"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Understanding Generations X and Y

Your Teen's Changing World

(Part 1)

Walt Mueller

What's the toughest thing about being a teenager today? ... It's fear ... just being scared of everything. (Derek, sixteen years old.)

WHEN MY DAUGHTER CAITLIN was in first grade, I took her to see the elementary school I attended when I was her age. "I can't believe this is where you went to first grade," Caitlin exclaimed as we stared into the old classroom where I had spent a wonderful year with Miss Wallace. I was amazed that twenty -eight years later the alphabet choo-choo train was still on the wall!

But my amazement changed to puzzlement with Caitlin's statement. "Why not, Caitlin?" I queried.

"Because it's in color!" Her answer made me feel pretty old. I remember growing up and thinking about what it must have been like in the old days for my parents. Somehow all the pictures and old eight-millimeter movies left me with the impression that anything that happened in the world before I was born must have been in black and white. Now my kid was thinking the same about me.

What Used to Be...Ain't Anymore

Although the visual colors of the world haven't changed over one generation, in a sense the world has.

On my parents' bedroom wall hang three Norman Rockwell paintings given to them by their sons on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Mark, Ken, and I wanted to show Mom and Dad our appreciation for the loving home they had provided. Each of us carefully chose a Rockwell painting that said something about our experience in the Mueller family.

One of the paintings hanging over their bed shows a nervous young man ready to head off for college, sitting with his dad and his bag on the running board of the family pickup while waiting for the bus. That was me, the oldest of the boys. I was the first to leave home for college, and it hadn't been easy.

The middle painting on the wall was of a boy precariously balanced on and ready to tumble off a pair of stilts. That was my daredevil brother, Mark. Always trying my parents' patience with something new and dangerous, Mark spent countless hours on stilts, his unicycle, or the tightwire he had built in the backyard. One time my dad found him eating fire in the garage! Mark eventually went off to clown college.

The third painting was of an intelligent, bespectacled young boy who, with a diploma in his hand, was receiving pats of praise from his instructor. That was Ken's picture. He was the youngest. He reaped the benefits from having two older brothers by capitalizing on our school experience and doing better. This was the kid who read the dictionary while still in elementary school.

Every time I see those three pictures, I am reminded of my childhood and am thankful for the stable home, full of love, that our parents gave us. When Norman Rockwell painted America, he had painted our family.

I've always wondered, if Norman Rockwell were alive and painting the American experience today, what would his pictures look like? Maybe he would paint the family kitchen, with only half of the members sitting at the dinner table while the others were off doing other things. Or a picture of a third grader arriving home from school to an unsupervised house with several hours of unlimited TV viewing and Nintendo. Maybe it would be a picture of a tenth-grade girl walking to school with books under one arm, a diaper bag under the other, and her baby in a stroller. Sadly, Rockwell might paint students passing through a metal detector as they arrive at school.

Growing Teen Violence

The growing epidemic of youth violence extends beyond our cities into virtually every community, with no regard for socioeconomic status. In 1950 the rate of fourteen- to seventeen-year-old youths who were arrested was 4 per thousand. By 1993 that rate had increased over thirty fold to 126 per thousand.(1) And during the ten-year period from 1984 to 1994, the number of teens under eighteen arrested for murder tripled (2). Not only are there more young killers, but more children and teens are getting killed. Children in America are five times more likely to be victims of homicide than those in the rest of the industrialized world. In fact, between 1950 and 1993, the homicide rate for children under 15 has tripled.(3). Youths under eighteen now account for 20 percent of violent crime in the U.S. (4)?

Most adults can remember walking the halls of their high school and coming across an occasional fistfight. But a recent survey by the Center for Disease Control found that during the thirty days preceding the survey, one in five high schoolers (and nearly one in three boys) had carried a weapon with the intention of using it if necessary. (5) One in ten had carried a weapon with them onto school property.(6) More and more schools are installing metal detectors, hiring security guards, and implementing weapons policies in an effort to keep guns out.

