My wife and I were channel surfing a few weeks ago and we came across a television show called Criminal Minds. The television show is about a group of detectives who solve crimes simply by “profiling” the criminal mind. They study a crime scene and determine who the criminal is that they are looking for simply by looking at what the evidence of the crime can tell them about the person that committed the crime.
This technique is applicable to youth ministry. The more we study youth culture, the more we will be able to determine how to effectively reach that disengaged teen that stands in the back at youth group and won’t participate. This blog will look at the history and development of youth culture and the impact it has on youth in our ministry.
The Beginning Stages of Youth Culture
I stated in my previous blog that youth culture has not always existed. It is a development of the modern world. There has not always been a stage of development known as adolescence. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, children would go straight from their parent’s lap into the workforce. Higher education was for a minority of people and it served to prepare children for adulthood. As the Industrial Revolution made work more complicated, children needed more education to prepare them to work. There became a wider and wider gap between children and adults. A new stage of human development was born. It is known as “adolescence.”
Climate for Change: World War II
The Industrial Revolution did not immediately create youth culture. Youth culture did not begin to develop until after the Second World War. It is really important to know how big of an impact this war had on the culture. The vast majority of men fought in the war. When they returned to their families, they were ready to begin a new life. The depression was over, America was prosperous again and, because of the GI Bill, soldiers could receive higher education for free. Almost overnight, the majority of American men were college educated and their children pursued the same goals. High school was no longer about preparing a child for adulthood. The purpose of secondary education was to prepare a child for college. This kept young men and women in the adolescent period for a longer period of time.
The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the Birth of Youth Culture
A major cultural revolution occurred in the 1960’s and youth culture declared its independence from the adult world. The decade saw great triumphs like the Civil Rights movement, the moon landing and Vatican Council II. It also saw the Vietnam War, protests, Rock and Roll, and the Sexual and Drug Revolutions.
The youth culture was born out of this decade. For the first time, adults became enemies of youth and anti-authority and rebellion became the norm for the family unit. Teenagers turned to drugs and sexual promiscuity for meaning. Atheistic humanism became the norm for academic expression in the university. The media took hold of the youth culture – particularly in music. The music of this decade became a rallying cry for the youth culture and revolution that developed. The youth literally revolted against the experience and wisdom of their parents. Youth were rebelling against their post-war upbringing – an upbringing that was characterized by wounded father who could not relate to his children.
Why This Is Important for Understanding Youth Culture
So why is this important to understand? What can we pull out of the history of youth culture? Take a closer look. Youth culture developed out of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. This decade was characterized by rebellion and anti-authoritarianism. In particular, youth no longer trusted adults. They rebelled against them. The decade saw drugs, sex and violence become widely accepted in the culture. This decade saw confusion in the Church after Vatican II. This decade saw liberalism take over higher education. The cultural revolution was driven by media that was intentional about undermining Christianity. All of these symptoms can be linked to the breakdown in the family that occurred when the patriarch of the family was suffering from the fallout of the Second World War.
Look at this above paragraph again. Drugs, sex, lack of trust in adults, breakdown of family, poor witness in fatherhood, media undermining Christianity, violence, religious confusion, liberalism in the schools. Does this sound familiar? It’s the same problems we are currently facing in youth culture in 2010. These problems are not afflicting youth culture. They ARE youth culture. Youth culture is born out of and rooted into these problems. This is the climate that we, as youth ministers, are facing when we seek to bring the Gospel to youth. This is why we cannot evangelize and catechize our youth as we have always done. The problems in youth culture are too great for us to conquer without an entirely new and proactive plan. We need to evangelize the youth culture the way we would evangelize in missionary territory. We need a new evangelization.
Editor’s Note: Next Friday Everett will share 10 Principles of Youth Culture