Roadblocks to Understanding Teenagers

I’m reading Walt Mueller’s “Youth Culture 101,” and it’s just chalk-full of gems.  I got the book when it came out a few years ago, but just started reading it a few weeks ago.  So far, the best section in the book is on “Closing the Cultural-Generational Gap: Avoiding the Obstacles” (pages 60-75).  What’s written below is pulled from and summarized out of Youth Culture 101.  This book is just full of great stuff for parents, teachers, grandparents, and pastors who want to understand the world of teenagers better. 

The following are common “reasons” (aka: excuses) for not bridging the gap between adults and teenagers. 

1. “I’m Scared”
Some people are simply afraid of what they’ll find out about youth culture and are afraid of expose themselves to it.  Instead of engaging youth culture with the Word of God firmly fixed in our minds, many people choose to insulate themselves from what’s too “worldly.”  The problem, however, is that you can only protect your teenager from the big bad world for so long.  I encourage parents of teenagers to spend meaningful time training their teens to evaluate the world around them from a biblical viewpoint (and that means you parents need to be growing in your biblical maturity too!). 

2. “Not Now… I’m Too Busy”
Are you too overwhelmed by what’s going on in your own life to take the time to understand what’s going on in your teenager’s life?  If so… you have a serious priority problem.  Many jobs make this a serious challenge, and I’m sensitive to that, I really am, but do not neglect your teens because you have a busy work-schedule.  Don’t assume that they’re old enough that they don’t need you or want to spend time with you.  Making the investment to understand your teenager’s world (aka: Youth Culture) will pay huge dividends: You’ll communicate to your son/daughter that you value him/her enough to want to learn about their world; It will provide your son/daught the opportunity to teach you about his/her music, which will be great for your relationship; It will help you realize that your kid isn’t a freak of nature.

3. “I Didn’t Know!”
Ignorance is not bliss… at least it isn’t in the long-run.  Many people might rather be clueless about what their teens are watching or listening to or doing in order to shelter themselves from the pain of disappointment or confrontations, but this isn’t the way to go.  Be involved and be knowledgable.  Don’t assume that your “good kid” is making good decisions because just his grades are up and he isn’t breaking curfew or getting in trouble at school.  Most people who are ignorant didn’t decide to be that way, but they decided not to be knowledgable… If you have no idea who Lady Gaga is or if you think the Jonas Brothers are still popular with teenagers then it’s time for you to decide to tune in a little better to youth culture. 

4. “Who Cares?”
When adults simply don’t care to understand teenagers the rift between teens and the adult world grows wider by the second.  When I was a teenager one of my church’s most effective youth workers was a mom who wasn’t cool and was pretty old-school, she barely knew anything about our music, but we all knew that she really cared about us and that made all the difference (yeah, that was over a decade ago, but the principle here still applies!).  Genuine compassion can cover a multitude of sins to a teenager. 

5. “It Can’t Be That Bad”
Sure, not everything in youth culture is evil.  Not every teenager is having sex, drinking alcohol and doing drugs.  That’s the portrait some people paint, and many adults say, “It’s not that bad!  Give me a break.”  Sure, your kid might be a good kid and isn’t doing any of those things, but do you know what he’s watching at friends’ houses or what music he’s listening to?  Don’t assume everything in youth culture is evil, but don’t just assume that the hype is overblown either.

6. “Times Have Changed – Lighten Up!”
How often do we read about parents serving their teenagers and their friends alcohol because they’d rather have the kids partying in a “safe environment” than somewhere outside of the house?  This type of thing is rampant, and it’s not good.  God’s truth does not change, and neither does his desire for purity among those who claim his name.  This is another reason it’s so important to know your kid’s friends’ parents and where they stand on various issues.  Times have changed, that’s why it’s so important to be knowledgable about what has changed without you noticing!

I realize many of these make it seem like everything about Youth Culture is terrible and evil, and that’s not the case, but I think some parents are in the dark about some of the hazards of Youth Culture, so some statements aren’t counter-balanced and one sided. 

I hope that pointing out some of these Roadblocks will help you see what lays before you as a challenge to bridge the gap between yourself and the teenagers God has blessed you with.  Teenagers are a blessing, let’s make sure that we communicate that to them in a way that they understand. (note: Adults writing mushy stuff on a teen’s Facebook page is embarrasing… send them a card in the mail instead if you want to encourage someone in particular.)

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