youth ministry 3.0 is the working title of a book i’ve mostly written, which is expected to release this fall. it’s an attempt to name where and how we’re missing the mark in youth ministry, and what needs to change in order to more truly live into our calling as youth workers.
we’ve decided to open up the book a bit and solicit youth worker contributions as sidebar comments, and i’m going to use my blog for this purpose. until late april, i’ll be posting a series of snapshots from the rough draft of the manuscript. i invite lots of comments — questions, disagreements, ideas, very short stories or examples, reflections — which will be considered as additions to the book.
by posting a comment, you are giving permission for your comment, with your screen name, to be added to the print book.
so, here’s the tenth bit, from chapter 5:
Youth Culture 3.0 – the third wave
A strange and sneaky shift has occurred in Western culture: youth culture has become the dominant culture. At the very least, youth culture has become the dominant informer and shaper of culture at large. Recent studies have shown that more than half of all household purchases are influenced by children and teenagers. Middle-aged and younger parents listen to the same music their teenagers listen to (or, at least, music their teenagers listened to a couple years ago) . Middle-aged women wear low-rider jeans. Middle-aged men (and women) sport the tattoos kids long for. It’s commonplace to see Boomer and Young X-er men wearing earrings. Clothing brands cross age barriers. TV and Movie celebs are googled by teens and adults alike. Adults are all over Facebook and MySpace.
Sure, there are differences – there always will be. And this is where the shift in adolescent task priority comes into play. But at the pop culture level, youth leads the day.
It’s a natural progression, really. Once Youth Culture 1.0 had its identity roughly formed, and Youth Culture 2.0 put hundreds of stakes in the ground about their otherness (autonomy), youth culture cannot stand by while it becomes completely commoditized and commonplace. That rubs against the essential fabric of adolescence.
So real youth culture has done three things:
First, youth culture began to play out on two levels. There’s the pop, surfacy level that is shared by teens and adults alike. This is the public face of youth culture. It’s the characterization that youth culture is more than happy to have adults believe is the sum total of youth. This isn’t a fake part of youth culture, a cardboard stand-in, set to pose and deceive. It really is youth culture; but it’s only one aspect.
Second, the non-public face of youth culture went underground . Like never before, there is a hidden world of teenagers that almost all adults have no access to, let alone knowledge of. Dr. Chap Clark, in his excellent book, Hurt: xxxx, explains that we adults are not welcome in this subterranean world of adolescents , and the best we can do is sit on the stairs that lead to it and be available to kids passing in and out of it.
I recently took my son to see the movie (adapted from the best-selling children’s book) The Spiderwick Chronicles. In the movie (and book), the children of a family stumble onto a new way of seeing, which enables them to see – and participate in – an otherwise hidden world of nymphs, sprites, ogres and other fantastical creatures living all around them. They go through much of the movie engaging, befriending, and battling in this hidden world. Their mother is completely unaware of all of this, until the very end of the movie, when the children let her in on the secret and help her to see it.
I was struck by this movie as a metaphor for this underground/hidden aspect of youth culture; with the added variable that teenagers don’t want us to see (or even know about) their private hidden land. It’s absolutely commonplace to them: they live in this world with their friends at all times – or, at least, when they’re with their friends. They live in this world, sometimes at the exclusion of the public youth culture world, and sometimes concurrently with life in the public youth culture world.
Teenagers constant need to differentiate themselves from the adult world (there’s autonomy again!) drives them to new, “other” ways of connecting, coping and creating. Every time some aspect of youth culture becomes commoditized and mainstream, accepted by adults and culture at large, teenagers tweak it in a new way for themselves, or, create a whole new category.
Case in point: all web-watchers and adolescent speculators were still convinced that teenagers were going to continue using email and online chat rooms to connect with each other virtually. But teenagers slid out from under than and embraced IM. Then we adults (who, with our last millennium thinking, love to assume things will stay the same) were socked – no one predicted this – that teenagers would slide out from under our assumptions about their IM use and move to texting as the most common form of social networking. As I write this, texting is more important and commonplace to teenagers than actually placing phone calls on their cell phones.
Third (and this is closely tied to the move underground), youth culture has splintered. While one might have some success at describing some of the general characteristics of the public aspect of youth culture, youth culture (both hidden and public) has shattered and dispersed. In my mind’s eye, I picture (computer generated) movie scenes of things exploding in space: all the pieces quickly move out, in all directions, from the center, then slow their retreat and settle into a loosely held orb of various but distinct parts.
Get this: there is no one-size-fits-all youth culture anymore. That did exist in the first two waves of youth culture. But it will, likely, never exist again. There was a day, in the not too distant past, when the entire high school revolved around the football players and cheerleaders . Even kids who were part of the math club knew that the football players and cheerleaders were the driving force, youth perfected, in their school.
Today’s high schools (and middle schools, to a lesser degree, as the students are less individuated and still trying on various identities) are a goulash of sub-cultures. The goth group has no aspirations of emulating or cozying up to the jocks and cheer-nymphs. They are broodily content in their own sub-culture, working hard to define their shared values, tastes, rules, priorities, language, acceptable and unacceptable behavior patterns, style, and more. The “party hard, study hard” gang will tolerate the froofy cheerbabes at parties, but don’t have much in common with them. Even the geeks are more content than ever in their geektitude, creating an entire sub-culture of their own (and not just a fantasy sub-culture staged in role-playing games!).