5 Takeaways From CNN’s Study on 13-Year-Olds

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CNN just aired a documentary on #Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens. The show revealed findings of a study of more than 200 eighth graders and their use of social media. After reviewing more than 150,000 social media posts collected from the students’ social media sites, the study revealed these findings:

1. Teens are on smartphones and tablets constantly.

It’s not unusual for teens to check their devices more than 100 times a day. Whether at school, home, or at an afterschool activity, social media is a constant companion and source of instant access to the online lives of their friends and peers.

2. Social media is a source of anxiety for many teens.

Rather than being on social media to share good things that were going on in their lives, the majority of those in the study said they were checking their social media sites to make sure no one was saying bad things about them and to check their status. Were their posts getting “likes”? Are their friends doing things without them? Are people saying bad things about them?

3. Rather than posting, many teens are lurking.

About 1/3 of those in the study said they spend a large portion of their time studying their friends’ and peers’ social media sites to figure out where they stand in the social pecking order. They look to see who is in and who is out, whose popularity in growing and whose is waning. On the CNN show, many of the teens said one bad post or picture could ruin a person’s reputation.

4. Social media use can be addicting.

The parents and the 13-year-olds on the show all agreed the use of social media is addicting. Before taping the show, the parents were asked to take their children’s phones away. One girl was shown sobbing. A couple of them said they would rather go without food for a week or be grounded than to have their phones taken away.

5. Parents who pay attention to their teens’ online lives erase the negative effects of social media.

Ninety-four percent of parents in the study underestimated the impact that social media was having on their children’s well being. Those parents who were actively engaged in their teens’ online lives were able to help their teens navigate the pluses and minuses of their social media use. When teens knew their parents were monitoring what they were doing, they were far less likely to engage in bullying or sexting or other inappropriate behaviors that are all too common in the social media lives of 13-year-olds.

One other comment from the show stood out. For this generation, their face-to-face lives are the same as their social media lives. There is no distinction.

Beyond the negatives, the study found that teens use social media to show support for one another, to encourage peers when they were going through personal struggles, and to defend one another from people who were saying negative things about their friends.

Questions for Parents and Churches:

1. How are you helping the children and youth in your church engage in face-to-face conversations away from social media?

2. How are you paying attention to the impact of social media on your children or youth?

3. What alternatives to social media do you offer? When do you have children and youth take a break? When do children and youth do an activity without social media?

4.  As an adult, how many of these things are true for you as well? Do you lurk?  Are you constantly comparing your friend’s posting with your real life?  Are you checking your phone over 100 time a day?  Does too much consumption of social media make your anxious?

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age. Go to www.iKidsgen.com for study guides for youth groups and parents.

The Release of Disney Infinity 3.0 Begins the Season of Star Wars Mania

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When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4 billion dollars in 2012, many assumed Disney would focus on reviving the Star Wars franchise by producing another round of movies. But this was only part of the plan. What Disney really wanted was the characters and the stories. For characters and stories have always put the magic in Disney.

Disney’s first cultural icon, Mickey Mouse, became the template upon which all future characters would be built. In 1928 he starred in Steamboat Willie, the first animated film to use synchronized music and sound effects. As the movie captured the imagination of popular culture, Walt Disney did what he did best — he teamed up with merchandisers to put Mickey Mouse in every house in America. Along with stuffed animals, Mickey appeared on pencils, in books, on children’s clothes, pillows, and sheets. Soon he had his own syndicated cartoon in the newspaper. But nothing said he had arrived better than the release of the iconic Mickey Mouse Watch, which sold over 11,000 units on its first day, a record for its time. But that was just the start. By the 1950s Mickey had his own television show, the Mickey Mouse Club, and a starting role in his own theme park, Disneyland, in California.

So when Disney purchased Star Wars, the production of movies was only one piece of the franchise pie. From now till the release of Star Wars VII The Force Awakens on December 18, 2015, a whole series of video games, animated TV shows, and books will be released to build momentum toward the opening of the movie.

Disney has even created a slogan and website called “Star Wars A Force For Change,” which promises to harness “the strength of Star Wars and its global fandom to empower people to come together to make a positive impact on the world around them.”

