i have a new book releasing in december for parents, called Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. the book is a significant rewrite of some of my chapters from the book scott rubin and i co-authored a couple years ago, called Middle School Ministry. In this series, i’m excerpting portions of one of the chapters, called “White-Hot Temporary (Early Adolescent Culture)”.
my first post in this series covered a culture of information, and a culture of immediacy. the second post in the series included a disposable culture, and a culture of consumerism. the third post included an intense but temporary culture, and a networked culture.
A Driven yet Sedentary Culture
This is an interesting, paradoxical tension among young teens today. On the one hand, the pressures on middle schoolers are greater now than they’ve ever been. Today’s young teens are driven in ways that are almost scary. Some of this drivenness comes from their own choosing; but most of it is an external drive from parents and schools.
Not all kids play sports, of course; but for those who do, involvement in sports seems to be less about having fun and getting exercise. Instead, involvement in sports often carries with it a sense of the future: What doors will this open? Sports are seen in a utilitarian sense, as a means to get somewhere in life. In other words, the pursuit of the American dream (financial freedom and career success) is more competitive and fleeting than ever. And sports are seen as one of the many Lego pieces that will build an edge over others, increasing the likelihood of “success.”
Yet sports are only one example. We see this driven reality play out in the lives of countless nonsporting middle schoolers, too. The message seems to be: You must be the best at something if you hope to be successful in life.
Of course, this plays out academically also. Not every kid is college-bound, but the pressure to succeed academically permeates much of teenage culture–including the culture of young teens. I’m pretty sure there was no such thing as SAT prep for middle schoolers when we were that age.
But with all this pressure and drivenness, there’s an odd tension at play in the lives of young teens: They are more sedentary than ever. They don’t move as much. They watch more TV, sit at computers, sit in their rooms and text their friends, and sit in front of gaming systems for hours on end. The notion of a pick-up game of stickball in the street has little more than an old-timey Norman Rockwell vibe to it these days. When the young teen guys I know get together with friends, it’s rarely for any kind of physical activity; young teen guys typically get together to play video games.
2 thoughts on “middle school culture, part 4”
I agree with you that teens and preteens are living with a crazy amount of stress because if they do eventually play a sport their parents think they will be the next superstar. I also wonder how parents are living through their teenagers by pushing them to be the absolute best. How can youth ministries help kids relax, have fun, and love God?
The more pressure that the students internalize the more they are going to turn to video games as a coping mechanism. They, as I do, retreat into this world of fantasy where life is much more exciting, more black and white, where you have more control, and if things don’t work out you get to start over. And then, add the component of playing online, and you can trick yourself into believing that your are connecting with others. But, it’s a very superficial connection and ultimately doesn’t satisfy the relational drive that God has placed in us.