Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture

Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture

by John Berard, James Penner, Rick Bartlett
     
 

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Today’s relentless, consumer culture—dominated by popular media’s emphasis on bigger, better, and more, and catering to teenagers’ every want and desire—is leaving our youth adrift in a sea of conflicting messages. Messages that youth workers and faith communities need to decode and redirect from consumption as the primary purpose of

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Overview

Today’s relentless, consumer culture—dominated by popular media’s emphasis on bigger, better, and more, and catering to teenagers’ every want and desire—is leaving our youth adrift in a sea of conflicting messages. Messages that youth workers and faith communities need to decode and redirect from consumption as the primary purpose of youth. Consuming Youth explores the shifts needed to move from the fragmented, isolated and consumer driven story for youth and towards a more compelling story of meaning, purpose and a life lived differently than the one served up by consumer culture. If you’re involved in the lives of teenagers, whether as a youth pastor, youth worker, volunteer, church leader, parent, or students of youth ministry, you’ll want to read this book to discover how a culturally invented and socially accepted version of adolescence, sustained by consumer culture, has shaped youth work and through the suggestions offered work together to discover ways in which you can re-imagine youth ministry and what it means to be a teenager.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780310669357
Publisher:
Zondervan
Publication date:
01/06/2011
Series:
YS Academic
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Consuming Youth


By John Berard Rick Bartlett James Penner

Zondervan

Copyright © 2010 John Berard, James Penner, and Rick Bartlett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-66935-7


Chapter One

GROWING UP THEN: THE CREATION OF ADOLESCENCE

We know that I have good posture, that I have broad shoulders, a high chest, hips and a derriere well rounded and prominent, and small feet. Within five minutes, I became a flat monster, emaciated, with sunken chest, and one shoulder higher than the other, which pushes everything else out of shape.

—Marie Bashkirtseff

The opaque glance and the pimples. The fancy new nakedness they're all dressed up in with no place to go. The eyes full of secrets they have a strong hunch everybody is on to the shadowed brow. Being not quite a child and not quite a grown-up either is hard work, and they look it. Living in two worlds at once is no picnic.

—Frederick Buechner

Marie Bashkirtseff was doing what many girls her age do—finding a source of comfort and the familiar by writing down her thoughts. Her early entries were not unlike any other teenage girl's thoughts regarding an uneasy relationship with her looks. One day she describes feeling "quite beautiful," and the next she believed she was "a figure not even Satan would recognize." Other entries detail her dreams and desire for fame and celebrity. Confessions, frustrations, and dreams—which are not unlike the dreams, frustrations, and confessions of any teenager today—all found a home on the pages of Marie's diary. When Marie writes: "I dream of celebrity, of fame," we hear the shared preoccupations of the so-called "Facebook generation." Such ambitions were normally the playground of only the privileged, like Marie. But now they're embraced by every wannabe American Idol or reality show contestant, and they often find a home on YouTube—where the world watches an endless and diverse catalog of videos.

So what makes the thoughts and diaries of seventeen-year-old Marie interesting? Well, they were written well over 100 years ago (back in 1875, actually). And some would say that's proof that teenagers have always been around, have always been a part of the social landscape, and have always been concerned with the same sorts of issues. This would be a common and widely held perspective.

But the word teenager wasn't in use then. Fast forward about 70 years to around 1944, and we'll see that the words teenage and teenager were part of the social landscape and used to describe the group of people between the ages of 14 and 18. And although the first usage of the terms was largely linked to marketing to that age group, the expressions stuck. "There's been a gradual, insidious change occurring in the very nature of adolescence over the past several generations," observe Joseph and Claudia Allen in their book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, "a change that has been stripping this period of meaningful work and of exposure to adult challenges and rewards, and undermining our teens' development in the process."

We were entering the age of consumerism and the fast-paced expansion of pop culture. An age where work was replaced with consumption; where exposure to adult challenges and rewards was replaced with leisure, entertainment, and spending power. This was the time when teenagers were being noticed as a consumer market, not just as adolescents or (worse) delinquents. Consumerism would prove the counterbalance to rebellion and riot by redirecting the so-called disruptive energies of youth. From this emerges another common view that people might have about adolescence and teenagers. After all, the thinking goes, the teenager rode in on the cresting waves of popular culture, specifically the emergence of rock 'n' roll, movies, and fashion.

Contradictory beliefs about teenagers and adolescence are common. Consider, for example, Thomas Hine's observation in The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager regarding just a few of the commonly held contradictions: Teenagers should be free to be themselves versus teenagers need many years of training and study, or teenagers know more about the future than adults do versus the belief that teenagers know nothing at all.

