4 Can’t Miss Points of Kid Culture That You Need to Know
Published: February 16, 2020
Reaching kids today is more complex than it used to be. There are even more significant shifts happening within our culture now that directly impact kids. If you serve kids, these are shifts you need to be aware of and responsive to. Here’s a quick snapshot of what you need to know.
Kid Culture Point 1: The Pressure Is On.
Recently, a 9-year-old said to me: “I’m a mini-parent.” How true. Many children today face adult-like issues. They experience things beyond their years. They find themselves in situations where the only option is to mature more quickly and deal with harsher realities earlier. Consider this glimpse of childhood in America.
Violence is real.
School shootings continue to darken our headlines. Schools everywhere have a heightened focus on security, and to children, the quarterly lockdown drill is unsettling yet somehow old hat. Kids grapple daily with bullying (online and in person), and they face rising rates of child-on-child violence.
Steady and rising poverty rates cripple families.
As of 2010, 22% of U.S. children under age 18 (that’s 16.4 million kids) fall within the parameters of poverty. (National Poverty Center) Hunger is a real experience for millions of these children each day. And many families, still limping from the economic downturn, struggle financially.
Loss of innocence is happening at home, in front of a computer screen.
Here’s a staggering reality: Children begin consuming hardcore pornography at an average age of 11 in the U.S. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) Even worse, four out of five 16-year-olds regularly access pornography online, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Buying influence means kids are easily manipulated power brokers.
As a group, children under age 11 spend about $18 billion per year. Preteens have “heavy influence” on more than $30 billion of parents’ spending. There are entire markets and marketing strategies built around preteen and elementary-age demographics. (GlobalIssues.org) And P.S.—pop culture heavyweights like Miley Cyrus aren’t selling their wares and values to adults—they’re cashing in on impressionable preteens and teens.
Kid Culture Point 2: They Weren’t Born Yesterday.
Kids today have a consumer mentality, and that goes for their faith, as well. They’re skeptical and they’re used to being “sold” to. They’re articulate and ask tough questions and they’re unsatisfied with pat answers. Kids have a voice. And they’re used to being heard.
“Kids have issues, and they’re increasingly willing to talk about them and deal with them openly,” says Toby Rowe, former mission program manager for Simply Youth Ministry. “Ten years ago, if you had a discussion about abuse, stress, bullying, inappropriate behavior, or any other number of ‘more mature’ topics, you’d have had very little interaction from kids. Today, though, they’re open to discussing those topics. Prepare to discuss with kids—and not lecture them—regarding these kinds of topics. If you don’t, or won’t, they’ll assume that Christianity isn’t very helpful in their very real world.”
Age-appropriateness matters, too. This is true especially for preteens, who are “aging up” and ready for more mature, in-depth experiences.
“The fact is, your kids aren’t locked in a safe bubble, shielded nicely from culture and the real world,” says Rowe. “This is especially true of your third- through sixth-graders. They know more, think more, and can engage with more than you realize. Is that a little scary? Sure. Is it also a great opportunity to help them clarify their faith and perspective? Absolutely.”
Kid Culture Point 3: Digital Is a Mindset.
Kids typically view social media and digital communication as an extension of themselves, not as code cleverly manipulated to garner our clicks and dollars.
“It’s no mystery that kids are tech-savvy and social-media experts. Often today’s kids are more comfortable communicating in this impersonal method than they are talking face-to-face,” says Karl Bastian, founder of Kidology.org “The danger is that text-only communication strips away facial expressions and nonverbal cues. Not only is misunderstanding more likely, but it becomes easier to be cruel when you don’t have to see the visual response to your words on the face of the one you delivered them to. This means kids can hurt more without feeling the impact of their actions—and feel hurt more by others.”
Kids process their feelings and experiences via digital means, often exposing their innermost thoughts for public, sometimes brutal, consumption.
Kid Culture Point 4: The Norm Is No More.
Kids are increasingly living in nontraditional homes. This can mean anything from divorce, to cohabitation, to grandparents raising kids, to foster families, to same-sex households. Currently, one in four children in the U.S. is being raised by a single parent. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Divorce is the most prevalent reason for kids’ nontraditional homes, with cohabitation rapidly closing that gap.
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For so many kids in our sometimes-cruel world, your ministry is a welcome, safe retreat. Yet to effectively reach kids, it’s important to understand their circumstances and be willing to reach across cultural obstacles to welcome them into your world.
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