There is a culture within high schools (and even middle schools) that most parents are unaware of, and if they are aware of it they either ignore it or assume their child “knows better”. Through social media (Facebook and Twitter) and smart-phone apps, teenagers are now moving into a world where “hooking up” is the norm, and being friends with benefits is preferred over simply being friends. Through apps like Snapchat, Tinder, Grindr, Blendr, and even old fashion text messaging, teens are now able to solicit one another for a quick hook up.
It should be no surprise that teenagers today have been exposed to more internet pornography, as well as established expectations through TV and the fashion industry that tells them that sex sells and if you want to get ahead in life then you better be ready to play the game. We need to look no further than the performance of Miley Cyrus at the 2013 VMA awards as an example of this message.
The over-sexualization of teenage girls is a systemic problem that will have long lasting implications. Livescience.com reported that, “The authors (of the study) suggest that the media or moms who sexualize women may predispose girls toward objectifying themselves; then, the other factor (mom or media) reinforces the messages, amplifying the effect.”
A recent article in Vanity Fair brought even more light to this topic. “We don’t date; we just hook up” said a teenage girl to Nancy Jo Sales. Facilitating all of this is the fact that 81 percent of teens are active on social media and teens spend on average 11 hours per day connected to an electronic device (cell phone, tablet, laptop).
“There are so many apps and shit that just, like, hand you girls.” This response from a teenage boy is an example of what Sales described as a world where “boys are taught they have the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers.”
My immediate concern here is twofold. One, teenage girls no longer see themselves a children of worth, meaning that they are loved by a God who is greater than any pickup line they receive via text message. Two, teenage boys have missed the point. They now see girls as an end to a means. If they cannot get what they are looking for from a girl they move on the next girl in their history class.
Teenage girls and boys are being manipulated into believing that they find their worth in the physical acts of the hook up culture, rather than finding worth in one another as equal parts of creation and loved by their creator.
When prompted a teen in the Vanity Fair article said, “social media is destroying our lives”. When she was asked why she then continues to use it her response was, “because then we would have no life”. But there is life outside of social media hookups and selfies. Jesus offers us a new way of life. A way of life where we do not have to be concerned with the unrealistic expectations that can be placed on us as a result of the hook up culture and a media culture that tells us “sex sells”.
Implications for Youth Ministry
This is where youth ministry has the ability to step in and set the record straight. Whether it is stepping up and saying that the picture a young lady posts is inappropriate (explaining why, and not simply saying she looks like a “slut”) or emphasizing that each of us are created in the image of our creator and thus we are of great worth in the eyes of God, and because of this we do not have to find our worth in the prevailing hook up culture.
Teenage boys need mentors. I would not be where I am today if it were not for the mentors that stepped up and showed me what it meant to be man. I am not saying that I have a perfect track record or that I was a perfect teenager. I was not. But what I am saying is that, especially for teenage boys, youth ministry settings have an opportunity here to set the record straight and to fight back against this culture that is taking off like wildfire in our communities.
You can read the entire Vanity Fair article here.