Vol. 5 Issue 4 | January 25, 2019

1. NewsGuard

What it is: A web browser extension that aims to detect fake news not via algorithm, but by having real humans review an article, the site, and even the company behind it.

Why it’s a step: With unreliable sources given prominence on social media because of their ability to increase user engagement, it’s good that some are dedicated to combating the problem. Their color-coding system and “Nutrition Label” make it easy to see why a site is given its rating. However, as good of a tool as it can be, it’s important to realize that it’s not a solution because it doesn’t solve the real problem: our lack of discernment. This simply moves our trust from proven-corruptible orgs to another potentially corruptible org. So rather than using it as our or our teens’ filter, let’s treat it as one of many tools we can use to grow discernment and critical thinking skills.

2. Roo

What is it: On Thursday, Planned Parenthood launched their new chatbot Roo, which seeks to “get young people personalized answers to their questions on topics that are often stigmatized.”

Why it’s revealing: The chatbot is “meant to help Planned Parenthood give information to hard-to-reach audiences like teenagers who don’t receive sex education or are receiving abstinence-only education.” This exposes two possibilities: 1. In our efforts to encourage a Christian view of sex, we’ve neglected actually teaching teens about what’s happening to their bodies; and 2. For whatever reason, teens are afraid of or unwilling to ask parents their burning questions about sexuality. And while it’s smart to keep kids from getting sexual advice from who knows who on the internet, we parents should make our kids feel safe enough to come to us, not a chatbot, with their questions—no matter how uncomfortable. Check out our Parent’s Guide to Tough Conversations for help.

3. Meme & Theme

What it is: Teens and tweens, particularly girls, are curating Instagram accounts that merge aesthetics and memes into one.

Why it’s more than just images: Taking advantage of Insta’s carousel, the accounts look like mood boards at first glance. But swiping left reveals a bunch of memes underneath, offering not just protection from prying eyes, but also the ability to more fully express themselves: “‘The theme is like the outside of me, then the memes [are] my inside self,’ said [16-year-old] Esther.” Users also admit that it’s “ultimately just ‘a way to get closer to people.’” Social media appeals to all of us where we are most vulnerable: in our ongoing search for identity and significance. Every teen is asking these very normal, first-half-of-life questions: Who am I? What makes me special? Does anyone notice me? If you can help them find answers through Scripture, they have an incredible opportunity to let go of their overdominant ego and embrace this paradox of identity: We’re all both incredibly ordinary and eternally significant.

Parent Guide Spotlight: Ever wondered how we do what we do? Ever wanted a simple process to help you start discipleship conversations with your kids around the topics that matter most to them? If yes, check out our newest Parent’s Guide to Discipling Teens. In it, we walk you through how we think about teen culture and use it to start Christ-centered conversations about sexuality, technology, media, and entertainment.

Celebrity Status

What’s the difference between a celebrity and an everyday, average person? What would your teens say if you asked them that question?

Anne Hathaway reminded us of something very important when she appeared on The Ellen Show this week. She demonstrated that there is only one consistent difference between celebs and non-celebs that matters, and it’s not looks, talent, intelligence, success, athleticism, money, youth, or even experience.

It’s influence.

That’s it. Sure, some become celebrities for their talent or athleticism or intelligence; but there are also those who aren’t very talented or athletic or smart who still become famous. So the only thing they all have in common is their influence.

So why do we treat them as if they have all the answers, as if, by achieving fame and success, they now are privy to the secrets of the universe?

Not only did Hathaway demonstrate how ridiculous that can be, we also saw how celebrities can quickly jump to conclusions and use their influence to promote a narrative that they actually have no idea is true (nor even have expertise in) with the Covington Catholic student debacle. And we’re passing this blind belief in celebrities to the next generation.

For example, what qualifies Kim Kardashian to give fitness advice? Apparently the fact that she’s famous and has a coveted physique—not that she’s studied it or is certified or has won competitions or any of the usual qualifications we expect. And how is that working? She promotes “fit teas” (basically laxatives) and “appetite suppressant lollipops” (language), thus reinforcing negative eating habits and narrow body ideals. Yet somehow she has 125 million Instagram followers and gets paid over and over to promote products. Why? Because people—especially young girls—listen to her.

