In today’s entertainment-driven world, teens are constantly bombarded with messages from the media. Whether it be songs, movies, TV shows, or social media, entertainment is telling teens how to think about themselves and the world they live in. Most of the time, these messages aren’t rooted within a Christian framework and how God calls us to live, but that doesn’t mean they’re all bad.
It’s hard enough to keep up with what’s trending in mainstream pop culture (which is why we write the Culture Translator). But on top of that, each teen’s social media feed is full of content based on niche interests which probably affect their individual outlook on life even more. There’s no easy way to find out about everything your teen may be interested in, and you could spend a lot of time researching things that may not even be on their radar. It sounds obvious, but the best way to learn about what your teen is interested in is to just ask them! These conversations can be tricky, especially when you’re in the dark about what your teen is interested in or why they are interested in it. So here are 6 steps we recommend following for translating culture with your teen as you talk about what they enjoy and love.
The first step is to pray. Pray that God would show you the way to your teen’s heart and allow you to be selfless and courageous enough to step into this conversation somewhat blindly.
Also pray that God would make you aware of the things you need to be aware of. A lot of things that are a big deal in a teen’s world can easily fly under the radar, whether because they aren’t as open to talking about it or because there aren’t many sources about it. Pray that God equips you to find the things you need to be equipped to have this conversation with confidence.
And finally, pray that God gives you discernment in your words and actions. Some things you find might shock you, so pray that this surprise doesn’t cause you to react in a way that damages trust and willingness to open up from your teen. Your relationship with your teen and the ability to openly communicate about their life is much more valuable than controlling what parts of culture they choose to value and interact with. Pray that God joins you as you as you begin the process of culture translation, and that He joins your teen and works through them as well.
Even though the internet is a great place to learn more about what’s trending in Gen Z culture, we recommend that it not be your first place to look for information. The internet has lots of stuff about what’s trending in mainstream culture, which is certainly part of what’s on your teen’s radar—but that’s rarely the only thing that’s on their radar. Rather than wasting time researching things your teen might not even be interested in, use your teen as a resource and ask them questions about what they’re interested in! As you ask about their interests and why they’re interested in them, do so from a place of compassionate curiosity—simply trying to learn about your teen, not like you’re interrogating them.
After hearing what currently interests your teen, take some time to research it. It may not be easy to find troves of information, but be patient and diligent! Along with reading articles about it, try and interact with some of the thing itself. Whether it’s spending time on an app, listening to a few songs by an artist, watching a couple episodes of a show, or going on YouTube and watching interviews, the more you can become knowledgeable about what your teen is interested in, the better. One article or song (for example) will rarely give you the full scope of the thing, especially nowadays, where content is becoming more and more genreless.
As you research, think about why this thing might be appealing to your teen. And, think about why it might be appealing to you, not as a parent but as a person. There might be things that you immediately don’t like whether because of content or it just not being something you usually care about. Try and think about what parts of it speak to your teen, and what those things that speak are saying. How might it make your teen think or feel or act, whether towards others or about themselves? A couple traits that Gen Z values are authenticity and innovation, so try and also look for ways this thing could be authentic or innovative compared to other things you’ve heard about from Gen Z culture.
Making a pros/cons list with your opinions and having your teen do the same might be a helpful step prior to having a discussion with them! Even if it seems like something you’re totally against, do try and have at least one or two pros so that your teen knows you are trying to understand them even if what they’re interested in is far from your cup of tea.
This may seem like the hardest step, but you’ve already put in the hard work to learn about whatever it is you’re trying to translate. Now, you just get to spend time with your teen and learn more about them as you discuss something they care about.
Chat with them using our 5 key questions. First, start with the positive, discussing what’s good about the cultural artifact—what can be celebrated (i.e. a good voice, funny comments, good points)? Second, ask about anything that’s wrong or not good. Is there some aspect of it that misses the mark? Third, what’s missing? Is there some important dynamic that isn’t being mentioned or acknowledged that should be? Fourth, what’s confused? Is something being given too much or too little importance? And fifth, what does Scripture say? This is arguably the most important question, but we ask it at the end, after building trust.
Value this opportunity to learn about their world and see it as a chance for quality time and conversation, not for lecture. There is no need to fear! Whether you let your teen interact with whatever part of culture you’re discussing or not is up to you, but we think it’s valuable for your teen to be a part of that conversation!
While we may hope our conversations can be a spark for positive growth in the relationships we have with the teens in our lives, one or two or ten conversations alone won’t fix everything. There are going to be things in their world that we’ll never fully understand. But God does. Take time to pray again and continue to ask that God works in the life of your teen as they navigate the inevitable ups and downs this stage of life brings them and the multiple mixed messages that they wrestle with to understand and potentially apply to their own way of looking at the world. Ask that God continues to use you for His glory and purpose as you try to enter your teen’s world and show them the benefit of following Christ in the same way Jesus works in all of us.