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1. Tween Shopping Network

What it is: A new piece in The Cut interviews several tweens to get a feel for Gen Alpha’s attitudes on shopping, screen time, and skincare.
Why it’s surprising: In a follow-up radio interview with WNYC, writer Casey Lewis observed that much of the conversation around today’s tweens characterizes them as Tik-Tok-addled Stanley hoarders, eager to accumulate expensive athleisure and adding yet another layer of acidic serum into their skincare routine every night. Perhaps there is some truth to that stereotype. But the middle schoolers Lewis talked to trawl Sephora and Lululemon as browsers more than buyers, and their fashion staples skew toward the sentimental. A band tee from a first concert, a used pair of low-rise jeans, and a friendship bracelet made from a kit found at Five Below ranked as treasured possessions. The whole piece pushes back on assumptions about tweens, with one exception— young people continue, for some reason, to totally shun coats.
Continue the conversation: What do you think adults get wrong about today’s middle schoolers?

2. New Shade

What it is: The term “she’s not a girl’s girl” has evolved into a layered and low blow, with some even saying it’s now “the internet’s worst insult.”
Why people are talking about this: This supposed insult has been popping up a lot in popular culture. In Tate McRae’s song “we’re not alike,” she sings, “Said she was a girls’ girl, that’s a lie/Said she had my back but she held a knife.”  When Ariana Grande started dating a married costar, that man’s wife said Grande was “not a girl’s girl.” #girlsgirl has 1.2 billion views on TikTok, with many posts discussing a “girl’s code” —ways that girls are expected to support one another and prioritize female friendships over romantic interests. The implication here seems to be that women owe each other a certain degree of solidarity and that by linking arms against a loosely defined “patriarchy,” all women can win. But when failing to be a “girl’s girl” is leveled as an insult, the concept becomes a cruel way for women to police each other’s behavior. Ironically, a heavy emphasis on being a “girl’s girl” can make girlhood even more complicated and confusing. (For more on the complex social hierarchies of Gen Z, check out our new 7 Minute Video on “Mean Girls” and the power of words).
Continue the conversation: What do you think a “girl’s girl” is? What would it mean to be accused of not being one?

3. Who’s Watching?

What it is: AI monitoring tools may be able to detect some red flags for teens who are at a higher risk for suicide. Some researchers have expressed concern.
Why it’s controversial: Schools are ramping up their use of AI-based computer monitoring software that tracks what students do on their school-issued devices and school accounts. This may seem like an especially appealing solution for schools with scant mental health resources available for students. But technology to track students’ online behavior in this way hasn’t been around for long enough to definitively say whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks; risks that go beyond the obvious data privacy issues. The types of searches or online behaviors that could trigger an alert to the school appear to be ill-defined and inconsistent. And after an alert is sent, it is up to the school to decide what to do next. Anecdotally, it would appear some students get in trouble instead of being referred to mental health professionals.
Continue the conversation: How would you feel if tracking software was being used on your school device?

Slang of the Week

“Womp Womp”: Almost the onomatopoeia of the “sad trombone” sound, “womp womp” is a phrase that’s used as a verbal reaction to something embarrassing, melodramatic, or sad. The notable thing with this specific slang is that it’s often used, not to express concern or empathy, but as a humorous and dismissive response. It could be funny when you say it as a response to a melodramatic rant that you watched on a show. But it’s probably not the best thing to say to a friend who just told you that they’re wrestling with their mental health.

The Importance of Noticing Our Kids

In 1952, the French philosopher Simone Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Her statement rings even truer today; in an age of almost continual distraction, taking time to give the people around us our focus and attention means giving them a rare and precious gift.

According to Dr. Mark Mayfield, doing this for our sons and daughters can be a major part of maintaining mentally healthy families. Dr. Mayfield is a former pastor as well as an award-winning author, speaker, leadership coach, counselor, and professor. This week’s conversation with him was all about the role that noticing our kids plays in familial mental health.

“When I work with families,” Dr. Mayfield says, “I tell mom and dad, ‘Your job is to notice your child, at any given step of the way. You notice the energy when they walk in the room, you study their eyes when you’re having conversations with them, you’re doing things around the dinner table, you’re prepping meals together, you’re maybe sitting down and playing video games. But you’re around them enough to know when something’s off.’”

Mayfield also believes that parents owe it to their teens to take care of their own mental health—even when it feels like we don’t have time for ourselves. “I always tell parents,” Mayfield says, “’You don’t need to have it all figured out. You don’t need to have it all together. You just need to be aware of your stuff and how your stuff shows up. And you need to be working on your stuff.’”

The invitation is for parents to pay attention not just to the teens in their lives, but to their own souls. After all, we can’t impart health from an unhealthy place. As we think about ways to better notice our teens, we can lean into the example of Jesus, who asked questions, paid close attention, and used what He witnessed to speak into the lives of those He encountered.

The full interview is available on our Culture Translator podcast. In the meantime, here are three questions to spark conversation with your teens:

  • What does mental healthiness look like in our family?
  • What can we do to pursue mental healthiness individually and together?
  • When was the last time that you felt truly seen?