3 Cultural Trends From the 2015 VMAs

This past Sunday MTV held their 32nd VMAs (Video Music Awards). The VMAs is more than an awards show, it’s a cultural display of where we are as a society. If you want to see where are culture is, especially teens and young adults, than go no future than the VMAs. If you work with teens, young adults, or just want to know we are culture is and is going I’d encourage you to watch or follow the VMAs each year. It will teach you a lot. I didn’t watch the entire show this year but did go back and watch some of the highlights. On top of that I read a good amount of articles on the night. In the midst of Miley Cyrus antics, Taylor Swift winning a ton of awards, and Kayne West announcing that he will be running for president in 2020, there were three cultural trends that stood out to me.

Gender identity. Gender in our culture is now a decision left up to the individual. It no longer matters how you were born. If you want to be another gender you have the right to make that happen. Our culture has shifted to the acceptance and celebration of the transgender issue. This was clearly the case with this years VMAs. There were celebrations of transgenders as well as a stage full of drag queens joining Miley for her performance of “Dooo It.” Taylor Swift even threw a punch when she received the award for Best Video of the Year. She said, “I’m just happy that in 2015, we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” Gender identity and manhood/womanhood is something our culture is changing and shifting on.

Faith disconnected from actions and lifestyle. Faith in our culture has become more of a slogan or addition life rather than a foundation of life. Faith no longer is connected to your actions or lifestyle. You can pick whatever faith you want but also live however you want. You can have both and they can be completely at odds. This was clearly seen during this years VMAs when Nicki Minaj received the award for Best Hip-Hop Video for her song “Anaconda” and said, “You know who I want to thank tonight? My pastor.” She then went you to say, “Thank you, Pastor Lydia. I love you so much.” Minaj is known for her sexual explicit content and this song, and it’s video, is no different. The song is all about sex and the video features barely clothed women twerking and dancing. After receiving the award and thanking her pastor, Minaj then goes on to blast Miley Cyrus when she turns the show back over to her. Minaj said, “And now, back to this b**** that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley what’s good?” Faith no longer dictates how one lives and behaves. In our culture we see many people play the “faith card” but rarely do we see them have a life of faith to back it up that is visible in their actions, attitudes, and character.

Drug use (especially marijuana). The use and normalization of marijuana doesn’t come to a surprise to me. It’s easily accessed and doesn’t have some of the same damaging effects other drugs have. However, there were some interesting references at the VMAs to marijuana this year. First, Kayne West admitted to smoking some before he came on stage to give his far too long 11 minute speech. He said, “The answer is YES. I rolled up a little something. I knocked the edge off.” Also, Miley Cyrus performed her song “Doo it,” which in it she boasts “Yeah, I smoke pot. Yeah, I love peace, but I don’t give a f***. I ain’t no hippie.” The point is marijuana use is on the rise, especially with teens, college students, young adults, and our cultural as a whole has become more accepting of it and will continue to be more and more.

These are just a few of the things that happened at the VMAs this year that show us where our culture is and is going. Much of these thoughts in this post come from Walt Mueller’s post on the VMAs. Read that post to get a better glimpse into what the VMAs showed about our culture.

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What Parents Need to Know About Their Teen and Sexting

teen-using-cell-phoneOne of the popular trends among teenagers today that parents need to be aware of is sexting. In this post I want to share a few thoughts on sexting that I believe will both inform and help parents have conversations with their teen about sexting.

What is sexting? The first thing we need to do is establish what sexting is. Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos via text messaging or some other form of social media messaging. In the past the idea of sexting has been referred to as phone sex or cybersex. Research from Pew Research found that last year 78% of teenagers had their own cell phone. They also found that half of them not only had a cell phone, but had a smartphone. We can assume the percent of teens with cell phones has risen above 78% since last year and with the popularity of smartphones more teens are not just getting a cell phone but a smartphone. The majority of sexting happens via text messaging. However, sexting, as we see in the definition above, can be done also through social media networks. So sexting can happen via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram since these networks all have private messaging features. Other apps like Snapchat are extremely popular for sexting.

Why is sexting popular with teens? There are a few reasons why I think sexting is popular with teens that I think are important for parents to know about. First, sexting seems to be popular with teens because “everyone is doing it.” Many teens who may not feel comfortable sexting will eventually do it because their friends are. Which leads to the second reason I think sexting popular with teens, which is peer pressure. Teens feel pressured to sext because “everyone is doing it” or maybe their boyfriend or girlfriend is pressuring them into it. For example, one girl said she was pressured into sexting when she was only 12 years old by the boy she was “going out with.” Usually it’s the guy that pressures the girl into sexting. One article says that 51% of girls said they felt pressured by guys to sext while only 18% of guys said they felt pressured from a girl. The third reason sexting seems to be popular with teens is the false sense of safety that comes with. Many teens that will not engage sexual activity in person will sext because they feel “safe” or “comfortable” behind the screen on their phone. Also, the app Snapchat has a feature that allows you to set a time limit on how long someone can view your picture. However, all this is a false sense of safety and comfort. An article I already linked to mentions two great points on this – photos and videos sent privately can be easily shared publicly and once digital images or videos are out there they leave a digital footprint cannot be “taken back.” When a teen sends a semi-nude or fully nude photo to someone within a private message the person that receives that message can easily save the image to their phone and share it however they want. Even though apps like Snapchat give the user the ability to set a time limit, the person receiving the picture can easily take a screenshot before the time limit expires. There are many more reasons why sexting is popular with teens, but these are a few important ones for parents to know about.