Adolescence isn't some kind of blended version of child and adult, nor is it an expanded version of either stage. As it's now experienced, adolescence is an ongoing, socially constructed project that has a pretty clear beginning. However, its ending—the transition into adulthood—well, that's becoming more convoluted and confusing than it once was. Adolescence, as we know it, is a recent invention.

What You See Depends on Where You Stand

Social scientists who study adolescence don't speak in the classic terms of nature and nurture. The reality is that "adolescence begins in biology and ends in culture."

From the standpoint of biology, it's clear (and stating the obvious) that biological maturation—puberty—is visibly universal and happens in every culture. Any general textbook on adolescence and most youth ministry books contain great detail on the physical characteristics and developmental theories of adolescence. So we won't repeat that here. However, the big trend to note relates to the age of onset of puberty, which has become younger in North America. This means that young people will reach sexual maturity earlier than they used to.

G. Stanley Hall, who first popularized the concept of adolescence back in 1904, saw biological maturation as the most significant thing going on in a young person's life. And, as social historian Joseph Kett observed, from that moment on biology and the process of puberty became the basis for society to define, organize, and structure an entire age group. Subsequently, a growing movement in psychological and psychiatric perspectives emerged that defined adolescence in terms of storm, stress, emotional distress, and problems emerging from the inner workings of the person. Hall's thinking on adolescence was embraced so fully and deeply that it influenced the growth and development of movements and cottage industries ranging from—

the development of parenting manuals and the parenting resource industry, which was created to help parents manage their teenagers— particularly in the growing number of middle-class homes; movements to program the spare-time activities of young people in adult-sponsored youth organizations and clubs; and a critical need for more educators, as more and more youth were now entering the school systems, paired with the establishment of a growing vocational guidance movement to bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace.

The dilemma with a strictly biological (nature) perspective of adolescence is found in the simple fact that historical changes in Westernized society have gradually restructured the coming-of-age process in different ways. There simply is no "one way" that coming of age happens—despite the similarity in biological changes that take place throughout puberty.

In the past people in their teens were viewed as responsible and mature enough to strike out on their own and begin families. Paradoxically during that time in history, puberty occurred anywhere between two to four years later than it does now, yet our culture now attributes less maturity to the people of this same age range today. Therefore, it would appear that something has changed to make adolescents more immature in spite of their accelerated biological development.

Growing up, it seems, is also determined by culture. And on this ground stand sociologists whose perspectives are shaped by the lens of culture and the ideas of nurture. From this point of view, adolescence is more a product of social expectations linked with the teenagers' particular culture, and adolescence is seen as being a reality that is thrust upon those who are coming of age by forces outside of their control.

Despite this shared starting assumption, differences exist concerning which influences are most dominant in the structuring of the process. For some, adolescence is seen as a function of the social change brought about by industrialization. For others, it's the marginalization of youth that finds a home in subculture peer groups. And for still others, it's the regulation of social institutions and organizations (meaning the changes that occur, for example, in the family, educational institutions, and the workplace as mediated by mass media).

So does this mean that adolescence is only the result of social conditions? Any kind of reductionist thinking, or a reductionist point of view, wouldn't make sense. As Friedrich L. Schweitzer writes in The Postmodern Life Cycle, "But it makes sense to understand adolescence contextually by being aware of the social, historical, and institutional factors that define or even create the space in which the physiological and psychological processes can take place and in which they take on a certain shape."

Wherever your point of view begins in regard to understanding adolescence, biology, culture, or points in between, the outcome is the same. Adolescence—as we know it now—is a recent invention and an experienced reality for those who are coming of age.

Snapshots of Youth

From the time up to and throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the gap between childhood and adulthood—what we call "adolescence"—didn't exist. Before industrialization changed the nature and location of the workplace, the home and family were the central elements of economic production. That meant that even five- and six-year-old children were expected to help with the household chores (for example, food preparation, caring for the animals, gardening, and so on).

Kids worked right alongside their extended family members, gradually taking on greater work responsibilities as they grew older. And outside opportunities such as attending grammar school and working in apprenticeships were chosen only if the family's circumstances allowed and if there were benefits to be gained by the whole family. Many children were sent to work for other families, sometimes relatives, where they'd do domestic or farm work or learn a craft.

