When a group of teenagers recently asked if we wanted to meet for lunch, I replied, “That’s aesthetic, fam. Just don’t throw shade when me and my bae roll up in my minivan. I can’t help it that my ride isn’t as swaggalicious as yours.” Once the laughter subsided, the kids explained that I didn’t have to try to talk like a teenager in order to relate to teenagers.
Okay, that story didn’t actually happen. (We had to ask our teenage offspring what most of those words even meant!) But that advice serves as a good reminder: When you’re trying to relate to kids, it can be helpful to stay current on cultural and social trends, but that isn’t a requirement. In our experience, the most effective youth workers are self-actualized enough to focus on staying connected to Jesus and pointing students to him rather than trying to appear cool.
Becoming culturally aware is a noble goal, as long as you remember to maintain your identity along the way. That being said, researching pop culture can be risky. These sites are more informational and less clickbait:
- Buzzfeed—This aggregate site is a mother-lode of all things pop culture. It’s easy to scan the mostly Twitter-length articles for relevance. Plus, there’s space for the blogsphere to weigh in on developing stories. We review this site as part of our morning routine to discover what issues American culture deems important.
- Common Sense Media—This helpful storehouse of media reviews covers movies, TV shows, games, websites, apps, and more. Although the perspective isn’t necessarily Christian, the insights help parents and kids make healthier decisions about media use. We use this site to guide discussions with students on media choices.
- Center for Parent/Youth Understanding—Walt Mueller’s definitive culture and ministry site helps families navigate the deeper issues related to culture. Several spinoff sites address sexuality, parenting in the digital age, and transitioning out of high school. We use this resource for thinking more deeply about cultural issues—and for guiding our students’ parents to do the same.
Cultural awareness involves finding moments when Jesus’ kingdom breaks through popular culture. By encouraging students to see glimpses of Jesus in life’s everyday moments and showing them how to process any harmful or destructive messages, we “teach them to fish” rather than just feed them for a day.
What do you think? What resources do you recommend?
We’d also like to recommend Group’s Parents Guides to Social Media, Teenage Brains, Sex & Dating, and more!