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1. Big Sis Tok

What it is: TikTok and Instagram personalities like Tinx are giving advice on dating, fashion, and a new type of lifestyle sensibility.
Why it’s so appealing to teenage girls: Tinx, and her many copycats, answer moral dilemmas about guys who ghost and what to do about anxiety, then broadcast these answers to their millions of followers. They also constantly name-drop luxury products and celebrity haunts, which keeps the content “aspirational.” Tinx positions herself as an older sister of sorts, someone who offers honesty and perspective and admits when she is just figuring things out herself. She’s also obsessed with adult sippy cups. The encouragement that TikTok “agony aunts” offer isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it is more grounded than the posts of most other young users. Maybe that’s because there is at least some life experience speaking to the camera. As for Tinx herself, her secret sauce might simply be her confidence; in an online world where what’s cool is always changing, Tinx presumes that simply being herself is plenty cool already. That’s an attitude teens in a role-model vacuum will always be looking to adopt.

2. Fake Breaking News

What it is: Some content creators on social media are claiming to offer an inside look at what war looks like in Ukraine right now. A lot of these posts are fake.
Why it’s hard to find the truth: Since content is served up by algorithms, a teen who shows interest in current events can end up with a steady stream of posts that claim to be representative of the invasion. There are several types of bad actors posting old footage repurposed as new, broadcasting unverified news, and even splicing parts of video games together to create their own Ukraine narrative, one that’s different from the truth. Some accounts are funded by governments supportive of Putin’s invasion, but many others are simply hoping to capitalize on the moment, get donations, or become influencers. There are undoubtedly people on the ground in Ukraine who are posting about their experience, and these posts provide an invaluable record of what’s happening for the world to see. Teens should know that history has always been written in hindsight, and propaganda is nothing new, even if it has taken a particularly thorny form when it comes to this war.

3. Gen Z Psychology 101

What it is: A Yale professor who teaches a course on being happy told the New York Times that her college students are hyper-focused on perfection and unsure about the meaning of life.
Why it’s worth reading: This interview provides a fly-on-the-wall perspective of how young people are trying, and failing, to understand what will make them happy. Professor Laurie Santos observes that today’s teens put themselves under intense pressure to do the exact right things, in the exact right order, in a way that previous generations didn’t. She says that when they aren’t following this path to perfection, they struggle to understand what the purpose of living is. Santos also believes that religion serves an important purpose as far as giving people a social structure to interact with others and do good in the world, and that other types of groups can offer a similar structure. We know that faith in Jesus gives our lives a meaning that isn’t a moving target, and that our beliefs themselves (not just the church we serve) have the potential to fill our days with genuine joy.

Slang of the Week

lovebombing: therapy-speak for when an abusive romantic partner or loved one deluges you with gifts, praise, and affirmation as a form of manipulation, this term has made its way to mental health TikTok where it is applied to a variety of different situations. (Ex: “I thought he was really into me because he went all-out Valentine’s Day, but he’s been ghosting me ever since. Total lovebomber.”)

Translation: Gen Z Psychology 101

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes that “success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself… Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

An idea like that would likely seem counterintuitive to many of the students in Professor Santos’ classes—students who have been raised from young ages to pay careful and constant attention to their academic viability. Students like these grow up with a hope and an expectation that achieving perfection (whether academic, relational, spiritual, or other) will finally yield the happiness, satisfaction, and recognition they’ve been looking for. But after achieving perfection, the next source of anxiety is maintaining perfection. As Christopher Fry once put it, “What, after all is a halo? It’s only one more thing to keep clean.”

Jesus concludes Matthew 5 by saying to his hearers, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s a verse most Christians may not want to touch, and one that anxious overachievers might point to as justification for their continual striving. But as C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, Jesus’ words presuppose our dependence on Him. He writes, “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command… The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

In other words, our betterment is in partnership with our Creator, and happiness is merely a by-product of our total surrender. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Here are some questions to spark conversation with your teens:

  • What do you think it takes to be happy?
  • Do you think happiness is related at all to worldly success?
  • If so, how successful does someone have to be to be happy? If not, does that mean we shouldn’t put forth effort?