You know what we can’t get enough of? Memes. Here are three of my faves.
You know what’s too much of a good thing? Friendships that are primarily dependent on a mutual exchange of funny memes.
I was scrolling through Instagram and this post stopped me in my tracks. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Cosmo’s worldview, but this post nailed a cultural trend that is gaining traction. I’m not sure replacing “I love you” with tagged memes qualifies as beautiful, but this replacement momentum is real.
This is how teenagers are learning to interact with each other. They find a funny meme, tag a “friend” in the comments, that “friend” likes the comment, and boom—friendship. The term “meme friend” is showing up more and more on the Internet—it’s a way of describing relationships that are formed entirely by an exchange of memes. Are these “real” friendships, and if not, what are they? Can a true friendship rest on a fragile digital bridge, or will it collapse under the weight of real life?
Of course, memes can help kids make an initial connection with a new friend. But, like many forms of digital friendship, this trend can give kids a false sense of closeness with others. Can digitally mitigated “friendships” create genuine closeness, or when one meme friend is having a hard time in life, will the other meme friend feel comfortable entering into that darkness? Will “meme friends” be able to hold on for the ride?
Relational intimacy in a digital world has been re-imagined. What we don’t know is how the expectations and norms of these virtual friendships spill over into the face-to-face relationships kids are building. And if true intimacy has been compromised by anemic forms of friendship, how will that impact their ability to build a deep relationship with Jesus? Forming a truly intimate relationship with Jesus is difficult, and can even seem abstract for those new to their faith (myself included). But having the foundation and understanding of what a truly close friendship looks and feels like provides a springboard for teenagers to dive into an all-in relationship with Jesus.
One P.S. Caution: It might be tempting to over-use memes to reach kids on their level, so pay close attention to the way you’re modeling relationship to your teenagers. “The medium is the message,” says the great 20th-Century philosopher Marshal McLuhan. That means the means we model for relationships have a powerful forming influence over them. Memes can be fun, but show your teenagers what it feels like to have someone pay ridiculous attention to them. Ask questions, make them feel heard, learn their passions, and encourage them to do the same with their friends. Show kids how to dig deeper in their relationships with each other, face-to-face. With this as a foundation, they’ll be better-prepared to build and grow their relationship with Jesus.
When it comes to making a first connection with teenagers, memes can be an important tool. But make sure they’re not your students’ only friend.