Why is sexting is a bad idea? For starters, sexting is a bad idea because it can lead to teens being publicly humiliated if their private photo or video goes public. Not only that, but in many states sexting is actually illegal and is considered a major crime (click here to sexting-related laws based on your state). What I am about to say next may not sit well with you if you do not believe in the Bible and view it as God’s standard of absolute truth. However, since I am a Christian and believe in the Bible I want to point out what God has revealed about sexual activity, which is what sexting is. 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, and Ephesians 5:3 tells us to flee, abstain, and to not even have a hint of sexual immorality. What does sexually immorality mean? Sexual immorality, when used in the Bible (Greek word – porneia), refers to any form of sexual activity outside of the context of marriage between one man and one woman. God’s design is for a man and a woman to enjoy sexual activity within the context of their marriage. Any form of sexual activity outside of that, like sexting, is considered sin and is wrong.

What can parents do about their teen and sexting? The best thing parents can do is to have an open conversation with their teen about sexting. Talk to them about the pressures and dangers that come with sexting. Talk to them about how they should use text messaging and social media. Also, do some research and learn about the sexting trend among teens so you be informed and be intentional about helping your teen in this area. Lastly, don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your teen when it comes to their phone. Keep an eye on their social media accounts (get their username and password so you can check them from time to time) and other things they may be doing on their phone.

There is much more we could say on this topic, but this should inform you as a parent and help you understand your teen and sexting.

Sobrr – What Parents Need to Know

Sobrr-Life-in-the-moment-598x326Parents need to know what apps their teens are using on their smartphones. One of the apps that I have been telling parents about is Snapchat. Snapchat is one of the most popular apps out there right now for teens and parents need to know how it works and what some of the dangers are with it (click here to read about Snapchat). By the way, the whole idea behind Snapchat is not good. If you don’t believe me, click here and read this helpful article.

But that’s enough about Snapchat. There is a new app that just came out called Sobrr, which may gain popularity with teens shortly. It’s an interesting app that to teenagers will sound fun and exciting, but in the long run is not very healthy.

Sobrr is an app that is built on the whole idea of “living in the moment.” Sobrr basically does three major things. First, Sobrr users “vibe in the moment.” Vibes are basically things you and others post (what they call “moments”). Then you scroll through the current vibes to see what others are posting and can either “cheer” (same idea as a “like” on Facebook) or “pass.” The catch though is everything expires in 24 hours. So what you post and what others are posting will be gone in 24 hours. Completely gone. Second, Sobrr users can have “24 hour friendships.” Yep, you read it right, temporary friendships that last for 24 hours. However, if both people enjoyed their “24 hour friendship” they can choose to stay friends, but only if they both choose to do so. Third, Sobrr users can have “ephermal conversations.” Sobrr chatting is a one-time chat experience. You must read it before it expires. What’s the point of this? Sobrr says it “keeps the conversations free and in the moment.” You can click here to check out the Sobrr website and read more about it as well as watch a short video about it.

Why do parents need to be aware of Sobrr? It seems fun and not harmful. However, when you really step back and think about what this app is all about it’s not really that healthy for teenagers. A few things stand out to me about this app parents need to think about. First, Sobrr (much like Snaptchat) opens the door for teens to get involved in sexting. Sexting has gained a lot of popularity among teens because of apps like Snapchat (and of course because of texting) and Sobrr will do the same thing in making sexting easier and more accessible for teens. Because of the one-time chat feature and the fact things you say will expire, teens will be more likely to say things they wouldn’t in person or even in a normal online chatting session. Second, Sobrr cheapens real community. We are designed to be in relationships with other people. Community is necessary for us in how we have been designed. Sobrr redefines what friendships look like by making them just a 24 hour experience. Third, Sobrr will give teens a false sense of no accountability. In their minds, things they say and do on Sobrr will disappear in 24 hours so why would they think about using discernment or even hold back in what they do. However, parents, especially Christian parents, should realize this is not true. Even though what they do may disappear in 24 hours they will still give an account for it before God one day. In Romans 14:12, Paul reminds us, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (ESV).