Kids say guns are easy to buy and can be purchased on the street for as little as twenty dollars. Carrying a gun means that other kids will "respect me. " Triggers are pulled for numerous reasons. It can be as trivial as someone "giving me a look" in the school hall or "saying something stupid." Kids are assaulted or killed for their sneakers or trademark clothing. For some teens a gun is "my bodyguard." One sixteen-year-old boy who carries a nine-millimeter pistol in his book bag talks about protecting himself in a confrontation: "You've got to finish the job .... You don't kill him, he can come back and get you." (7) A sixteen-year-old girl who lives with fear says, "It has gotten to the point that at times I am afraid to walk down the hallway in school for fear somebody will pull out a gun. You overhear a lot of stuff. "I'm gonna get even; I'm gonna shoot back." (8)

During 1995, 39 percent of this country's high school students had been in a physical fight (9) and 8.4 percent had actually been assaulted or threatened with a weapon in school.(10) Students aren't the only ones in danger. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that in a typical month, 125,000 secondary-school teachers (12 percent) are threatened with physical harm and 5,200 are victims of a physical attack." (11)

As violent behavior among children and teens continues to escalate, the statistics become more and more alarming. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that homicide by firearms is now the second-leading cause of death (after motor-vehicle accidents) for fifteen- to nineteen-year-old white students. It is the leading cause of death for African-American and Hispanic youth in that age bracket. (12)

There are several reasons for the rising rate of youth violence. The breakdown of the family has left many kids without guidance or support. Spiraling out of control, many seek refuge in gangs or an unorganized group of peers. These become outlets for kids who seek the unity and togetherness they aren't receiving at home. One common thread seen among offender profiles is the absence of a father and the male support bond. "If we want to learn the identity of the rapist, the hater of women, the occupant of jail cells," writes David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, "we do not look first to boys with tradi- tionally masculine fathers. We look first to boys with no fathers." (13)

Many children with healthy, intact families are influenced by the rash of violent images in music, film, and television. The average child has witnessed sixteen thousand murders and two hundred thousand other acts of violence on TV alone by the time he reaches the age of eighteen. (14) Some of the most violent movies, such as Scream and Mortal Kombat, are targeted to children and teens.

And then there are the toys. Many of the more violent toys are based on movies and TV shows. Some of the best-selling and most well-known toy lines of the last decade are the Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles. And it might not surprise you that other big sellers like Nintendo, Sega, and other video-game systems have kids spending hours in a world where killing is winning.

If this book had been written ten or twenty years ago, there would have been little or no mention made of teen violence. But we live in the most violent of industrialized nations. And as parents, we must acknowledge and face that growing problem.

What Is Happening to Our Kids?

In the early 1980s, scholars and researchers on family and adolescent issues began asking the question What is happening to our kids? Their answers came through a series of books with discouraging titles such as The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon, (15) All Grown Up & No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis, (16) The Disappearance of Childhood, (17) The Erosion of Childhood, (18) and The Rise and Fall of Childhood. (19) Over the last fifteen years, the problems addressed in those books have snowballed, manifesting themselves in the negative teenage attitudes and behaviors that concern us so much. While there are always glimmers of hope and numerous reasons for optimism, overall trends point to the fact that things aren't getting better. Now parenting and family-issues shelves in bookstores are expanded to help parents deal with drug and alcohol abuse, teen sex, violence, Internet dangers, self-abuse, and all the other complex issues our kids face each and every day.

In chapter 2 we examined the first fundamental truth about our teens: There is a developmental difference -- between teenagers and adults. We live in two different stages of the life cycle. In this chapter, we will examine the second fundamental truth: There is a cultural difference between teenagers and adults. We live in two very different worlds.

Meet Sarah, an "Average Teen"

Several years ago I asked teens to send me a list, ranking the five greatest pressures that they face. The results opened my eyes to the way things have changed.

One of the kids who responded was Sarah, a sixteen year old from New York. Her list was representative of the other lists I received. As number one she listed the pressure for "looks." She was consumed with self-conscious worry about her hair, makeup, shape, and clothes. Next, she listed "grades for getting into the right college." Third was "drinking," with "sex" and "popularity" fourth and fifth.

Sarah's list was helpful, but the real eye-opener was what followed:

Walt, I suffer from a combination of anorexia and bulimia. It is very hard to recover from these devastations, caused largely by the pressure to be thin and to be perfect. I hope that I have helped.

