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1. Is Everybody Group Texting Without Me?

What it is: The evolving rules of the “group text” are a fascinating study of how teenagers talk to each other, showing us what’s changed—and what hasn’t changed at all.
What parents should know: There’s a lot of emphasis on “cyberbullying” that happens in public social media spaces. But sometimes the most cutting interactions come from group texts, which have their set of rules for acceptable interaction. Group texts that encompass 15 or 20 people are typically also splintered into side conversations that only include two or three people, often peppered with screenshots that question comments or behaviors happening in the big group. (These tend to have the vibe of the theater hecklers, Statler and Waldorf, in the Muppets). Not texting enough, or texting too much, can mean removal from a text thread entirely, and non-iPhone users are often ostracized completely from group texts. Just like in real life, group texts have a social order—but in the digital world, any faux pas can live forever through a screenshot.
Start the conversation: Do you like being in big group texts? Why or why not?

2. “After Death”

What it is: Angel Studios has released a documentary film called “After Death” that probes the question of what happens after we die, now playing in 2,200 theaters nationwide.
What to know: “After Death” draws from a wide spectrum of interviews and some scientific data. It presents multiple first-hand accounts from people who were medically “dead” but revived and who claim to have seen a preview of what the afterlife will look like. Some of these previews were of heavenly bliss, while others say they saw into a terrifying darkness. While critics might find the subject matter mawkish, the movie could present a great opportunity to talk with the next generation about what really happens after we die, and what the Bible says about the next life.
Start the conversation: Why do you think it’s so easy to rarely think about what happens after we die?

3. Steam-Free TV

What it is: According to a new UCLA study, teens prefer to watch television shows that emphasize friendship plots rather than sex and romance.
How it breaks down: This particular survey had 1500 participants ages 10-24, which meant that each age group had only 100 participants. With the caveat that the sample size was limited, it’s still interesting to consider why 44.3% surveyed said that romance and sex are overused in entertainment media, and 51.5% said they wanted to see more of an emphasis on platonic relationships on screen. They also expressed a strong desire to see characters who identified as asexual represented in stories. Historically, television aimed at teens has often veered toward the high-stakes love triangle or the star-crossed romance, and it seems like audiences have grown weary of those tropes. It’s also possible that a generation plagued with fabled levels of loneliness would like to see lasting, satisfying, non-romantic intimacy modeled on screen.
Start the conversation: Do you think dramatic romances are “played out” in teen fiction and shows?

Slang of the Week

“Is It Over Now? (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” by Taylor Swift: With the release of “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” listeners get to hear songs cut from the original tracklist of the Grammy-award-winning 2014 album. “Is It Over Now?” focuses on the complicated feelings we often feel when a romantic relationship comes to a slow and ambiguous end. Taylor sings about wanting someone back (most likely Harry Styles), but also wishing suffering on her ex. Taylor Swift has maintained a “good girl” persona throughout her career, but this song plays with themes of revenge, has more overt sexual tones, and even mentions self-harm. For lyrics, click here (suggestive themes).

Talking with Teens About Media and Culture

Teens spend an average of 8 ½ hours per day consuming media on digital devices—the equivalent of a 40-hour work week. About half of that time (4.8 hours, according to Gallup) is spent on social media, with the rest divided up between streaming apps, messaging, gaming, and forums. The larger culture is like an open fire hydrant constantly flooding teens’ minds with media and information—and many families feel like they’re drowning in it.

This week, we’re reposting an interview with journalist (and Axis content writer) Kate Watson about how and why parents should have intentional conversations with teens about media and culture. Although the three primary responses to culture throughout Christian history have been 1) to engage in culture war, 2) to totally isolate from culture, and 3) to blend in with culture, we talk about how Jesus and Paul actually modeled the practice of using culture to point people to the gospel.

When we come across something in culture that we don’t understand, we have the opportunity to ask, as Kate puts it, “What does it tell me about the world around me? And what does the fact that the world around me welcomes it tell me about the world I’m living in?” She goes on to say, “That sort of curiosity, I think that nurturing it and cultivating it can make us more empathetic people, and it can make us better witnesses toward the gospel.”

This is just as true with the rising generation as it is with anyone else. A conversation that tries to understand the appeal of something first is likely to go farther than a conversation that starts with condemnation.

The full conversation with Kate is available in our Culture Translator podcast, wherever you listen to podcasts. In the meantime, when talking with your teen about culture, try asking these questions (in this order):

  • What do you like about this [song, artist, show, movie, app, etc.]?
  • Is there anything you dislike about it, or that you think is wrong?
  • Can you think of anything in the Bible that relates to this?