Entering Our Teens Cultural Arena by Mark Gregston
If you have teens in the house, no doubt you’ve heard mention of The Hunger Games. It’s a trilogy of young adult books that takes place in a future dystopia, where the totalitarian government rules over a beleaguered world with an iron first. In an appalling abuse of authority, the government mandates an annual, national event where young people from 12 to 18 are chosen to represent their respective communities in “The Hunger Games.” The event takes place in an outdoor arena where the young participants are to battle each other to the death, until only one kid remains. The story revolves around one young girl named Katniss, who not only competes in The Hunger Games, but eventually rises up against the sadistic leaders who promote these barbaric rituals. These stories have resonated with kids everywhere, making The Hunger Games into bestselling books and billion-dollar blockbuster movies.
But why do teens relate to these works of fiction so much? Film reviewer Dana Stevens wrote,
“Adolescence is not for the faint of heart. The to-do list for the decade between ages 10 and 20 includes separating from your parents, finding your place among your peers at school, beginning to make decisions about your own future, and—oh yes—figuring out how to relate to the world, and yourself. [Stories like The Hunger Games] externalize the turmoil that’s already taking place in adolescent minds, hearts, and bodies.”
I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that our world can resemble a gladiator’s arena at times. Your teens are consistently thrown to the cultural lions; forced to battle the influences and powers that wage war for their hearts and minds. Many parents look around and say, “I’m so glad I don’t have to grow up in this culture.” But Mom and Dad, your teens do! So how can we help our kids navigate this cultural maze and come out the other side in one piece?
I know it’s tempting at times to just bury our heads in the sand. Read the latest article about a school shooting and you worry about your teen during the day. Watch an awards show with your kids, and you want to cover their eyes during most of the performances. Hear some of the conversations and issues that are being discussed at your child’s school, and you may want to keep them home instead! Our teens may be the most exposed, most informed and most vulnerable generation that has ever lived. As parents we may seek to shelter out kids from the culture, or run the other way. But we have to realize that this is the only world that our kids have to live in. If we don’t show them how to navigate this jungle, who will?
In order to prevent our teens from becoming casualties of the culture, we have to adjust, adapt and find new ways to speak to our kids over all the noise. That involves taking time to look around and find inroads to real conversations. So hop on Facebook, and see what topics kids are discussing. Scan the latest movies or music and see what is drawing teens today. Review your child’s homework, to discover what they’re learning. Talk to your teen’s friends when they come over, to see what’s on their minds. Like a missionary, assimilate into the culture your kids are living in. You don’t have to like everything your teen likes, but you should know what interests them, what excites them, and what they are being exposed to on a daily basis.
Verbalize Your Findings
Once you have done a little research into teen culture, use what you’ve discovered as a springboard to engage in a conversation. You can start off by saying, “I saw a clip from the recent video music awards, and one performance seemed inappropriate and rather provocative. What do you think?” What you are doing is allowing your teen to think through the issues of their culture, and come to clear and logical conclusions on their own. You’re giving your teen an opportunity to interpret the world around him. Questions, asked without a judgmental attitude or unsolicited opinions, prompt your kids to begin their own thinking process. Instead of letting the culture wash over them (and perhaps drag them into the undertow), by asking questions and verbalizing your observations you can train your child to formulate their beliefs and opinions. Of course, you might not always agree with your child’s conclusion. But that means you need to keep the conversation going. It’s not a “one-and-done” discussion. Keep your eyes peeled for cultural markers that invite conversation, and keep on asking your teen good questions like, “What do you think about this problem?” “Do you think what she did is wrong or right?” “How would you have handled this differently?”
Parents might be wondering, “Mark, if I talk about risky behaviors or sensitive subjects, won’t it pique the interest of my kids and make them want to try them?” Mom and Dad, by not talking about drug use, drinking, sexual activity, homosexuality, violence, modesty, cutting, depression, abuse, or a host of other issues in our world—you’ll make your child more interested. By talking about these issues openly and honestly, you’re essentially taking away the mystique. Plus, if you don’t discuss these issues with your son or daughter, I can guarantee that someone else will! Wouldn’t you rather be the one to walk your teen through the labyrinth? I know it can be difficult to bring up some of these subjects, but remember; it’s for the maturity and benefit of your child.
Fewer Lectures, More Conversations
You have every right to rail against our culture. Goodness knows there are plenty of opportunities to do so. But that won’t help your child navigate his world. If your daughter is sixteen, she’s had sixteen years of your instruction. Now it’s time to for her to put that teaching into practice. She doesn’t need more lectures about what is right and wrong. Your daughter knows. What she needs is guidance on applying what she knows into everyday situations. How do I present myself on social media? How do I handle money? What movies and music are worth watching or listening to? Those questions are answered by gentle conversations, not by more speeches and sermons.
Many times, we parents rant about all the problems in the world. Teens know what we’re against, rather than what we’re for. Instead of pointing out the wrongs, focus your time on what’s right. Let your teen hear you applaud acts of kindness, cheer for victories of truth, and highlight areas of good in our culture. It’s not all bad. There are many things that we can get behind in our world. Choose those things to talk about as well, and let your teen know that you are a champion for good and not simply an investigator of what’s bad.
It’s true that our world can seem like a battleground where cultural attacks are aimed at destroying our teens. But that’s why they need mom and dad to walk beside them and help them get through it safely. The world doesn’t need to win; not if mom and dad climb into the arena and fight alongside their teen.