We could offer many more examples of celebrities being given more credit than they’ve earned simply because they’re famous (e.g. Steph Curry or Chance the Rapper considered good Christian role models; Leo DiCaprio regarded as a good source of knowledge on climate change). And we’re all guilty of it. But when we do so, we risk our views simply mimicking others’, rather than being things we’ve carefully considered, researched, and curated for ourselves. It says a lot about the health of our culture when we’d rather take advice from a star than a teacher, scientist, or tenured professor.

Ask your teens which celebs they look up to and why. Ask what advice they think they should take from them. Why? What qualifies them? By doing so, you’ll get them thinking more deeply about how they regard their celebs and what influence they allow them to have in their lives.

7 PREMIUM INSIGHTS

A broader look at the world that teens inhabit.
Skim our summary or click the links to read more.
Engage your teens in conversation about their world.

They said it best:

“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Pop Culture

Sports

1. Move over Zion Williamson. ESPN’s Seth Greenberg says Murray State’s Ja Morant is the most explosive, exciting college basketball star this season. The spindly guard has hops, but Zion is Zion. He now has over 2.2 million Instragram followers, and celebrities like Jay-Z are even coming to his games just to watch him dunk all over opponents. Oddly, he still seems unfazed by all the attention and incredibly humble.

Music

2. Julia Michaels and Selena Gomez released a new song about anxiety that is currently trending on YouTube (warning: language). We certainly don’t want to minimize clinical depression or anxiety—it’s real and debilitating for many people—but honestly the song seems to promote and normalize an almost narcissistic self-absorption. One of the greatest challenges parents face is to get teens to think outside of themselves, to realize they aren’t the center of the world, and that what they’re currently feeling won’t last forever. It’s a maturation process that starts with seeing the world from someone else’s perspective and resisting the urge to turn everything in on themselves. If your son or daughter likes the song, ask why, then ask if they think the song is about true anxiety or it if glorifies a self-inflicting, self-involved view of life that will always and forever leave you feeling empty and alone.

Politics

3. The state of New York passed a law allowing late-term abortions if the mother’s health is at risk. Even if Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned, the state put into place policy that still allows women to terminate their pregnancy, as well as protects doctors from facing criminal prosecution for performing abortions. For Christians caught up in the “When does life begin?” argument, maybe a better apologetic against “pro-choice” opponents is to remind the world that God truly is the author and creator of all life, which should make abortion unthinkable and absurd. We didn’t create life, He did; therefore this life is not ours to take. All life is sacred, especially the lives of the vulnerable. “From the world’s perspective, children are a drain on our material and psychological resources. From a Christian perspective, there is no more profound political act than taking the time for children. It is an indication that God, not man, rules this existence.”

Teen Culture

Positive Things

5. The New York Times is crowdsourcing data directly from Gen Z to find out just what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s world. The data says “Gen Z is the most diverse” generation in American history, but what other characteristics make them unique? If you are comfortable, ask your kids to complete the survey and then find out what they said about their own generation.

Gaming/eSports

6. Milligan College, a Christian liberal arts college known for excellent academics, is offering esports scholarships to incoming students in the class of 2019. According to Milligan’s Vice President for Student Development, “Esports is the fastest growing competitive activity in the world,” and universities are tapping into the market to boost enrollment. Obviously, Milligan isn’t the first to offer gaming scholarships, but it does say something when a smaller Christian college starts doing so. Do playing video games and pursuing higher education mix? What do you think? What about your esports hopefuls?

7. Speaking of video games, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey lets players “be as gay as you want” by allowing characters “multiple romanceable” partners across genders. We all know games have evolved over the years from the single-player, Pac-Man-style arcade game to narratives with profound plot and character development, including now the sexual and romantic exploits of your favorite protagonist. It allows players to experiment with sexual situations or fantasies in ways which could promote those same actions in real life.

Tip of the Week

8. In our post-truth world of fake news and fake stories, good fiction “is the lie through which we tell the truth.” Great literature has a way of making truth, goodness, and beauty not only digestible, but transformative. Reading fiction is linked to increases in empathy and compassion. Stories about our fellow human beings often make us more fully human, by opening us up to new ways of experiencing the world we all share. Sadly, many teens aren’t familiar with any Christian fiction writers, save C.S. Lewis. Thankfully, Relevant Magazine is here to remedy that. Here’s their list of the top 11 contemporary writers your teen should be reading right now!

Keep the Faith!

The Axis Team

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