How to Respond to Rapidly Changing Youth Culture

( [email protected] ) May 10, 2007 11:48 AM EDT

Most Americans are immersed in the influence of media but when it surrounds people 24/7, they usually start to forget it's there, a Christian author said. And the most targeted market demographic in the world is today's teenagers.

Five years ago, the most powerful media form in shaping the life of teens was music, said Walt Mueller, author of the new book, Youth Culture 101, according to Youth Specialties, a youth workers ministry. Today, it's marketing.

Research shows that most people in the United States see anywhere from 3,500 to 16,000 marketing messages a day, noted Mueller, who is also president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. And today's generation is the most media-saturated and media-savvy generation there's ever been, he added.

"Media runs their life," the author said.

Back when Mueller was young, the average American household had one television that families watched together. Today, more teens have their own television set in their rooms where they can engage it alone without the input of their parents or any other adult, he noted.

Marketing doesn't just sell a product, Mueller commented. "It sells a worldview."

"What are you going to do to teach your kids to interact 'Christianly' and critically with the media?" he posed.

Youth Culture 101, slated for release in June, provides an overview of popular culture for youth workers, parents and educators. It explores they dynamics of why kids are drawn into the culture and how it shapes their lives. The upcoming release comes out of Mueller's critically acclaimed book, Understanding Today's Youth Culture, which is widely recognized as one of the most thorough and comprehensive overviews of youth culture.

Mueller had already written two editions of the youth culture book in 1994 and 1999 and is now coming out with a third.

"Culture's changing so quickly. A book like this has to be redone every few years just to pick up on the new tendencies, trends and changes taking place," said Mueller. "Because the rate of change is increasing so quickly, it's snowballing; it's really time for something new and something fresh."

Tackling the powerful role of media in his new book, Mueller stresses the need to raise awareness of kids to when and how they're being marketed to and to give them a sense of how to respond "Christianly" and how youth workers and parents can respond.

Oftentimes, when adults hear their kids listening to music or viewing images they don't like, the typical reaction is to tell the kids to turn it off.

"[That] doesn't hold water with kids when we just say 'turn it off,'" said Mueller. "We need to know enough to have credibility."

Explaining that culture and media can function as a mirror, Mueller said parents or adults can stand over kids' backs into the 'mirror of the media' which can reflect specific cares, concerns and issues that the youth may not want to or be able to express themselves. That clues the adult in on how to respond to their kids.

Mueller clarifies that he is not trying to be an "alarmist" in the book. Rather, he says the book is practical, mainstream and a "state it as it is in a hopeful way" resource.

Other issues addressed in Youth Culture 101 are materialism, depression and suicide, peer pressure, and suggested responses to each.