Sixteen and Influential

February 11th, 2014

Last month the National Bureau of Economic Research released a study suggesting that the popular MTV show 16 and Pregnant was responsible for “a 5.7% reduction in teen births in the 18 months after its premiere on TV.” The teen birth rate in the United States has been declining over the past two decades, due to a variety of factors, but the authors of the study argue that 16 and Pregnant has accelerated the decline. Among other things they point to social media. Researchers examined subjects that were trending on Twitter and other sites while the show aired and discovered teen viewers tweeting and searching for information about about birth control.

Whether we like it or not, evidence is clear that popular TV programs have an impact on their viewers’ choices, and it probably shouldn’t surprise us. After all, ad agencies and television networks spend billions of dollars each year in the hopes that they can influence how we will spend our time and money. But this study suggests that television can influence more than just what we watch and what we spend; it can also change our attitudes and behaviors. Though MTV did not create the show with the intent of reducing teen pregnancy, the success of 16 and Pregnant may have had that effect.

Influencing Others

Much has been written about how to influence other people. Perhaps the most famous work on the subject was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was first published in 1936. But Christians look to another great book to learn about influence: the Bible.

Scripture has plenty to say about how we use our influence. When God established a covenant with the people of Israel, God told them to have a positive influence on subsequent generations, teaching them God’s story and commandments (see Deuteronomy 6). Jesus taught his followers that we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14) and that we also should influence everyone we meet. Throughout the Bible we see examples of God’s people having a positive influence on those around them. Daniel, by his bravery and unwavering faith, influenced the king of Babylon to proclaim that God was the “living God” who “stands firm forever” (Daniel 6:26). The unnamed Samaritan woman whom Jesus spoke with at the well influenced her entire village to become followers of Jesus (see John 4:4-26; 39-42).

On the other hand, the Bible also tells of instances where God’s people used their influence in a negative way. Out of fear the Israelite spies convinced their people not to follow through on God’s plan for them to settle in the land of Canaan (see Numbers 13). David, who had considerable influence as the king of Israel, used his power to commit adultery and murder (see 2 Samuel 11).

The Greatest Influence

We see God’s influence at work in the pages of Scripture. But we may mistakenly think that God’s influence is an ancient relic that is no longer at work in our world in visible or powerful ways. But the truth is that God still has unparalleled influence through the person of the Holy Spirit who lives and works in the heart of each of God’s people. The Spirit blesses each of us with gifts and opportunities that we can use for good in our community and the world. But, as we also have seen in Scripture, it is possible for us to use these blessings in unfaithful ways and to have a negative influence. If we are to be godly influences, we must stay connected to God and seek God’s will in all circumstances. When we do that, we can have an enormous and positive influence on those around us.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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