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1. Signing Off

What it is: A surprising number of teens are opting out of social media altogether, calling it out as a toxic and harmful habit.
Why it’s trending: For the most part, teens are not oblivious to the impact that social media has on their mental health. They may not pay attention to things like the internal Instagram data that revealed how the app can psychologically impact young girls. But they do recognize how the apps make them feel during and after use. This piece in the New York Post mostly interviewed students at Columbia University, some of whom expressed that deleting social media apps for months at a time or simply not logging in at all made them feel more productive. One interviewee called social media a “total waste of time,” while another indicated that the exhausting process of creating content was simply too depressing. The evidence for this trend is mainly anecdotal at this point, but it will be interesting to see if TikTok, Snapchat and the like see a major decrease in new users in the next year or two.

2. Scamchella

What it is: Influencers and young Hollywood flocked to Coachella’s first weekend, but not everything at the music festival has gone as planned.
Why it’s a cultural microcosm: Coachella isn’t just about watching live music in the California desert; for most of the 125,000 attendees, it’s about being seen on the internet doing it. One might even make the argument that the real Coachella stage is social media. Branded events that run alongside Coachella attract wealthy VIPs who are then photographed having or pretending to have the best time. Teen-focused brand Revolve hosted one such event this year with disastrous results, with influencers complaining that they suffered in the desert heat amid confused security and transportation snafus. With teens getting hip to Coachella’s tendency to be an “expectation vs. reality” type experience (much like living in a van), the cool-factor of this and other outdoor music festivals might be on its way out.

3. Poison Pills

What it is: Drug use among teens is down, statistically, but overdose deaths are up.
Why it’s so important to talk to your teen: Teens are engaging in less high-risk behaviors, but that doesn’t mean that they’re safe from contaminated drugs. Many things about the American opioid crisis are nuanced and complicated, but this isn’t. This is about fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s about a hundred times stronger than morphine. A newly-published study conducted by a group of academic researchers analyzing real-time data found that federal seizures of fentanyl surged by 4,850 percent. The number of individual seizures related to fentanyl pills jumped by 834 percent. These pills are disguised to look exactly like prescription pills and often they are purchased from dealers off of Snapchat. In one particularly heartbreaking instance, the sixteen-year-old son of TV host Laura Berman took a single pill of what he thought was the common anti-anxiety drug Xanax. He never woke up. Many teens assume prescription pills are safe because, they reason, they were prescribed to someone. It’s essential that teens understand the risks of street drugs and how often they are being tampered with.

Slang of the Week

On one: originally referring to being on drugs with the “one” being a pill, this slang is now mostly used as a reference to acting high, feeling strong, or being silly. (Ex: “I’m actually about to pick up that wet towel before my mom finds it laying around. I must be on one right now.”)

Culture: Translated

As we saw under Poison Pills, for some teens, what was purposefully manufactured to look like oxycodone or Xanax actually contained fentanyl, and led to overdose and death. As a partial response to this tragedy, some researchers have suggested that teens should be given access to “fentanyl test strips, which can detect counterfeit pills.” Although overdose isn’t the only form of harm that can come from drug use, test strips like this point out the need for an important discipleship principle that actually affects all of our lives: gaining the ability to look beyond the surface and into the heart of who/what we’re interacting with.

In a culture that promotes such relentless fixation with image and appearance, it can be easy to neglect looking below the surface. But when Samuel is looking for a king in 1 Samuel 16:7, the Lord says to him that he “does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In other words, in God’s eyes, what’s on the inside is much more important than how things appear on the outside. This truth comes painfully in our Poison Pills story. But in Scamchella too, when this crew of photogenic influencers was tested in the desert, and devolved into “pushing, shoving, shouting, and yanking in front of the buses,” they were revealed for who they really are. Though none of it may come through in their idyllic California photo-ops, in the end, in God’s eyes, what’s inside is all that really matters.

Perhaps the Gen Zers we mentioned under Signing Off will find that it’s now slightly easier to judge by more than just appearances. At the same time, if it was an issue for Samuel in the Old Testament, it’s likely to be the work of a lifetime for us. Either way, as we begin to look deeper, we’re likely to find that our desires change, our appetites change, and so our habits change—whether that has to do with social media or otherwise.

So what does it take to actually do this work? Here are some questions to hopefully get some conversation going with your teens:

  • Why do you think it’s so easy to judge by appearances?
  • Have you ever judged someone by their appearance and later found out you were wrong?
  • Going back to the top part, do you know how to tell if something is safe to ingest?