I had never heard of anorexia and bulimia until I was twenty one years old. Even then, I only knew one person who had had anorexia. Most of today's junior high girls know at least one friend who suffers from an eating disorder. Sarah not only had both but also knew about their causes and the difficult road to recovery.

Sarah and I began to correspond. She greatly helped me understand the pressures facing teens these days. Perhaps her story in her own words will give you the opportunity to peek into the window of the pressures, fears, and choices facing today's children and teens.

I come from an upper-middle-class home. I'm a straight-A student, class president, and an overachiever in every way. I don't really know why I am anorexic, but I think it's partly because I thought that if I got really sick, people would pay attention to me. The irony of it is that my father is a psychologist. He doesn't know.

My mother always compares her life to mine, so much that sometimes I feel smothered by her. I cannot talk to my father at all about important things. I never could. My father is home every evening at 6 P.M., but my mother is never home. She recently opened a business so she has to work from 9 A.M. until midnight. Sometimes she comes home to see me in the afternoons, and sometimes she is around on weekends. Incidentally, my parents do not get along very well.

My mom says that if I get therapy, it will go on my record and may keep me out of Princeton or Amherst, the colleges to which I am applying.

I know my parents love me, but they think that I am so bright and capable that I don't need help or attention anymore. I just want people to realize that I do not have a perfect life and that I am lonely. I want people at school to notice me more and like me. Actually, I'm not at all sure what I want.

I have met many Sarahs over the years. I meet more and more as time goes by. Although their stories differ in terms of the places, dates, and details, there are common threads. Each is confused and frustrated by circumstances. Many of them cope. Others struggle to survive. Some self-destruct.

During the teen years, kids are like walking question marks, seeking answers to significant life questions. Today, there are many more conflicting voices, all screaming answers at our overwhelmed teenagers. The fortunate kids are those whose parents love them enough to take the time to understand the truth about the world and its bewildering mix of changing cultural trends.

What Forces and Trends Affect Our Teens?

There are thirty-seven million children aged ten to nineteen living in America. Many will get through adolescence with only a few minor nicks and bruises. Their worst crisis might be a bad case of acne, flunking a driver's test, or getting cut from the team. But for an increasing number of teens in America, the pressures of life can be overwhelming. If they are like Sarah, they will carry some severe scars and handicaps with them all the way through their adult years.

Those in our culture who study children and teens are concerned by the rising casualty rate. In 1990 the National Association of State Boards of Education joined with the American Medical Association to call attention to the declining condition of children and teens in America and issued this statement:

For the first time in the history of this country, young people are less healthy and less prepared to take their places in society than were their parents. And this is happening at a time when our society is more complex, more challenging, and more competitive than ever before. (20)

About the same time, Senator Dan Coats, a member of the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, concluded after years of observation and study that the statistics point not to a crisis of teen behavior but to a deeper crisis of character:

[This] is not a problem that will be solved with money or clinics or medicine. It has deeper roots in hearts and souls. In the mainstream of youth culture, it is deeply disturbing. It leaves a legacy of broken lives. But at the extremes, it is frighteningly with children who seem drained of conscience. (21)

This crisis in character continues to escalate and manifest itself in disturbing and frightening ways. Over the last several years I have worked hard to listen to the Sarahs and the experts. I have observed teenagers and asked them lots of questions. There is no doubt that our kids are facing a whole new set of choices, expectations, fears, pressures, challenges, and problems. And they are facing them at younger and younger ages.

In order to deepen our understanding of teens, we need to take a look at the major cultural forces and trends that shape their character, values, attitudes, and behaviors. I believe they are at the root of Sarah's cries and the experts' concerns.

Families are changing

When I began to ask my high-school-aged audience about their family situations, their first-person descriptions, combined with several shows of hands, led me to the conclusion that family meant something different to many of these kids. Some lived with Dad and Mom. Others lived with Mom. Some with Dad. Some with neither. A few didn't know one or both of their parents. The words divorce, separation, abandonment, and abuse came up over and over again.

Those responses are pretty typical. You and I are living in a period of unprecedented and historic change in American family life. This radical shift in family patterns can't help but affect our kids, creating more stress and confusion.