Thomas Hine writes, "If a fourteen-year-old looked big enough and strong enough to do a man's work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man." On the other hand, if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn't do the work of a man, then he wasn't seen as being a man just yet. And similar commonsense logic prevailed for women. To be considered of marriageable age was a function of being ready for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age.

All of these factors caused the transition from childhood to adulthood to be relatively smooth. Young people were introduced to adult roles early on; they knew firsthand that their work experience or apprenticeship was relevant to their adult lives. They were already productive and contributing members of the household and society. And, for the most part, there wasn't a sense of alienation from the adult world. Adolescence as we know it today didn't exist, but all of that was about to change.

The concept of youth would change as industrialization initiated major migration from rural areas to cities. Economic changes ushered in a different kind of society—one based on a growing consumerism and mass production. In the ever-expanding cities, urbanization would alter the traditional structures of work, neighborhood, and family.

If you were to open a photo album containing pictures from the last 100 years, what might you see? One thing is sure: you'd see clear indications of how much things have changed.

A PRE-1930S PHOTO

There might be eight to ten people in this late 1920s photo—a mix of men, women, and children. But they obviously represent three generations of the same family. The picture might show them taking a break from working out in the field. They share a simple meal before everyone returns to doing the work of the farm. The image is one of simplicity; they don't appear wealthy, but they have what they need. You sense they enjoy what they're doing as well as each other's company.

The background of this moment in time is the fading of an agricultural way of life and the growth of an industrialized society. Family life is connected with work. People work together toward a common good, often sharing the tasks related to farm life. And it all happens more or less in the same place, so there's no need for any long-distance travel to and from work. Three generations living and working together is a common way of life. This will be the last photo of its kind in the family album.

Factors that would set the stage for the creation of adolescence were already at work. Joseph Kett writes in Rites of Passage, "Between 1890 and 1920 a host of psychologists, urban reformers, educators, youth workers, and parent counselors gave shape to the concept of adolescence, leading to the massive reclassification of young people as adolescents." Industrialization produced machines that made farming less labor-intensive, so large families were no longer required to get the work done. As families began moving to the cities, their members—including many children and youth—found work in factories.

Then reformers later drafted and enacted child-labor laws. And around this same time period, compulsory education laws were introduced for children between the ages of 6 and 18. With child-labor laws removing minors from the workforce, more schools were needed to accommodate the growing numbers of students.

But reform didn't stop there. The juvenile justice system was created in response to the belief that youth were not being helped if they were punished the same as adults. So separate legal proceedings were introduced, which were intended to allow corrective measures instead of punitive ones. As a result of these various reforms and with additional cultural dynamics at work, adolescence emerged and would in fact comprise longer and longer periods of time, making it more difficult for youth to become adults.

A 1950s PHOTO

In the center of this photo is a basic, simple car that's more than just a car. It's a symbol of personal achievement, mobility, and an increasing degree of affluence. The car fit what was inferred to be the ideal family size of two adults and two or three children. It was also the perfect size for and made it affordable to take road trip vacations to the lake or mountains. And unless the extended family, namely the grandparents, had their own car, it would be difficult for them to come along. So the oldest generation is now absent from this picture.

The background of this moment in time is the improved living conditions of the industrialized West in the period following World War II. Generally speaking, the family unit was now limited to just two generations— parents and children—and the so-called "nuclear family" designation was on the rise. And for many people, the workplace changed. The days of the family farm and the home being the center of work were now gone for most people. Thanks to the mass migration to the cities, the suburban commute was born.

Growing up during this time period was a much different experience than what took place in the preceding one. In the previous photo, it was assumed that young people would grow up and mature naturally through their connection with adults in the casual everydayness of life and work. But in this photo there was a growing tendency or an ideology to assume that the process of growing up was about a succession of problems, usually associated with sex and the social life, that parents must solve before youth could fully mature.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Consuming Youth by John Berard Rick Bartlett James Penner Copyright © 2010 by John Berard, James Penner, and Rick Bartlett. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

John Berard has more than twenty-five years of experience in youth ministry as a practitioner, professor and consultant with churches and organizations on issues of youth ministry, education and leadership development. He is an MA graduate of Providence Theological Seminary and currently works as the National Training Director for YFC Canada and is on staff at st. benedict’s table.

James is a veteran of more than twenty five years of youth and young adult ministry. He is a 1995 MA graduate of the University of Lethbridge in sociology where he continues to teach in the department as an adjunct professor.

Rick has worked with youth for over 25 years. He is 1992 MDiv Graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a 2006 graduate of George Fox University where he earned a DMin. Currently he serves as Director of Theological Education for Tabor College in Wichita.

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