Kid Culture is almost as much of a buzz word as “game changer”. Almost. But seriously… what does it even mean? Why are we constantly on a quest to find what kids are into? This is why: the effectiveness of ministry to the coming generation will be dependent on our ability to know and effectively integrate pop culture. Yes, pop culture. Why? Because that is kid culture.
Go ahead, fire away with “do not be conformed” and “in the world not of the world”, but let me give you an example: the California “Mission” System. The Catholic Church decided to save the Native Californian’s by building “missions” and conforming the Natives into what the Catholic Missionaries perceived to be correct culture. Long story short, it didn’t work out too well for any party involved.
To minister to youth, we must understand youth. We don’t need to show them that every Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez song played backwards contains a Satanic Prayer and that to follow Jesus means abandoning their SillyBandz and fleeing from Facebook.
When we relate to Kid Culture, we build community. It’s speaking their language. How do you feel when you meet someone and realize you work in the same industry? You talk shop, and walk away having a great feeling about that person. It’s all about building connections, finding commonality, establishing rapport, and living in community. The same thing translates to our kids.
So all this being said, what is kid culture?
Kid Culture is Pop Culture in all its facets. With kids however, they are all over the metaphorical spectrum. You will have kids who laugh at a Snooki joke. You will have kids who think Snooki is a kind of dog treat. Generally, it’s safe to assume much of this falls with age. In Junior High, it’s almost certain that they would understand the Jersey Shore reference. In early Elementary, chances are they would not.
Ages and Stages
Kids who are Pre-Elementary do not have the same concept of “culture” as kids who are in Elementary school. From here, kids from first and second grade are starting to pick up on it. Perhaps not the MTV version of pop culture, but Westernized kids at this age are beginning to learn trends in society. They are highly marketed to and respond very strongly to that. A lot of kids will rave over the latest toy, but maybe not the latest development on the Hills. It’s once kids are entering the infamous “preteen” phase that pop culture kicks in full force. Some kids are watching the Hills, especially those with teenage siblings. Now, they may not have been watching it long enough to fully grasp the dynamics of Spencer and Heidi, but they desire to fit in, to be cool, and to be part of something larger than themselves. Pop culture is an easy way to fulfill that desire. Then, around ages thirteen and fifteen, kids are generally looking to adopt their identities. They tend to turn towards media to find out what it’s “okay” to be, and what it’s not “okay” to be. For example, it’s not “okay” to be ignorant or prejudiced, but they haven’t fully developed that idea for themselves, so they could see believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven as being bigoted, because media says that exclusivism is only cool when it doesn’t involve God.
Learning Pop Culture
One thing is certain: if you didn’t understand any of the Spencer/Heidi, Snooki, SillyBandz references thus far, you might have a difficult time getting in touch with Kid Culture. But there are a few foundational things that might help:
- Pop Culture Comes from a Screen
Movies. TV. The Internet. If it’s on a screen, it’s instantly got a cool factor. (Except for the snuggie. All hope is lost on that one)
- Celebrities Are Cool
Kids emulate celebrities. If Justin Bieber wears purple shoes, well, look around. It’s easy to keep track of just who those celebrities are by watching award shows like the VMA’s, or the Kids Choice Awards. A few popular ones right now are Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Previously Named Bieber, Miley Cyrus (or well, she was..), Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers, and many more.
- Disney and Viacom are the Power Houses
If Disney doesn’t own it, Viacom does. Disney owns the Disney Channel and ABC. Viacom owns brands such as MTV, VH1, and Nickelodeon. Ever wonder why Nick is so suggestive and sexualizes young people? Well, now you know.
- Stuff Is Awesome
Sillybandz, those darned Zhu Zhu pets, and all the other junk that is flooding television commercials… well, okay, I suppose Sillybandz is an exception. All those items are flooding Christmas lists and Birthday Lists and Chanukah Lists, because, you know, suddenly your kid wants to celebrate Chanukah so they can get more Sillybandz. (Which are, by the way, crack cocaine for kids).
- Friend and a Leader
This whole thing with culture is all about getting down to their level, so if you’re a nazi for the “friends and leaders are mutually exclusive terms” movement, this isn’t for you. No, you don’t have to have the spiritual and social immaturity of a fifth grader to effectively lead one… in fact, it’s quite the opposite, but refusing to step down from a condescending position of authority does not lead to healthy, mentoring relationships. A kid’s friend is, in essence, someone they can relate to, someone they can trust, and someone they enjoy being around. Interesting how these qualities are the same ones found in great Ministry Leaders.
- The Internet
It’s difficult to nail down one point about the internet. It’s terribly dangerous, full of filth, yet completely ingrained in this generation and there has never been a tool as powerful for the Gospel as the world wide web. I suppose then, our responsibilities are to partner with kids and families to help them use the web in a way that is safe and honors God, plain and simple. Naturally, this means we must ourselves understand the web. Terms like blogging, facebook, myspace, social networking; if you know them, you probably “get” the internet, if you don’t, bring someone alongside you who does and lean into them!
In the end, our goal is to reach kids and lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. In today’s world, with today’s kids, this is part of that task.