What are some of the disruptions and changes taking place in the American family?

The first change is the increase and acceptance of divorce. During the 1950s and 1960s, the divorce rate in America hovered around ten divorces per year for every one thousand married couples. That number rose and peaked at twenty-three divorces per one thousand marriages in l979. (22) Today that number is at twenty divorces a year per one thousand married couples. (23)? On the surface, this may seem like a move in the right direction-and it is. But don't forget that during the same time, the number of cohabitating couples and out-of-wedlock births increased as well. There are now 1.2 million divorces finalized each year in the United States. (24) Consequently, a million children a year go through parental divorce or separation and almost as many are born out of wedlock . (25) It is estimated that up to 60 percent of the children born in the nineties will live in a single-parent home for part of their childhood . (26) All these statistics add up to this cold fact: The United States has the highest divorce rate and the highest proportion of children affected by divorce in the developed world! These changes led the Council on Families in America to conclude, 'Our nation has largely shifted from a culture of marriage to a culture of divorce. Once we were a nation in which a strong marriage was seen as the best route to achieving the American dream. We have now become a nation in which divorce is commonly seen as the path to personal liberation." (27) Perhaps it is TV's Mr. Rogers who has best testified to these changes: "If someone told me twenty years ago that I was going to produce a whole week on divorce, I never would have believed them." (28)

My one-on-one conversations with children of divorce have led me to a deeper understanding of the toll that divorce takes on our kids. The family was created by God as the basic unit and building block of society. It is the unit into which we are born and where we find our identity, are socialized, and are nurtured. The increased incidence and acceptance of divorce indicates that, in many cases, the building block is falling apart.

In her study on the effects of divorce on middle-class families, Judith Wallerstein discovered that divorce hurts children deeply and for a long time. Nearly half of these children enter adulthood under-achieving, worried, angry, and disapproving of themselves. Three in five of these children feel rejected by one or both parents. Forty percent set no specific goals as they enter adulthood. Many of the children (particularly females) enter adulthood carrying a load of guilt and anxiety that leads to multiple relationships and impulsive, early marriages that end in divorce. Her study also concluded that children of divorce are plagued by a variety of other problems, including rebellion, depression, discipline problems, grief, guilt, fear, an inability to concentrate, and an inability to trust. (29)

As our society changes, husbands and wives become more committed to being uncommitted. The result is that more children suffer.

A second change is that approximately 40 percent of this nation's children will go to bed tonight in a house where their fathers do not live. (30) Over 27 million children under the age of eighteen live apart from their biological fathers. (31) Some estimate that almost 60 percent of the children born in the 1990s will spend some part of their childhood in a fatherless home. (32) Sadly, more and more children don't even know who their fathers are. Millions of other children are growing up in homes where their fathers may be physically present but are spiritually or emotionally detached.

The consequences are grave. We now know that father absence is the greatest variable in the present and future well-being of children and teens. Children who grow through the difficult, challenging, and formative years of adolescence without their dads have a greater risk of suffering from emotional and behavioral problems such as sexual promiscuity, premarital teen pregnancy, substance abuse, depression, suicide, lower academic performance, dropping out of school, intimacy dysfunction, divorce, and poverty. It is no surprise to learn that 60 percent of America's rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 70 percent of long-term prison inmates grew up without a dad. (33)

A third change in the family that affects our children and teens is the increasing number of mothers who work outside of the home. In 1960, 39 percent of mothers with school-age children were working outside the home. In 1987, 70 percent of mothers with school-age children had such jobs. (34) While the trend has been for more mothers to juggle the responsibilities of jobs and families, it appears that that trend may be shifting. A growing number of mothers are choosing to leave the workforce and come home to spend time with the kids.

