Monday, May 12, 2014

My blog has moved. . .

As part of the launch of our new CPYU website, my blog has been integrated into the site. You can link to my blog here!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Social Media Enslavement. . . What I'm Going To Do. . . and a Challenge. . .

As a regular part of our "No Parent Left Behind" seminar on youth culture, I pause and ask parents this question: "What concerns you most about today's youth culture?" It gives them a chance to talk in groups about the ways that youth culture has changed since they were going through adolescence themselves. I then ask someone from each group to verbalize a youth culture reality that causes concern.

Last night the conversation among a group of wonderful and engaged parents in Boulder, Colorado was weighted heavily towards the emerging world of social media. . . not at all surprising since the overwhelming majority of today's technology and social media wasn't even present just a few short years ago. It certainly wasn't a part of my growing up experience. The good news is that parents realize that social media and technology are not at all benign in their influence. This stuff matters because it shapes us in powerful ways. And because it matters, we need to make a matter of deep thought, discussion, and attention.

One young mom in last night's group raised her hand and asked this question: "So, is it ok that I don't put screens and smartphones in the hands of my young children?" I loved the question and I wish that more young parents would ask it. I believe she knew the answer already. But because she knew her best judgment would put both her and her kids at odds with the majority of their peers, she simply needed some affirmation.

These are the kinds of questions we always need to be asking. When media critic Marshall McCluhan stated that "first we shape our tools and then our tools shape us," he was sounding a warning that continues to fall on deaf. . . or maybe distracted. . . ears. This morning's Wall Street Journal  included an interesting piece on summer camps that require campers to unplug and take a kind of technology sabbath. That's good stuff. In recent weeks, I've seen a growing number of researchers and commentators suggesting that parents are spending too much time engaged with their screens and social media, all at the expense of focusing on what really matters. . . their kids. Not only are they ignoring their kids, but they're teaching their kids to grow up and do the same to their children.

On a personal level, I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I have a smart phone. I have a tablet. I have a computer. And there are times when I should be engaged with other people and other things that I'm far too engaged with my electronic screens. And while I might possibly be doing something valuable and beneficial, I'm also letting things that are usually more important slip. . . like engaging with other people and other things.

So. . . I've decided to lay out some rules. Initially, I thought they'd be great rules to pass on to parents, teachers, and teenagers themselves. Reality is, I can't pass them on unless I'm already gripping them tightly in my own hands. Here are the rules I'm going to enlist in my own life. I want to invite you to try them out as well. . . for a week maybe. . . and then let me know if you've seen any benefits.

1. Don't engage with your smartphone as long as you are present with and/or in conversation with real flesh and blood human beings. They deserve your full attention.

2. Don't bring your smartphone or screen of any kind to the table. Converse with others over the meal. . . using your eyes, your voice, your ears, and your full attention.

3. Don't sleep with your smartphone on or near your bed. Sleep. Rest. You need it. When you wake up, the world will still be there and you can tend to your business. And if by some chance the world is no longer there when you wake up. . . well, you won't need your phone anyway!

4. Make your family room a no-smartphone zone. When you come in the door to your house, put your phone down. Then, go to the room where your family gathers without that electronic distraction. Put that phone out of sight, and pretty soon it will be out of mind.

5. Don't engage with your phone while you're driving. You'll be doing your passengers and everyone else on the road a huge favor.

6. Take a social media Sabbath. God created us for a rhythm of work and rest. Take one day. . . Sunday maybe? . . and power down. No posts. No comments. No replies. Sure, you can carry your phone with you in order to stay in touch with and be available to family. But forget walk away from all that other smartphone stuff.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

New and Powerful from Beyonce. . . .

Music is a map and a mirror. It both instructs us on how to live our lives, and reflects back to us the choices we've made as a culture, along with evidence of how we have chosen to live our lives. Map and mirror. Directive and reflective. Who to be and who we are. Music has amazing power.

It's for that reason that I believe we need to be discriminating and discerning media consumers. We can't just assume a posture of mindless consumption. For the Christian, our calling is to assume a posture of mindful critique. That's the reason why I've oftentimes made strong statements - both positive and negative - about popular music. There's music that points us in the right direction. . . telling us who we should be and what we should believe. . . . encouraging us to flourish by realizing the fullness of our humanity. There's also music that points us in the opposite direction. . . telling us who we should be and what we should believe. . . but to our demise. . . by encouraging us to live lives that are not the way they are supposed to be. . . robbing us of the opportunity to flourish in our full humanity.