With the release of the video game Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars, Disney takes its popular toy-to-life video game to another level.  Included in the starter pack is the first of three Star Wars play sets that capture the breadth of the Star Wars story.  The starter pack comes with Twilight of the Republic, in which Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano battle during the latter years of the Clone Wars (episodes 1 – 3). The intergalactic adventure takes the characters to four planets, during which they battle droids as they try to save the republic from the separatists.

At the end of September the next play set, The Rise Against the Empire, will be released. Here gamers will be immersed in the original Star Wars movie universe (episodes  4-6) as they get to be Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia fighting against the Galactic Empire.  Then in December, in conjunction with the release of the newest movie, The Force Awakens play set will feature two new characters, Finn and Rey, that will allow gamers to play the in world of episode 7.

But this is only part of the story.  More than 100 playable characters will be included in the series, which at $14.99 a pop is quite an investment, along with the $64.99 starter pack and the $35.99 you pay for each additional play set.  Disney knows it will hard to resist the desire to play as Darth Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, and Han Solo in a Star Wars experience that puts the gamer in the midst of the action.

Beyond the play sets, Disney Infinity also includes the groundbreaking Toy Box that allows gamers to create their own worlds using Star Wars images.  But more than that, in the Toy Box, Yoda can also hang out with Elsa from Frozen or Woody from Toy Story or Hulkbuster from Marvel’s universe of characters.

While it’s easy to see this as an attempt to separate parents from their hard-earned money, not to be lost is Disney’s profound understanding of the appeal of Star Wars to grandparents, parents, and children alike.  For Stars Wars is not only an intergalactic adventure, it also is an intergenerational cultural experience that started in 1977.

People in their fifties and sixties can easily remember their first experience of the release of episodes 4 – 6, when “let the force be with you” became part of the cultural lexicon of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Those in their thirties and forties became immersed in the story in the 1980s and 1990s with the advent of Video Tapes and DVDs that allowed them as kids to watch the movies over and over again in their home theaters.  In 1999, the series got new life with the release of episodes 1 – 3, which introduced the series to a whole new generation.  Now with Disney Infinity 3.0, the grandchildren and children of Star Wars fans have the opportunity to be caught up in the story in a totally new way.  Not only will they be able to watch the movies, toy-to-life video gaming allows them to become the characters as they interact in the Star Wars universe.

With the release of Disney Infinity 3.0, Disney has redefined the Star Wars experience.  Rather than buying a particular game, it becomes its own game system, which can be played on any gaming platform from the Wii U to the PS4, from the Xbox One to the PC.  If you have a grandchild or child, don’t be surprised if you find yourself investing in Disney Infinity 3.0, because deep down, you know if you have it, you’ll get to play it too.

Questions for church leaders:

  • How do Bible stories and characters become an intergenerational experience?
  • How will you handle the cultural phenomenon of all things Star Wars that will reach its zenith right before Christmas?
  • Will you ignore it?  Reference it in your preaching? Create a study?

 

Digital Life – A Youth Group Study Now Available

This week over 4,000 youth from United Methodist Churches around the country will be gathering for Youth 2015 in Orlando. As part of the follow-up to presentations I will be making at the event, today I am releasing a free PDF that examines four critical issues facing today’s youth.  Digital Life – a Youth Group Study is designed for use by youth groups and it also can be used as a resource for small groups, for parent groups, and as an outline for a sermon series.

Here are the four key issues covered in this material:

Lesson One: Screen In
Today’s world is filled with screens. Whether at the store, school, home, in a restaurant, car, or even church, the screens on smartphones, tablets, computers, and TV monitors provide a constant stream of images and sounds designed to capture our attention. This lesson is designed to help youth explore how they use digital media and to discover how this affects the way they live on a daily basis.

Lesson Two: Face-to-Face
As youth spend more time on their techgear (smartphones, computers, and tablets), they spend less time in face-to-face conversations. While texting, emails, and messaging may be convenient, when it comes to serious matters, nothing is better than face-to-face interactions where we learn how to read and interpret non-verbal cues, a skill that is essential for developing ongoing, healthy relationships. This lesson explores the importance of face-to-face conversations.