A fourth change is the decreasing amount of time that parents are spending with their children. Men and women in high-pressure careers often work more than forty hours a week and bring home work pressures and economic worries. Children are the ones who get shortchanged. The rise of the myth of "quality time vs. quantity time" is used to justify absence from the kids. Almost 20 percent of the students in sixth through twelfth grades report that they haven't had a good conversation lasting more than ten minutes with one or more of their parents in over a month! (35)

Carl Zwerner grew up in a home with a father whose life was his auto parts business. Swearing that he wouldn't make the same mistake with his own family, Carl began a glass-import business:

Like his father, he worked 10 and 12 hour days, with little time for his wife and three children. Home life was a joke, he says. "Can you picture changing a kid's diaper and all you're thinking about is the next day's paperwork? How much caring can happen there?" Even on drives to the children's camp in North Carolina, "I would stop and see customers on the way. " After 19 years, Mr. Zwerner and his wife divorced. When it comes to business, the long hours may pay off. When it comes to family life, everybody loses." (36)

Fifth, more and more children and teens are victims of family violence. By the age of sixteen, one out of every four girls in the United States and one out of every seven boys has been sexually abused. (37) Most of the abuse comes from the hands of a parent, sibling, or close relative. Violence is a part of life for fifteen million families in America. About forty-seven out of every one thousand children are reported as victims of some type of abuse or violence. (38) Some of that violence is a direct result of alcoholism.(39)

It is no coincidence that the increasing difficulty of living through the adolescent years parallels an increase in divorce, sexual abuse, violence, alcoholism, and the time parents spend outside of the home. Likewise, the decreasing quality of life for teens corresponds to a decrease in family time, two-parent families, and marital commitment.

Home used to be a place of refuge. I remember how great I felt entering the warmth of my house after battling the pressures and expectations of my peers at the war zone known as school. While my family was by no means perfect, I at least knew when I got home, I could open the door and walk into never-ending encouragement, acceptance, and love.

But many teens don't share my experience. Some time ago, after an exciting senior high retreat, I noticed that every kid on the bus was asleep-except for Meg. She was staring out the window. The tears running down her cheeks told me she was thinking about more than the passing scenery. I thought she might be disappointed that the retreat had come to an end. "Sure, I'm sad the weekend is over," she said. "But that's not what I'm crying about. My dad hasn't talked to me or my mom in weeks. He just sits in his chair and watches TV. My mom's an emotional basket case. Sometimes I feel like I'm her mother. And my brother-he yells at all of us. I don't want to go home." Meg's home had become a war zone.?

Meg's sad story is only one example of how the changing face of the family is taking its toll on kids.

The result is a hunger for genuine and meaningful relationships so pervasive among teenagers and young adults today that experts cite "relational deprivation" as one of the hallmarks of the distinctly unique generation born between 1961 and 1980. Dubbed Generation X (a name coined by Douglas Coupland in his novel Generation X:? Tales for an Accelerated Culture), Baby-Busters, Twenty-somethings, and the 13th Generation (the 13th generation to be born after the American Revolution), these late teens and young adults number eighty million and make up the largest generation in American history. They desire real relationships that are characterized by depth, vulnerability, openness, listening, and love---connectedness in their disconnected, alienated world.

Outside influences are shaping teen Values.

After graduating from high school I took a summer job working on a construction crew. Shoveling steaming blacktop made an already hot summer the hottest summer I can remember. While my stint with the crew only lasted three months, most of my coworkers had been at the job all their lives. Several of them were rough characters who were a little "ragged around the edges." It was easy to tell that they had spent a lot of time with each other. Each day's conversation was filled with off-color jokes and language that would have made my mother turn green. I had been raised in a home home a refuge where I never heard my parents utter a single profanity, and I was never tempted to let a blue streak fly. Unfortunately, I spent more time on the construction site than at home that summer. It wasn't long before I found myself thinking and saying things that I had never thought or said before. A stubbed toe, an impolite driver, or a poor call by an umpire brought out my new vocabulary.

While I realize that I was ultimately responsible for my words and actions, there was a sense in which I had been socialized and educated during my time spent with the other crew members. They had "worn off" on me.

The changes that I experienced that summer are an illustration of the larger-scale changes taking place in today's youth culture. Traditionally, the home was the institution that exercised the greatest influence on the values, attitudes, and behaviors of teens. The school and church shared and reinforced the values that were taught at home. Today the changing face of the family and the pluralistic flavor of our society have weakened the positive influence of the home in the life of America's children and teens. In fact, the home, school, and church don't always agree on issues of right and wrong.