Parents, check out Sobrr. Don’t just take my word for it. Research the app yourself and talk to your teen about it if it comes up. Don’t just let your teen use apps like Sobrr without knowing about it first or having a conversation with them. You may even decide to not let them use this app at all.

What “Hot or Not” is Teaching Teens

Hot-or-Not-575x340One of the most popular trending apps right now is an app called “Hot or Not.” Even though this app attracts many young adults, teenagers are very much into it as well and are using it. Basically, it’s an app where you browse pictures other users have posted and you rate them as “hot” or “not.” The rating scale is 1-10 with low rating obviously meaning your “not” and high ratings meaning your “hot.” The photos can range from appropriate to sexual explicit. If you rate someone as “hot” and they rate you as “hot” as well, then you become connections and can chat (which is where this app opens up a huge window for sexting). That’s basically all the app is. So it seems harmless right? Seems like it’s a fun app teenagers can use to find people they think are attractive and maybe chat with them. Parents, click here to read a really good parent review of this app.

I’d like to suggest that this app is teaching teenagers, especially teen girls, that their value is found in their outward appearance and the approval for others. If you have a teenager, again especially a girl, or work with teenagers, you know how much of a struggle this is. Even though this is a tough issue for girls, the guys are not excluded from this as well. Teenagers want to be liked by their peers. Teenagers, in many different ways, are crying out for the approval of others. So many teenagers will run to this app, find the best pictures of themselves, post them, and wait in hopes that someone will make them feel valuable by rating them as “hot.” However, this comes at a cost and a risk. The risk is not everyone will think they are “hot” and that approval they long for may instead by shouts of disproval by people rating them as “not.” And maybe if they wear less clothes and show more skin they can get their ratings up? Do you see how this app can be devastating to teenagers?

It’s most devastating because it goes right against the Gospel. While teenagers are fighting for acceptance, approval, and value their Creator is shouting to them that He has the eternal acceptance and value they are looking for! He sent Jesus to die on a cross, to pay for their sins, so they can find eternal value and acceptance in a relationship with Him. They don’t need to look for approval and value in their outwards looks, even though there is nothing sinful with outward beauty, and the approval of others. The Gospel is what they need and when they take that step of believing in that Gospel and entering into a personal relationship with their Creator they can find all the acceptance, approval, and value they need in Him!

I think it’s important for parents of teens and those who work with teens to understand the devastating message this app could be sending. As parents, you may want to discourage your teens from even using this app or at least having honest conversations with them about the message it may be sending them. It may be that this could be a great platform to explain and teach the Gospel to your teenager.

The bottom line is that what teenagers want, what all of us want, is found in the Gospel. The Gospel is the answer and our only hope.

What Bruno Mars is Teaching Teens

Bruno-Mars-HD-WallpaperMusic is powerful. Music has a way of shaping peoples believes, identity, and behavior. This is especially true of teenagers who are striving to find out how they fit into the world around them. Many teenagers turn to music to find out what they should believe, who they are, and how they should act. This is why it’s so important for parents to be aware of what music their teenager is listening to.

One of the most popular artist right now is Bruno Mars. Bruno Mars has been around for sometime, but recently is putting out some big hits. This past weekend he performed at the Super Bowl where he sang a few of his hits. As I have listened to Bruno Mars on the radio and even went back and watched his halftime performance I am reminded of a powerful theme he is teaching teenagers through one of his songs.

Sex is the ultimate human achievement. In his song Locked Out of Heaven, Bruno Mars sings, “Cause your sex takes me to paradise. Yeah, your sex takes me to paradise. And it shows, yeah, yeah, yeah. ‘Cause you make me feel like I’ve been locked out of heaven. For too long, for too long .Yeah, you make me feel like I’ve been locked out of heaven. For too long, for too long.” Sexual themes is not new in music and tends to be the focus on a lot of popular songs. In this song, Bruno Mars makes it seem like sex is the ultimate goal. That having sex with that special someone will be the only way to find true satisfaction. That is why so many teenagers so quickly give up their purity because they believe true happiness will come with having sex with that someone they “love.” God created sex and it’s not a bad or ugly thing. In fact, it’s a very beautiful thing God gave us as a gift. However, God did create sex to happen only within marriage between a man and a women. When sex is taken out of that context it gets messed up and it no longer brings joy as God intended. In fact, sex outside of marriage usually brings shame, guilt, and heartache. This is my fear with teenagers listening to this song and letting it shape their behavior. Sex is not the ultimate achievement. It was never intended to be. We were created to find satisfaction in God, our Creator, not sex.

Teenagers our living in a highly sexualized culture. Sex is viewed as something we can enjoy however we want and when we want. Teenagers need to have a right view of sex, but they will not get that from the culture. Parents, how are you teaching your teenagers about sex and making sure they are viewing it the way God intends?