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You’re a follower of Jesus. And, you’re a youthworker. You minister to kids so that they might realize and live out their created purpose in a relationship with their Creator. You desire to see them embraced by God, and to wholeheartedly and unashamedly embrace Him back. And, you want them to serve the God who sends them back into the world as His hands and feet. These realities require quite a bit on your part: a growing and vital relationship with Jesus, knowledge of His Word, time spent in prayer, developing community, lots of planning, spending time with kids, diplomatic skills, etc. One skill/commitment that is a non-negotiable is being culturally savvy.

How much do you know about what’s going on in their world? What’s shaping their values, attitudes, and behaviors? What’s calling for their allegiance? Do you realize how the cultural soup they swim and marinate in everyday is changing at breakneck speed, all the while giving them a reason to get up in the morning and shaping how they choose to live their lives once they’re out of bed?

Jesus commands youthworkers to go into His world with cultural-savvyness. Because the culturally-savvy youthworker knows that media is one of the most powerful shapers of young lives, that youthworker will monitor teenagers’ media to see where that media’s sending teens in terms of their values, attitudes, and behaviors.

For that reason I think you need to know about some new research that was released late last week. “The Rap on Rap” is a content analysis research report put together by the folks at The Parents Television Council. The research was conducted at the request of the Reverend Delman Coates, an African-American activist who knows both the power of media in shaping kids, and the necessity for kid-shapers to know the culture. Coates is the organizer of the Enough is Enough Campaign for Corporate Responsibility in Entertainment. His campaign challenges the corporate sponsorship of lyrical and visual content that sexually objectifies females, that promotes drug and alcohol use/abuse, that glorifies violence and other criminal behavior, and that negatively stereotypes Black and Latino men as pimps, thugs, and gangsters.

The reports stated goal “was to assess the quality and degree of adult-themed music video content marketed to and viewed by children.” Afternoon and early-evening programming on MTV and BET were monitored for a two-week period in December 2007. Struck by the high amount of objectionable content, researchers wanted to validate that their findings were accurate by viewing the same programming for a one week period in March 2008. Not only were the results validated, but the March programming revealed even higher levels of objectionable content in comparison to December’s findings. Analysts counted instances of explicit language, sex, violence, drug sales or use, and other illegal activities.

So what did they discover? They stirred the soup of today’s media culture and discovered – among other things – the following:

  • During March of 2008, there was an average of 95.8 instances of objectionable content per hour. During December of 2007, there were 59.9 instances per hour.
  • Content during December breaks this way: sex (45%), explicit language (29%), violence (13%), drug use/sales (9%), and other illegal activity (3%).
  • The content breakdown for March looks like this: sex (42%), explicit language (37%), violence (10%), drug use/sales (9%), and other illegal activity (2%).

While these are the general overall findings, you can read more detailed analysis by downloading the report at www.parentstv.org. I recommend that you read the report in it’s entirety to get a better sense of what your students are seeing and hearing on MTV and BET.

The next question you should be asking is this: Now that I’ve stirred the soup and seen these ingredients, what do I do next? Here are some simple suggestions to get you started.

First, pass on what you’ve learned to the parents of your students. Remember, they are the one’s who are primarily responsible for the spiritual nurture of their children. Summarize the reports findings in an email to all parents, and include a link to the downloadable report itself. Encourage parents to ask their students if they’re watching MTV and BET. Encourage them to set standards, to discuss music and video with their kids, and to continue to monitor their teen’s viewing and listening habits. Above all, encourage them to bring the light of God’s Word to bear the media messages their kids see and hear everyday.

Second, set up a time to share the studies findings with your youth ministry and pastoral staff. Your fellow youthworkers need to know this stuff’s in the soup of today’s youth culture. Knowing it’s there will convince them of the need to look for opportunities to discuss these issues with the kids they know and love. But don’t stop there. Pass the info on to everyone on staff at your church. Those involved in children’s ministry need to know that it’s never too early to talk to kids about these issues from a Biblical perspective. Gaining that perspective at a young age prepares them to evaluate media Christianly and make God-honoring media choices as they live through the tumultuous and confusing adolescent years. And, be sure to encourage your pastor to preach to these difficult realities.

Finally, it is imperative – IMPERATIVE – that you regularly involve your students in practicing thinking Christianly and Biblically about music and media. If you’re at a loss for how to make this happen, use the resource we’ve put together at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding – our How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart 3D media evaluation guide. You can find sample 3D evaluations of music, moves, and TV shows on our site at cpyu.org.

Getting savvy isn’t just about knowing culture. It’s ultimately about connecting to and engaging with kids right where they’re at, and bringing the truths of the Gospel to bear on the realities of a rapidly changing world.

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