As the traditional influences weaken, the voices of other institutions become more powerful forces in educating and socializing teens in America. These voices grow ever louder, answering teen's questions and drowning out the voices of parents, school, and church. Although each of these voices will be discussed in the remaining chapters of this book, let this overview serve as an introduction. And then commit yourself, as a Christian parent, to grapple with the following forces and win!

Music and other media. This generation of children and teens spends an incredible amount of time watching television and listening to music. The media have become a source of information on everything from sexuality to politics to alternate lifestyles to issues of right and wrong. Many believe that the media, not parents, are parenting our teenagers. (See chapters 4-6 for further information on how to understand the complex world of music and media and for ideas on how to protect the eyes and ears of your teen.)

Peer group. Peer pressure has always been a part of the adolescent experience. While the pressure exists for people of all ages, it reaches its zenith during the teenage years. One significant difference between peer pressure now and twenty years ago is the form that it takes. Peer pressure used to manifest itself through an individual's or group's verbal encouragement to "go ahead and do it" when we knew that what we were being encouraged to do was wrong. Now the pressure is an unspoken expectation to participate in some type of behavior that is generally accepted as normal and right by the teen population and even many adults. So much of what teens think about themselves is wrapped up in acceptance by the peer group. Many will compromise and do what they know is wrong just to be accepted. (More on peer pressure and how to help your child put it in a realistic perspective in chapter 7.)

Changing influences are leading to new trends.?

Sex-no rules. Our teenagers live in a sex-saturated society. The media tells them that sex is something to be enjoyed whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever they like. We live in a country where 78 percent of all young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine and 61 percent of the total population believe that sex before marriage is OK if both people are "emotionally ready." (40) Teenagers longing for love and acceptance buy into these ideas and look to have their emotional needs met through a few minutes of physical intimacy. As more and more teens adopt these attitudes, it becomes increasingly difficult for others to keep their virginity. Many schools add to the pressure by dispensing all the technical information and condoms that kids need without ever suggesting abstinence as a possible option. (Chapter 8 will help you understand more about the sexual challenges your child faces today and will give you some ideas of how to encourage virginity.)

Materialism-the desirable lifestyle. In the nineties- more and more teens are working, buying cars, and furnishing their rooms. Many have more monthly discretionary income at their disposal than the average adult. They expect that this is just the beginning of a life full of having what they want whenever they want it. But these teen expectations may not "materialize." All the signs point to the possibility that this generation may be the first since the Great Depression that can expect to live at a lower standard of living than their parents. Regardless of what happens in the future, the present situation indicates that today's teens are building their lives around the desire to possess things. (See chapter 9 on understanding and combating materialism.)

The prevalence of substance abuse. Eight out of ten teenagers will experiment with alcohol because they are pressured, bored, depressed, or trying to relieve stress. And for many, it will become a lifestyle. Not only is drinking showed as enjoyable on beer commercials, but it's portrayed as normal. Never do kids get to see the consequences of drunken driving, alcohol-related crime, alcoholism, beer bellies, and death. Many grow up truly believing that the night belongs to Michelob. And even though alcohol is the drug of choice among teenagers, parents should be concerned about the use of many other illicit drugs. While several recent studies indicate a slight decline in drug use among teens, don't be fooled into thinking that drug abuse, went out with the sixties. Over half of all teenagers will try an illicit drug. (Chapter 10 will give you up-to-date information on alcohol and drugs so that you can help your child hold his or her own against them.)

Rising rates of depression and suicide. If I had to isolate the one word that kids are using most to describe what it's like to be a teen in America, it's stress. Kids are stressing out over grades, schedules, family problems, weight, looks, popularity, violence, the future, you name it. As a result, more kids are now victims of depression, eating disorders, and suicide than ever before. The suicide rate among American fifteen-to nineteen-year-old high school students has increased 30 percent since 1980. (41) Ten percent of adolescent boys and 18 percent of adolescent girls have made some attempt to take their own life. (42) Suicide is now the third-leading cause of adolescent death. Parents would be wise to be well aware of the discouragement and stress factor in their teens' lives. (Chapter II will help you learn how to guard your teen's emotions.)

