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1. Quiet on Campus

What it is: A Gen Z-founded research firm called College Pulse has published “Free Speech Rankings” of 254 colleges, based on survey responses from current students in the 2023 spring semester.
How to interpret the data: This particular survey was developed in partnership with the free-speech defense nonprofit FIRE. Responses from 55,102 students were used to measure both students’ perception of free speech on campus as well as a number of other factors indicating administrative bias. (The survey’s full methodology is explained here.) Only four of the schools surveyed earned a ranking of “good,” and the Ivy League colleges, including Yale and Dartmouth, scored especially low. Harvard scored worst of all, earning a ranking of “abysmal” for tolerance and free speech. (It’s worth noting, though, that only 209 Harvard students sent responses.) Some Christian colleges, such as Hillsdale College, Pepperdine, and Liberty University, were left off the main rankings but given a free speech “warning” label because of how the analysts perceived their commitment to other values over freedom of speech.
Start the conversation: Do you feel comfortable expressing opinions that might be unpopular at your school?

2. Stars Afield

What it is: The space-fantasy RPG “Starfield” was released on Wednesday, marking the most anticipated video game release of the year.
What gamers are saying about it: “Starfield” is a huge and immersive gaming experience.  Its developer, Bethesda Studio, estimates that it will take 50 hours of gameplay just to beat the game’s main quest. Players can choose to play as space pirates, mining bosses, traders or spies, hypothetically beating the game as one type of player before choosing another to go through the game again with different challenges and storylines. Reviews of “Starfield” praise the lifelike facial expressions and interesting cast of supporting characters, while negative reviews mention issues with inventory and how long it takes for the story to really get going. There is violence and drug use, but no depictions of sex or nudity. Players can also choose between which of three fictional religions they want to participate in, which has some minor effects on how the game is played. It’s a game that’s meant to take awhile, and gamers will be talking about it for years.
Start the conversation: Do you think that “Starfield” will live up to the hype surrounding its release?

3. Searching for Sad

What it is: Data from Spotify shows that Gen Z’s most popular music search term is the word “sad.” Esquire interviewed a music psychologist about why this might be.
What it tells us: Today’s younger audiences have a few melancholy standout artists, spanning across all genres—Lana Del Rey, Drake, The 1975, Zach Bryan, Billie Eilish, and the latter half of Taylor Swift’s catalog all come to mind. (Even Miley Cyrus has some sad bangers). Folk and country music, both historically reflective and lyric-forward, experienced a surge in popularity with younger listeners this past summer. But it isn’t just about the artists; it’s about how these listeners prefer to process and exist. Today’s teens are able to build a sonic landscape customized to their specific preferences. This data makes it clear that their preference is slow, sad, and reflective. But it isn’t necessarily unhealthy to prefer songs in the minor key. Dr. Michael Bonshor points out in his interview, listening to sad music tends to be rhythmically slower, making it a more obvious choice for when listeners want to relax. Sad music can also have a neurological effect as it may trigger the release of self-soothing hormone prolactin.
Start the conversation: Do you listen to music that reflects your mood, or do you listen to music to change your mood?

Slang of the Week

“Let her (or him) cook”: The thing you reverently whisper to the rest of your friend group as you watch one of your friends get into the zone and you don’t think anyone should interfere. It’s what you say when your friend decides now is the best time to explain the entire plot of Gilmore Girls, or they decide to take on the entire opposing team in pickup basketball by themselves. It’s the moment your shy friend finally asks their crush out. The phrase is essentially the moment you decide to let your friend step into a situation on their own and in their own way, as you silently support from the sidelines. (Ex: “Why is Becca talking to Mrs. Johnson after class?” “I think she’s trying to get us all extra credit. Let her cook.”)

Culture: Translated

From a very early age, kids are learning that the things they (or others) put on the internet can have a real impact on their futures. With a phone in almost everyone’s hand, everything we say, do, and feel has the potential to be metaphorically etched in stone. Foresight and discernment are important skills to develop, but at some point teenagers can end up doing the work of entire PR teams, analyzing everything they post, text, say and do to increase engagement and minimize the possibility of damage down the line.

If the stakes are high for individuals, they are even higher for institutions. College Pulse’s survey results aren’t surprising; nothing is ignored, forgotten, or nuanced in the social media age, so schools need to be sure that nothing goes viral that would undermine their status. Individual and organizational behavior is scrutinized by strangers, friends, school, work, and of course, themselves. All the world’s a stage, and the audience is recording everything.

This kind of constant hyper-vigilance just isn’t sustainable, so teenagers do what they have always done when they need to let their feelings be big and blow off steam: they find ways to escape. Video games like “Starfield” that let players make choices and explore different storylines allow teens to make any decisions they want, stepping away from the consequences when they step away from the computer. Music, especially sad music, vents the enormous emotions teens feel all the time and gives them a way to metabolize those feelings into something more manageable. Unfortunately, the pressure only lets up until the song ends or the game is played out.

The call of the gospel is a permanent release from that pressure. Jesus’ offer of grace stands in direct contrast to the world we live in. He offers love that forgets what we said wrong as soon as we say it, kindness that draws us closer the less we try. Jesus pulls the spotlight off of us and our mistakes and onto his own perfect goodness. He invites us to step off the tightrope of good press and digital footprints and rest in His arms, where our big dreams and messy feelings are not only welcome, they’re wanted.

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

  • Do you ever feel pressure to do everything right? Do you think the internet makes that pressure worse?
  • What do you do when you need a break from performing? How does doing that help you feel better?
  • Do you feel safe with Jesus? Does anything ever hold you back from being honest with Him?