It's no secret that I've often-times lamented the musical message of Beyonce. Much of her music falls into that latter category. She's influential. . . highly influential. In fact, tomorrow, Time magazine will release the "2014 Time 100" issue on the most 100 influential people in our world. . . and Beyonce will be included . . . on the cover. No surprise.

But a very pleasant surprise that I discovered this morning is that in conjunction with the release of this week's edition of Time, Beyonce is releasing her latest video, "Pretty Hurts." I've watched it. . . and so should you. "Pretty Hurts" falls into the former category of music. It offers up some incredibly powerful commentary on our cultural obsession with beauty, the dangers of pageant culture, identity, body image, and so much more. Yes, there are some mixed messages when "Pretty Hurts" is viewed in the context of the entire Beyonce brand, but this video sends an unmistakable message. It will resonate with kids, particularly our girls. And it should be used as a prompt for discussions about what it means to find our identity as human beings made in the image of God and loved by the God who made us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NekNominate: Online Alcohol One-Ups-Manship

Earlier this year, Rhiannon Scully had too much to drink. Two of her friends encouraged her to guzzle a mixture of vodka and whiskey. They issued their dare to Rhiannon after seeing someone do the same on a viral Facebook video. When her mother found Rhiannon with her eyes rolling back in her head, she called an ambulance. Rhiannon was fortunate. After spending the night in the hospital and having her stomach pumped, she returned home. Rhiannon is nine-years-old.

Rhiannon Scully had indulged in a competitive social-media-fueled drinking game that’s sweeping through Australia, the United Kingdom, and now the United States. Known as NekNominate, this new and dangerous competition is especially popular among the under-30 crowd, including young adults, college students, teenagers, and even pre-teens.

Originated in Australia, NekNominate combines “Necking” (the Australian slang term for guzzling or chugging alcohol) with nominating others to do the same. How does it work?

First, an individual creates a pint-sized or larger drink that combines two or more types of alcohol (beer, whiskey, vodka, etc.). In addition to the alcohol, other substances are mixed into the drink. As the popularity of the game has spread, these other substances have become increasingly outlandish and dangerous, including things like dead mice, goldfish, urine, insects, motor oil, dog food, raw eggs, hot sauce, and hair. . . to name just a few. The more extreme, the better.

Second, the individual will choose an activity to engage in while chugging or “necking” the alcoholic concoction. The more extreme, dangerous, public, and outlandish the setting. . . the better. For example, NekNominators have chugged while surfing, riding a motorcycle, standing on a moving car, skateboarding, and jumping off a bridge. Others have gone to the front of the classroom and interrupted college lectures, stood naked in grocery store aisles, or set their clothing on fire. One of the most popular Neknominate videos shows a young man being lowered headfirst into a dirty toilet filled with beer. Still another shows a man biting off and eating the head of a live chicken after guzzling his brew. Seemingly, there are no limits and the envelope is continually stretched.

Finally, the entire episode is recorded on video and then posted online on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, where the videos quickly go viral. To be sure that the Neknominate fad continues, the person looks into the camera and nominates at least two other people by name who have to do the same - or something more extreme – all within the next twenty-four hours. For those who don’t accept the nomination and take the dare, they can be sure to face online ridicule, harassment, and being socially ostracized. Not surprisingly, YouTube and Facebook are currently home to thousands of Neknominate videos and pages, with that number growing leaps and bounds as the Neknominate trend continues to spread.

As expected, government and health care officials are sounding an alarm regarding the Neknominate fad, as it encourages dangerous binge-drinking and other types of alcohol-fueled high-risk behaviors that can lead to serious injury and even death. In fact, officials in the U.K. have already attributed five recent deaths to Neknominate, including incidents of fatal alcohol poisoning and one where an Irish teenager chugged his drink before jumping off a bridge and drowning.

We believe that there are several factors contributing to the popularity of Neknominate.

First, our culture glorifies excessive consumption of alcohol. In fact, marketing has effectively created an environment where alcohol consumption is seen as necessary prerequisite to having a “good time.”

Second, drinking is seen as a “fun” activity and rite of passage. In addition, drinking has become an expected “marker” on the passage from childhood to adulthood. It's a sign of "growing up."

Third, our culture’s loss of a collective moral compass leads to a climate where anyone can do anything. . . because, after all. . . it’s just a matter of personal preference and choice. There is no right or wrong.

Fourth, our kids are at a developmental stage where peer pressure reaches its apex. Even those who have been taught and know right from wrong will sometimes compromise their morals as that is a far-less-risky proposition than going against the will of the peer group. Because the risk of harassment is high for those who don’t take the dare, Neknominate is a game fed by adolescent insecurity.