Postmodernism and truth that's up for grabs. A couple of years ago I happened onto a TV rebroadcast of the Rolling Stones' "Rock & Roll Circus," a. 1968 concert film. One segment featured sixties icons John Lennon and Yoko Ono playing in an all-star band. During one song, Ono did some avant-garde performance art by rolling around inside a black sack in front of the stage. For another number, she wailed and screamed incoherently while the band played. Even guitarist Eric Clapton couldn't help but give her a "Lady, what are you doing?" glance. This seemed strange twenty-five years ago when I was a teenager. But in today's postmodern culture it hardly seems strange at all.

The world we old folks grew up in was steeped in modernism, a worldview that took hold in the eighteenth century. At its roots was the belief that science and reason could lead us to the truth, solve every problem, and eventually make life better. Although modernist faith trusted human intellect rather than God, there was still a general consensus that right and wrong were absolute and that objective truth could be known.

But something started to change around the late 1960s. The "anything goes" worldview known as postmodernism began its assault on the cultural landscape. Rooted in the belief that there is no such thing as objective truth, the postmodern way of thinking and living allows people to discover and invent truth for themselves. Consequently, since no one can truly know what's right, they are entitled to do whatever's right in their own eyes. Today, the final court of appeal on religious and moral decisions is personal desire and opinion. In his book Postmodern Times, Gene Veith cites the result: "The only wrong idea is to believe in truth; the only sin is to believe in sin." (43)

George Barna has found that about three-quarters of all adults reject the notion of absolute moral truth. (44) Sadly, it is the younger segment of the adult population, those who are teaching and raising kids, who tend to hold the postrnodern view. Barna says, "This may also help to explain why a majority of teenagers (57 percent) say that lying is sometimes necessary-not merely convenient, common, understandable or acceptable, but necessary. (45)? This explains the growing tendency of children and teens to reject the truth of the Bible in order to develop and build a value system based on a potpourri of ideas gathered from home, peers, teachers, and the media. If you've been wondering about the glaring tendency among those in our culture to say one thing and do another without seeing any inconsistency, you've been wondering about postmodernism.

One of the greatest responsibilities parents have is to teach their children the difference between right and wrong. But the nature of our culture makes it difficult to instill a set of transcendent godly values when our children grow up learning to "choose to believe what you want to believe."? If we want to reach our kids with the Good News, we must survey our changing surroundings and come to a deep understanding of the world in which they live. (Consult chapter 12 for ways to point your teen to godly values.)

In the Part 2 of this article, Walt Mueller moves from problems to solutions, discussing how we can help our teens. Go back to articles and click on Part 2.


Part 1 of this article is from Understanding Today's Youth Culture, Revised and Expanded Edition, by Walt Mueller (c) 1994, 1999. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.? All rights reserved.

This well-researched 461 page book won the Gold Medallion Book Award, which recognizes excellence in evangelical Christian literature.? You'll see why if you read the book. It is a goldmine of information on youth culture for parents, teachers and youth leaders.?

To purchase this book in its entirety, either visit your local Christian bookstore or order online through Amazon.com. You may visit Tyndale's website at http://www.Tyndale.com


Walt Mueller is president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, a nonprofit organization serving churches, schools, and community organizations in their efforts to strengthen families. See his site at http://www.cpyu.org/

Walt has been working in youth and family ministry for twenty-four years. He is a recognized authority on youth culture and family issues and appears regularly on numerous national media outlets (including Moody Open Line, Dawson McA1listar Live, I 00 Huntley Street, and The Dick Staub Show) to discuss teenagers and their world. He speaks frequently for seminars and conferences in the United States and around the world, communicating effectively with adults and teenagers alike.

Walt has written extensively on youth culture and family issues and is the author of two books. He is a regular contributor to a variety of professional and popular publications, including Youthworker Journal, Parents of Teenagers, GROUP, Junior High Ministry, New Man, Current Thoughts and Trends, Living with Teenagers, and Today's Father.

Walt earned his BA? in sociology from Geneva College (Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania) and his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hampton, Massachusetts).

Walt and his wife, Lisa, live in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, with their four children: Caitlin, Joshua, Bethany, and Nathaniel.


1. "Youth Indicators 1996/lndicator 58-Arrests," National Center for Education Statistics Page, 1996, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs/yi/y9658a.html (16 December 1997).