Lesson Three: Branded
Through the use of digital technology, companies make a profound impact on the lives of teenagers. They now have the ability to track individuals through sophisticated online monitoring. Companies can now send ads and messages tailored to specific individuals. This lesson explores how youth experience and understand brands.

Lesson Four: Distracted
One of the most dangerous intersections in the world of digital technology is the car. This lesson explores the dangers of texting and driving as a way to explore the larger issue of how youth and adults live in a distracted state of being. The one myth to explode is the idea that multitasking is a good way to get things done. In the digital age, learning how to focus on one thing at a time is an important skill for mental, physical, and spiritual development.

Additional materials, including a presentation and handouts are also available for your use.

Use the link above (iKids Group Studies/Downloads) or click here to go to these materials.

The Problem with “Nones”

Over the years, the Christian community has been very creative in the terms it uses to categorize people who are not coming to church. “Unbelievers” was in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. These were the people who did not believe in Jesus. The church’s job was to convince them to believe by using tracts like the “Four Spiritual Laws” to change their minds. In the 1980s and 1990s, the term “seekers” was used to describe people who did not come to church but were interested in spirituality of some kind. So churches created seeker services that did not expect attendees to do anything but listen to a band play contemporary music, watch video clips, and listen to a message with fill-in-the-blank outlines. The goal was to help people become seekers of Jesus.

Now the people who do not affiliate with a particular faith tradition or go to church are called the “nones.”   According to Pew Research Center’s recently released study on America’s Changing Religious Landscape, which reported on the rapid decrease in people who are part of mainline Protestant churches, the number of the religiously unaffiliated adults, the so-called “nones,” has increased by 19 million people since 2007. Now there are approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S., which makes them larger then Catholics or mainline Protestants. While 11% of older adults are in this category, more than 36% of young adults do not participate in a religious faith community.

The most damning finding from the survey is that while 85% of adults were raised as Christians, a quarter of these no longer claim a religious affiliation. Former Christians now represent 19% of the U.S. population. This is in contrast to mainline Protestants, who have declined from 18% of the population to 11% since 2007.

In my mind, the use of the term “nones” is a convenient term that lets the church off the hook. We can say they aren’t coming to our churches because they have lost their faith or because they don’t believe in anything. I believe that “the nones” is a pejorative term to use for a group of people who don’t buy into our notion of what it means to follow Jesus. For those us who are steeped in the theology of John Wesley, the idea that someone is a “none” is completely foreign to the concept of prevenient grace (before a person knows Jesus, God’s grace is present in his or her life).

I think people have turned away from the church because of “us.” Maybe they have chosen not to participate in church life because they are not interested in our unrelenting debates about who is “in” and who is “out.” Instead of finding our houses of worship places of grace, they have encountered toxic personalities they do not want their children to emulate. Could it be they can better live out their faith without having to put up with people whose goal in life is to get rid of the pastor who doesn’t measure up? Or maybe they refuse to listen to preaching that constantly judges them and their friends’ lifestyles as being sinful and unchristian.

In all the articles that have tried to shed light on this issue, the one by Reba Riley on “Losing My Religion: America’s ‘Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” hit me the hardest.  She says, “I see thousands of stories of brokenness. I see the millions of people who crash into religion when they go looking for God. I see people so tired of being spiritually bruised that they give up on faith altogether.”

She brings home a point that is often lost in the desire to fix blames. “People who leave or are left by their faith lose a lot more than a place to go on Sunday morning. They lose relationships with family and friends, social status, tribal approval, self-esteem.  They lose their God, their identity, their certainty, their gravity.”

This week, I have been hanging out with Paul Moon, the founding pastor of BrokenBuilders, a United Methodist Church birthed in Manhattan six years ago. The church now has three sites and six worship services. The primary attenders are young adults, the group that is missing from the vast majority of our churches. The Rev. Moon says the number one goal for the church is to create safe communities. Rather than launch worship services or small groups, the starting point at BrokenBuilders is creating space for community to form. People who gather in these spaces can be anything: Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, gamers, or Christian. It doesn’t matter. As people identify shared interests, they may start a yoga class, launch a theatre group, or create a worship experience.