Fifth, teenagers tend to be risk-takers. Even in the presence of warnings and hard evidence of clear and present danger, there is always the sense that “I can totally get away with this” and “nothing bad will happen to me.”

Finally, the popularity of NekNominating is testimony to the viral power of social media. A game that originated in a college dorm in Australia went global almost overnight. And in a world where young people embrace social media as a perceived passport to developing an audience that will feed their celebrity and fame, kids will gravitate to filming and posting outlandish behaviors as an investment that they hope will yield huge dividends of social capital in the form of likes, views, and followers.

We expect that the Neknominate fad will continue to catch on and spread. We believe that because of age-compression (typically older pressures and behaviors embraced at younger and younger ages) and age-aspiration (kids want to be seen, treated, and feel like they are much older than they really are), we will be hearing more and more stories like those of young Rihannon Scully. This trend will grow in popularity among pre-teens who want to look and feel older than they are. We can also expect to see fall-out in terms of consequences including illness, injury, and even death. In addition, other knock-off games will develop and spread through the youth culture. Already we are hearing about variations of Neknominate known as “The 1-Pint Challenge” and “Icing.” And finally, it is reasonable to expect Neknominate videos to depict unimaginable extremes in terms of what people choose to ingest, and the risk-taking behaviors they engage in while doing their drinking.

CPYU offers the following suggestions to parents, educators, youth workers, and others who love and care for children and teens.

·         Warn kids about the moral, physical, and legal dangers of Neknominate. Because the trend is reaching kids at younger and younger ages, it is essential to speak even to pre-teens about this dangerous and deadly trend.
·         Clearly lay out behavioral expectations and parameters for your kids. Let them know what is and is not expected of them, along with the consequences for violating those parameters. Be sure to follow-up if they disobey your boundaries.
·         View, deconstruct, and talk about alcohol marketing wherever and whenever you encounter it with your kids. Point out and discuss the messages equating alcohol consumption with maturity, relational connections, and fun.
·         Come to a decision about how you will model responsible alcohol consumption, whether that be by choosing abstinence or moderation. Your children are watching and learning.
·         Limit and monitor your child’s exposure to social media. Do not put Internet-capable, unlimited-access, camera-equipped smartphones in the hands of elementary-aged and middle-school-aged children. Supervise and monitor the use of devices by older teenagers.
·         Warn your children of the dangers (moral, legal, and physical) of daring someone else to engage in behaviors that could result in injury or death.

No one knows how long the Neknominate fad will last. In the meantime be aware and equip your kids to beware of this dangerous trend.

Want a downloadable pdf copy of this trend alert to pass on? Click here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Columbine. . . 15 Years. . .

I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that the 15th Anniversary of Columbine went largely unnoticed as most of us sat with our families celebrating the Resurrection two days ago. Can you believe it's been 15 years?

Perhaps it's a good thing that the anniversary went unnoticed if the horrible Columbine tragedy was eclipsed by the hope and the promise made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. That's the only thing that can and should eclipse this type of anniversary. It's a foreshadowing of sorts. By the grace of God, a day is coming when all this brokenness will finally be undone. . . no more death. . . no more tears. . . no more suffering. 

However, it's not at all a good thing to skim over the anniversary if we do so because we forget or have been hardened to the horror of that day and how many lives were lost or changed. After all, this kind of stuff is so common nowadays that it can become like background noise. We need to know our need. Brokenness serves to remind us of that. Sunday was truly a day to remember both what we've done and what God is undoing.

Fifteen years ago this last Easter Sunday, the name "Columbine" went from representing a beautiful flower to representing unprecedented school violence. . . just like that. The 15 year anniversary reminds us of so much. . . including the brokenness in our world, the hurt that belongs to far too many kids, the hope of the Gospel, and the valuable role youth workers play in kids' lives. Youth workers were first responders 15 years ago in Littleton. Then, they were there to help the community start to heal. 

On Sunday, I was reminded of how thankful I am for the sacrifice Christ made on my behalf. And once again on Sunday, I was reminded of how grateful I am for youth workers everywhere and their role in bringing hope and healing. I want to encourage parents, pastors, and church members to be an encouragement to your youth workers. I want to encourage youth workers to bury themselves in the hope-filled Gospel and in turn, bury their Gospel-filled selves into the lives of kids. By the grace of God, it's making a huge difference.

Saturday, April 19, 2014