2. Ted Gest and Victoria Pope, 'Crime Time Bomb," U.S. News & World Report, 25 March 1996, 28ff.

3. 'U.S. Has Highest Rate of Youth Violence Among Developed Countries, CDC Reports,' The Nation's Health, March 1997, 10.

4. "Crime Time Bomb."

5. '1995 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS)-Summary, Intentional Injuries,' 1996, http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/suin.htrn (16 December 1997).

6. '1995 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS)--Summary, School-Related Violence,' 1996, http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/susc.htm (16 December 1997).

7. 'You Don't Kill Him He Can Come Back and Get You,' Youthworker Update VI, no. 10 June 1992): 1.

8. "What Weighs Heavily on Adolescent Minds," USA Today, 8 August 1995.

9. "1995 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS)-Summary, Intentional Injuries."

IO. "1995 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS)-summary, School-Related Violence.

11. "Bullying to Battering,' USA Today, 18 November 1992.

12."Violence: Division of Violence Prevention," National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Page, 10 November 1997, http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp.htm (16 December 1997).

13. David Blankenhorn, - "The Good Family Man: Fatherhood and the Pursuit of Happiness in America," working paper for Institute for American Values, symposium on fatherhood in America, W.P. 12, New York, N.Y, November 1991,16.

14. "Facts about Media Violence," American Medical Association Page, 1997, http://www.ama-assn.org/ad-com/releases/1996/mvfacts.htm (16 December 1997).

15. David Elkind, The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1981).

16. David Elkind, Ali Growm Up & No Place To Go. Teenagers in Crisis (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1984).

17. Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (New York: Delacorte Press, 1982).

18. Valerie Polakow Suransky, The Erosion of Childhood (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

19. C. John Sommerville, The Rise and Fall of Childhood (New York: Vintage Books, 1982).

20. National Association of State Boards of Education, Code Blue. Unitingf or Healthier Youth (Alexandria, Va.: 1990).

21. Dan Coats, "America's Youth: A Crisis of Character," Imprimis 20, no. 9 (September 1991): 2.

22. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, 'Dan Quayle Was Right,' Atlantic Monthly, April 1993, 50.

23. Ed Rubenstein, 'Right Data," National Review, 10 March 1997, 14.

24. J. 0. Balswick and Y, Morland, Social Problems: A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1990), 164.

25. Whitehead, "Dan Quayle Was Right," 50.

26. Frank F. Furstenburgjr., and Andrewj. Cherlin, Divided Families: What Happens to Children When Parents Part (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), 11.

27. 'Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation' (New York: Institute for American Values, 1995), 8.

28. Overheard, Newsweek, special edition, winter/spring 1990, 11.

29. Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chanas: Men, Women and Children a Decade after divorce (New York: Tickner & Fields, 1989).

30. "Various Forms of Father Absence," National Center for Fathering Father Research Page, n.d., http://wwwfathers.com/factrnain.htrnl (18 December 1997).

31. Ibid.

32. Wade F. Horn, Father Facts (Lancaster, Pa.: National Fatherhood Initiative, 1995), ii.

33. National Fatherhood Initiative Page, n.d., http://www.fatherhood.org/welcome.html (18 December 1997).

34. Code Blue.

35. Peter Benson, The Troubled journey: A Portrait of 6th-12th Grade Youth (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 1993), 84.

36. Mark Robichaux, "Business First, Family Second," The Wall Street Journal, 12 May 1989.

37. Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The Results of the 1995 Annual Fifty State Survey (National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research).

38. "Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics," National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse Page, April 1997, http://wwwchfldabuse.org/facts96.html (I 8 December 1997).

39. "Intervarsity Staffworkers Respond to the Crisis," Intervarsity, spring 1989,14.

40. Walt Mueller, "Let's Tell the Truth about Sex," Headfirst Ministries Newsletter, spring 1992, 1.

41. "Cognitive Characteristics Predict Adolescent Suicide Attempts," The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, June 1997, 1.

42. Code Blue.

43. Gene Edward Veith Jr., Postmodem Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton, Ul.: Crossway Books, 1994), 196.

44. George Barna, Generation Next. What You Need to Know about Today's Youth (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1995), 31.

45. Ibid., 32ff.