The most common theme among parents of young teens lately is that they want to live differently than the culture. Most parents do not want their kids to ingest the current culture of materialism, comparison, busyness, and anxiety. They don’t like what the culture is teaching and demanding.
Most parents want to be connected with their community, but they don’t want to live just like everyone else (too busy and too anxious). And they certainly don’t want the values of the pop culture to become the values of their children. On the other hand, they don’t want their kids to be social freaks, always on the outside looking in. It’s an everyday dilemma.
Without a doubt, it is difficult to grow up well when immersed in today’s youth culture, which is filled with empty entertainment, rampant consumerism, unhealthy body imagery, and every type of narcissism. It consumes them and then uses them as consumers.
It is so rare to get wisdom from youth pop culture today that it actually makes the news. Recently, Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Ironman in the Avenger movie series, said at the MTV Movie Awards: “I advise you to dream big, work hard, keep your noses clean, be of service, and because you can, define your generation.” This was a shocking statement because it is so countercultural in the Hollywood / MTV world. The cultural norm is the opposite: have fun, be sexy, and take everything you can from this life.
But it’s not just youth pop culture that is toxic; it’s everywhere. It’s in the cafeteria, on Instagram, in the classroom, and in other families’ homes. The culture is teaching our kids to always look good, have all the right gadgets, and be the best at everything, in order to keep up with everybody else. It’s a culture of discontentment, comparison, and competition that is making our kids more anxious and less happy than ever. It’s never enough. It’s an insatiable more.
As a concerned parent, the question is, “How do you create a family life that is what you want?”
Let’s just look at the cultural conundrum of kids and mobile devices. Many parents want their kids to have the conveniences and the communication that these devices offer, but they don’t like the way kids become consumed with social media, gaming, and narcissistic photos (how many selfies does one need?). Parents are worried about access to “too much too soon,” such as pornography, bullying, sexting, and stylized violence.
Parents feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want to do things differently than the culture, but they don’t know how, and they worry that any deviation may be counterproductive.
With regard to smartphones and other mobile devices, it is best to proceed very slowly and cautiously. It’s a complicated issue, but the simple theme is this: do not go with what everybody else is doing. The norm in suburban America is for a 6th or 7th grader to get a full-blown smartphone with all access, no limits, and no training. But it is a terrible norm. 12 year olds cannot handle that much power and freedom. It’s way too much too soon. “But everybody has one.” So what? It’s good for Apple and Samsung, and it makes mom and dad popular for a day, but it’s bad for kids and bad for families.
We need more cultural independence in our families. We need more parents who have the fortitude to say, “We will live our way, and our way will not always jive with the culture.”
The mode of operating needs to be: Together we will set the unique culture of our family.
Consider how you can know your family values, communicate those values, and create daily habits based on those values. Be yourself as a family. But first, you have to know your family’s self.
Here’s an outline for a countercultural change in your family:
1. Determine your family values, and be specific. Perhaps, create a mission statement, creed, or crest. Know your family’s identity.
2. Communicate your family identity (values) daily to yourself and your kids. Be proud of the fact that you are living differently in order to live better.
3. Look for ways to improve your daily process — to better your habits — to the point that you deeply believe in your process. Habits are powerful.
4. Live out your good habits to strengthen your family as best as you can. Don’t worry about the daily losses. Focus on the long-term gains. Believe in your values and in your process.
Our kids need us to show them the way. You can help your kids become healthy, happy, productive young adults. In fact, nobody is in a better position to do so. So, connect, guide, and enjoy your kids while you still can. As a family, you can walk the day’s path, deal with the day’s troubles, and enjoy the journey.
But know this: You must be intentional about creating your own culture.