The leader’s role is not to create a program or run people through a series of Bible classes. Instead it is to pray constantly and to give room for the Holy Spirit to touch peoples’ lives. Moon says, “We should acknowledge we don’t have any influence over young people in their culture. Our role is to ask the Holy Spirit to come and work in their lives. We are called to create space for people to experience the grace of Jesus. Transformation is not our goal; it is a byproduct of our experience with God.”

So as we grapple with a growing population of young people who have left the church or who have never been part of the church, perhaps prayer and seeking God’s wisdom is the place to start — not with rollouts of new programs or initiatives to reach the “nones,” but with humility and a self-awareness that causes us to take stock of our own attitudes, actions, and words that hurt, damage, and destroy people’s faith in God. It could be that a lot more of us than would care to admit are very close to joining America’s fastest growing religious group.

Who is Tending to the Minds of Our Boys?

”An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

Proverbs 18:15

As I entered the local Barnes & Noble bookstore the other day I was greeted by a beautiful table covered with books with and an inspirational sign that said, “Inspiring Stories for Unstoppable Girls.”   Try as I might, I could not find a similar display for boys.

I first encountered this bias in our publishing and book world when my daughter, who is now in her twenties, got her first American Girl book back in the late 1990s.   Started by the Pleasant Company, American Girl books tell the stories of characters like Kirsten Larson, born in 1854, a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory, and Josefina Montoya, a young Mexican girl living in New Mexico who was born in 1824.  The books come in a set of six books with colorful pictures, whose historical fiction is designed for 8-to-11 year-old girls. But the books are just the start. Girls can also buy dolls based on the books as well as furniture, clothes, and accessories. Bought by Mattel in 1998, the brand has expanded to include American Girl Stores, where girls can buy the books, dolls, and costumes as well as dine with their dolls in a specially themed restaurant.

As you might expect, American Girl has become a very profitable enterprise and has done a great job introducing girls to the world of books as a fun and lively experience, especially for those whose parents or grandparents can foot the bill for the dolls that cost over $100.00 each.

But you will not find an American Boy series of books or stores that help capture the imagination of boys. Somehow because they are boys, they are supposed to figure this out on their own without the encouragement of the book world. My son who is in his young teens has found some series to be interesting like the Percy Jackson books and 39 Clues. But other than that, few books capture his attention.

He and his friends would much rather play video games and talk about the characters in the games than discuss anything they would find in a book. It seems as a culture we have ceded the minds of our boys and young men to the influence of the creators of video games, whose most popular titles such as Call to Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Bloodborne invite them into a world of violence and mayhem.

As parents, we see an ongoing battle for our boys’ minds. How do we get them to read when the publishing market is all too content to cater to girls? How do we balance boys’ desire to play video games, whose online interactive features encourage them to connect with one another, with the importance of reading for the development of their imaginations and learning to focus? Why is it when I Google “Books for Girls,” I find sites that talk about empowering girls, but when I Google “Books for Boys” I find sites that merely recommend good books or “great” books?

I don’t have a ready answer for this except to say that our boys need to be empowered as well. They need to feel they will be able to offer something positive to the world in the future. Just like today’s iKids girls, our iKids boys need to be encouraged to read during the most important period of brain development a human ever goes through, from ages eight to fifteen, when the brain develops its ability to think, to make decisions, to discern what is good and evil, to value relationships, and to make choices about faith and belief.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age.  For more info go to http://iKidsgen.com

iKids on Flipboard’s New Website

Today Flipboard has launched a new website that allows you to collect and keep track of your favorite topics on the web. Developed first for the iPad and later for smartphones, Flipboard is a great app for keeping track of the ideas that are most important for to you and your work.

I have used it to create some of my own magazines where I have been collecting articles around topics that are of importance to me. If you haven’t tried it, I invite you to take a look.   If you are new to Flipboard, when you find a magazine you like, click on “follow” and it will be added to your collection of sites.  You also can add Flipboard to your tablet and/or smartphone.

Here are three Flipboard Magazines I have developed.  I invite you to try these out and create your own collection of ideas that matter to you.

iKids
http://flip.it/vvxXM
Learn about the digital life of children and teens, those born from 2000 – 2017
With over 1,500 articles, you will find articles on gaming, digital technology, brain development, health, and spirituality.

