consider YouTube to be a safer alternative. For those families, it’s worth understanding the similarities, and differences, of what Shorts offers users. YouTube debuted Shorts two years ago, and this type of content now draws the eyes of 2 billion monthly users. Shorts are limited to 60 seconds, but are often even shorter, and can offer continual stimulation in a way that’s different from other screen time activities like video games and TV show streaming. Often, a short will just be a meme that features a trending sound or even a TikTok repost. Anecdotally, some parents have noted that short-form content is harder for their teens to disengage from, and researchers worry that users with developing brains will be impacted long-term by shorter attention spans. As of this writing, parents can’t disable Shorts content within the YouTube app or set a time limit just for Shorts, though some third-party plug-ins do have the ability to block them.
Start the conversation: Do you think short-form content is more addictive than longer content? Why?

Song of the Week

“Rich Men North of Richmond” by Oliver Anthony Music: Currently sitting on #3 on the Spotify USA Top 50 and #1 on the Apple Music USA Top 100, “Rich Men North of Richmond” by newcomer Oliver Anthony Music is definitely a bit of a surprise to see on the charts alongside mainstays like Doja Cat, Travis Scott, and Taylor Swift. Following in the tradition of folk music, the song laments the plight of the working class. Lyrics touch on, among other things, inflation and the suicide rate for American men, pointing the finger for these struggles at the politicians in Washington, D.C. (that is, the “rich men north of Richmond”) who don’t seem to have a clue. Conservative pundits have celebrated the viral song, though it would seem that Oliver Anthony himself is equally frustrated with politicians on the right and on the left. (He describes himself as “pretty dead center down the aisle on politics” in his own YouTube video.) For the lyrics, click here (language).

Culture: Translated

Our age is one of seemingly infinite content, much of which seems intent on telling us how we should act and be. Whether it’s consumer behavior, like buying an air purifier for your dorm room because of a TikTok that framed it as a must-have, or a communication tic, like picking up on a gesture from an anime character, what we do is affected by what we’ve seen.

Sometimes we’re absorbing short-form content that’s designed to be addictive, like TikToks or YouTube Shorts. Other times, we’re simply adapting a turn of phrase from someone we spend a lot of time with. In any case, our behaviors are often shaped by a passive assimilation more than an intention we’ve set. In this way, choices about what we consume become choices about who we become.

If a young person spends enough of their time around strangers on screens who are speaking the common language of the internet, the effect may be the same as someone who finds themselves picking up the habits of locals when they’ve spent a long time outside their native land. But while we live in a place that is not our home, we are called to resist becoming identical to the culture that surrounds us.

Proverbs 13:20 warns that, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Indiscriminate scrolling allows anyone, foolish or not, to be our companions. This is why it’s so important to lean into the people around us in our real lives, people we choose because we know they will “spur us on towards love.” The goodness shown to us by the people we love reflects God’s own goodness, and when we spend our time around these people we might find ourselves picking up on God’s character without much effort at all.

Here are some questions to open up conversation with your teens:

  • Is there anything you do or say that you’ve picked up from friends or family? Have you picked anything like that up from the internet?
  • What do you think makes someone worthy of spending time with?
  • Can you think of anyone in your life that you’d be proud to be more like?