Love In A Big World: Speaking their language

April 28th, 2017

Over the past few weeks, my 14-year old daughter has been talking non-stop about a new Netflix show, Thirteen Reasons Why. All of her friends at school were watching it, and she had become fascinated with the plot and characters just from what they said. I started watching it myself last weekend, and I can tell why the girls like it. The writing is raw and brilliant. It’s a difficult show to watch because of the realities of teen life depicted; everything from bullying to dating to alchohol and drug abuse to suicide is addressed, but I made a choice to watch it because I want to have follow-up conversations with my daughter.

From Elvis and The Beatles to Beyonce’ and Five Seconds of Summer, over the past sixty years we have witnessed how young people emulate the music, language and fashion of their generational icons. Why? I believe it is because kids long for a guiding light through the haze and confusion of the growing up years; they want role models — somebody who seems to have survived adolescence unscathed. They latch onto rock bands, movie stars and super athletes because that’s who they see and hear in media. It’s a matter of marketing.

Since perception is reality, the power of the almighty dollar affects the way kids act and think. They want Air Jordan’s so they can “be like Mike”. They want the same hairstyle as the girls from Fifth Harmony. Even kids in rural areas use street language because they pick it up from music and videos. If they have the total package like Kylie Jenner or Shawn Mendes, they assume that life will be just fine — no problem. But this is where life seems to unravel.

When a girl listens to Zara Larsson sing about her dreams coming true while she struggles for a 'C' in math and watches mom break up with another boyfriend, she develops a fractured worldview. What she sees portrayed as reality is not what she is living. However, instead of diminishing the light of her superstar role model, this juxtaposition of perception and reality causes the light to shine even brighter. “If only my life could be like hers,” she sighs.

Even though we share the same time and space, we adults experience a different reality than our kids. It is imperative for us caring adults who live and work with kids to educate ourselves about their cultural influences. We need to check in on a regular basis in order to familiarize ourselves with their world. If we want to meet kids where they are and lead them to where they need to be, we must go and find them there. And, believe me, if they know that we’ve heard a Kendrick Lamar song or seen a Key & Peele video when we talk to them about the choices they are making, they will pay more attention. Why? Because we’ve demonstrated that we care enough to find out about what is interesting and important to them. 

So ask your kids what they’re into. Then listen and learn. You’ll probably find that simply being open can lead to a discussion about time-management, friend issues, family relationships, faith, death, sexuality, future goals — just about anything. You can then become a real life role-model through conversation because you’ve found the back-door to their hearts.

Questions You Can Ask:

Music: What’s your favorite song? Who sings it? Why do you like (name of artist)? What’s your favorite radio station? 

Movies: What’s the last movie you saw at the theater? What did you think of it? Who went with you to see it?

YouTube: What’s your all-time favorite video? How many times have you watched it? What do you like about it?

Social Media: How much time do you spend on social media? What’s your favorite app? How many followers do you have? Who do you follow? 

Shows: What’s the last show you binge watched? What’s your favorite show? 

Clothes: Where do you shop? What’s the last thing you bought? Who pays for your stuff?

Other Things to Do:

  • Flip through the radio stations as you drive in the car. Listen to a sample of what kids are hearing.
  • Watch the trending YouTube videos.
  • Try out SnapChat.
  • Go and see the movie that all the kids are talking about.
  • Walk into the favorite stores you hear about and look at the fashions.
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