Innovative Leadership Project
http://flip.it/TFjno
Creating innovative leaders at the heart of local churches – churchleaderUMC.com
With a focus on work and productivity, this collection of articles delves into issues of work/balance, creating healthy habits, organization, running meetings, and tips for being a creative leader.

Millennials Trending
http://flip.it/Wqrxi
Urban Life and the Spirituality of Young Adults
My newest collection looks at the newest research on young adulthood, especially as it relates to Second Generation Americans, social media, education, and financial issues related to this generation.

The Diverse iKids of CA

 A significant change is taking place in California that signals a remarkable shift in its population. In times past, California’s population growth came from outside the state. After WWII, huge numbers of people drove west on Highway 66 from Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and other mid-western states to move to the golden state. “California here I come”, was a popular line for a song extolling the benefits of its weather, jobs, and an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Starting in the 1980s a new wave of people arrived from outside the state, this time from countries like Mexico, China, the Philippines, Tonga, and El Salvador. These first generation immigrants brought with them their rich cultures, foods, traditions, and languages that have transformed California into a creative tapestry that makes it a hub of innovation, diversity, and change.

But since 2000, the inflow of new residents has plateaued. This is most clearly seen in the population of its youngest generation. Since 2000 of 90% of the iKids Generation, those born since 2000, were born in California. Dowell Myers, in a USC Price report on “California’s Diminishing Resource: Children,” says, “Almost all CA children are born and raised in the state, unlike in past decades when many migrated from other states or nations. As these children grow into adulthood, they are beginning to remake the state. The historic transition to a “homegrown” majority is so recent, that its significance is not yet appreciated.”

While over 29% of California iKids have a least one parent who was born outside the United States, over 90% of them are Second Generation Americans. When looking at ethnicity some surprising information emerges. 91% of Whites, 94% of Blacks, 95% of Latinos, and 85% of Asians and Pacific Islanders iKids were born in California.

What does this mean for the future?

  1. In the past California’s growth was based on the inflow of new people from outside the state. Now is growth will be determined by the success of its own homegrown children. Economic success in the future will be based on how well California educates, trains, and equips its own children.
  2. While 52% are of Latino descent and 11% are of Asian descent, these Second Generation Americans see the world much differently from their parent’s generation. Churches, businesses, and educational institutions should realize the young Latinos and Asians of California are different than their parents. For most of them their primary language is English, they resonate with the American popular culture, and they share an American worldview.
  3. Because there are less people coming from outside the state, the percentage of children to the overall population is going down. This will be most clearly seen in the coming decades as the older adult population will skyrocket. In 2010 there were 22 senior adults per 100 people age 25 to 64. By 2050, when this generation will be in their prime earning years, there will be 46 older adults over 65 per 100 people who are 25 to 64.

Another study from the Pop Dynamics Research Group at the University of Southern California focused on the importance of developing intentional strategies for Second Generation Americans as they enter what they call the “Training Age” from age 18 to 24. This is when young adults go to college, trade schools, and have their first experience of work. From 2010 to 2030, 98% of the job growth in California will be attributed to Second Generation Americans. The study says, “This underscores how vital the second generation will be both as a source of labor forces and as the major source for replenishing the work force that would otherwise be depleted through increasing numbers of retirements.”

One of the primary places this information impacts is on California’s churches whose primary strategy over the years has been to reach newcomers to the state.  In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s the focus was on welcoming people from other states who carried with them mid-western worldviews and  were primarily white and black.  In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the focus was on reaching new immigrant populations by offering ministries in their native languages and who reflected the cultural heritage of the country from where they came.

Today’s generation of young people under the age of 30 in California are Second Generation, homegrown residents. They are the ones who are finding it difficult to find a place in California’s overcrowded colleges, who carry with them huge student dept, and will find it difficult to find housing in an expensive and competitive real estate market.  The future of the church will depend on its ability to connect with its homegrown population.  To reach this generation churches will need to pivot their approach to focus on the cultural norms and expectations of a diverse young adult and youth population whose main identity is Californian.  Not the California of the past, but a new California whose values and worldview is being re-imaged by a Second Generation whose cultural diversity defines them.