1. War on TikTok
What it is: TikTok videos on the Israel-Hamas war have drawn billions of views this week. #palestine has 30 billion views, with #israel drawing 26.6 billion.
What teens are seeing: Gen Xers and even older Millennials learning about Hamas’ horrific October 7 attack on Israeli civilians may feel like they are getting the news delivered in real time through traditional outlets. But parents and caring adults should know that Gen Zers are getting a completely different perspective on these world events, one that comes directly from citizen journalists and young people broadcasting what they see. Young Palestinians are sharing their experience of living in the Gaza Strip in viral posts that deeply shape how Gen Z sees this conflict. It’s also important to note the grim prospect of teens on TikTok encountering graphic footage of dead children, brutalized women, and families murdered in their homes—some of which is already online, and more of which is likely to be published in the days to come.
Start the conversation: Are you seeing a lot of posts about the war in the Gaza Strip?
2. The Cost of a Bargain
What it is: Chinese-owned shopping app Temu is drawing teens in with absurdly cheap prices.
Why there’s an ethical concern: A quick browse through Temu’s site reveals an incredible array of goods for sale as well as a fine-tuned sensibility for the desires of the American consumer. Women’s blazers are $14—as are waterproof smartwatches. For $7, one can purchase a reusable tote with all the cats from “Harry Potter.” The company aggressively markets on social media, and even advertised in last years’ SuperBowl. It is easy to understand how teens on a limited income (or parents on a pinched budget) would be excited about the prospect of getting more for less. However, a bipartisan congressional report found that Temu, as well as Singapore-based fast fashion retailer Shein, are likely reliant, at least in part, on slave labor. A global supply chain verification firm found that at least some of Temu’s goods are produced in Xinjiang, an area of western China where human rights watchdogs believe over a million Uyghur Muslims are detained in labor camps.
Start the conversation: If your favorite brand used slave labor to make its products, would you want to know?
3. The Mind-Spirit Connection
What it is: A newly published meta-analysis of Gallup’s global poll data has linked spiritual practice to better mental health outcomes for people around the world.
What Christians can learn from it: World Mental Health Day, observed on October 10, brought several conversations surrounding the teen mental health crisis to the forefront. Curiously absent from most of that discourse was the mention of how spiritual communities can positively impact mental health on both an individual and a population-wide level. The literature analyzed showed that religious people report higher levels of optimism, hope, and self-esteem and lower levels of depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety than the non-religious population. The study does not specifically point to Christian teaching, but does call for increased cultural literacy surrounding the benefits of having a faith and belonging to a church. One of the study’s interviewees concluded that young people are born with spiritual needs, and that without guidance from a family or church community who can meet those needs, they look for those answers in places with great potential for personal harm.
Start the conversation: How do you think your spiritual life impacts your mental health?
Song of the Week
“IDGAF” by Drake (ft. Yeat): Drake’s newest album “For All the Dogs” released last week, and its domination of the streaming charts has begun. At #1 on both the Apple Music USA Top 100 and the Spotify USA Top 50, “IDGAF” has established itself as the album’s early hit. The initialization “IDGAF” (meaning “I don’t give a f***”) describes the central thesis of the song. Drake and his feature, Yeat, rap about how they’ve arrived at a cold and distant indifference in their lives. Through the lyrics, they celebrate this disaffection for others’ opinions, claiming that they don’t care about romance and that they say and do whatever they want. Musically, the song is a little more intense and rhythmically driven than your standard Drake song, and one particular tonally dissonant Drake interjection has been memed (language) ruthlessly on TikTok. For lyrics, click here (language).
The attack on Israel by Hamas is not the first violent tragedy Gen Z has witnessed. For a generation born on the cusp of 9/11, the concept of “terrorism” has never been a foreign one. Shootings are part of the back-to-school conversation as much as how many and what color folders they need. Ubiquitous access to social media has brought the conflict in Ukraine into their pockets. In many ways, Gen Z was raised witnessing violence.
Perhaps this is part of why Gen Z feels so strongly about the promise of justice. From protests to fundraising campaigns to bids for awareness of different social issues on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram, a good portion of Gen Z believes they can make the world a better place. The teens of today, surrounded by evidence of destruction for all of their lives, consistently react with hope.
Since the horrific violence enacted by Hamas, teens’ social media feeds have been filled with contradicting and complicated opinions of a conflict that has existed since before they were born. But they still react with a desire for justice for those who have suffered. They still react with hearts full of hope that peace will prevail.
The Pirkei Avot is a piece of Jewish rabbinic literature, and its title can be translated to “Ethics of the Fathers.” In the Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon is recorded as teaching, “It is not your duty to finish the work; but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” The terrorist attacks on Israel were and continue to be unthinkably evil. Loss of innocent life grieves the Father’s heart, as it should grieve ours. Scripture creates space for lament, and Jewish tradition holds that heartbreak sacred.
As Christians, we can learn from Gen Z’s example and let that heartbreak lead us to long for justice, knowing that justice on Earth is only possible when fueled by the Spirit of hope. Rabbi Tarfon’s words echo those of Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
We mourn for the pain of our Jewish and Israeli brothers and sisters, and we mourn for our brothers and sisters in Palestine who do not support Hamas. We mourn for the broken, devastated world that sin has corrupted for so long. We can mourn without losing our hope or neglecting the work. We can commit to acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with our God. In the wake of this week’s tragic events, our work might look like crying out to a God who sees and mourns alongside our aching hearts.
Here are some questions to open up conversations with your teens:
- What have you seen on your social media feeds about the conflict in Israel?
- What do you think it means to lament? Why do you think scripture talks about the importance of lament?
- Is the idea of God mourning surprising to you? Why or why not?