3 THINGS THIS WEEK
The Achievement-Resilience Ratio
What it is: Researchers are finding that the pandemic may have been a catalyst for understanding which teens, exactly, are able to thrive under high levels of stress, and which ones aren’t equipped to be so resilient. They found that students in “achievement-oriented” environments, such as specialized schools, were far more likely to grapple with anxiety and clinical depression.
Why it’s a nationwide phenomenon: Survey responses from thousands of teens indicate that the pressure to achieve academically has never been higher than it was during the past school year. Students are pre-emptively stressed out about their future economic security. Mental health-related visits to the emergency room have surged among teenagers. And while remote learning turned academic concerns into a pressure-cooker environment, parents were experiencing higher levels of stress than ever before. (A different piece in the New York Times identifies what many parents have been saying for over a year: the pandemic has isolated their teens while stoking the flames of conflict between parents and their young adult children.) As the 2021 school year comes to a close, it’s important to evaluate whether the expectations our teens feel are related to the people we hope they will become, or to outward benchmarks they may feel pressure to meet.
Instagram: A Place for Pronouns
What it is: Instagram has changed their profile template (typically called a user’s “bio”) to allow users to insert their preferred gender pronouns (ie: she/her; they/them).
Why it’s controversial: The pronoun feature is optional, so IG users don’t have to declare a preferred pronoun to set up their profile. Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, noted in a statement that sharing pronouns has already become a widespread practice amongst the app’s base and that adding a dedicated pronoun section will simply be another way for account owners to express themselves. However, for today’s teens (and adults), it’s simply not that simple. Inevitably, adding pronouns to your bio can be seen as “taking a side” in support of trans/nonbinary people, which means neglecting to add your pronouns will be seen by many as an act of hostility against the trans/nonbinary community. In the end, this puts social pressure on Instagram users to choose preferred pronouns, which may present complications for teens who already feel confused about who they are and how they related to their gender.
What it is: Tim Keller has published a piece in Comment where he explores how “therapy culture” has changed the way a generation views forgiveness—and the biblical precedent for redeeming the concept.
Why it’s a great conversation starter: The rise of therapy-speak has shed light on how self-focused our culture has become. As Keller’s piece notes, forgiveness is now seen by many as a “moral burden” that an aggrieved party should not have to bear. Forgiveness at its best, the self-obsessed culture argues, is a way to make yourself feel better and should only be practiced as far as it serves you. We know that the example of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross is a direct counter to this narrative. What’s more, we now live in a world that seems to take certain Judeo-Christian values for granted, while often insisting that we as a society have moved past our need to believe in an all-powerful Deity. (As Keller puts it, “We no longer ground our values in the sacred. We simply treat the values themselves as sacred.”) By asking teens who forgiveness is for, how forgiveness works, and what purpose it serves in society at large, we can ground them in an understanding of how essential forgiveness is when we claim to follow Christ.
Slang of the Week:
Ratioed: When one of your social media posts (typically on Twitter or TikTok) has more comments than likes; typically indicates that more people disagreed or disliked a post than agreed with it. Ex: “I wanted to post about how awesome our youth group worship was on Wednesday but I knew I was going to get ratioed by people who don’t like our church.”
Reader Request: Critical Race Theory
Some responses to our CT feedback survey included requests for help talking about Critical Race Theory. While we can’t unpack every nuance here, we do want to recommend some resources.
The podcast Unbelievable? hosts conversations and debates on cultural and spiritual topics. In their episode “Is Critical Race Theory is compatible with Christianity?,” Dr. Neil Shenvi (who believes it isn’t) treats CRT according to Tara Yosso’s widely-cited essay, which defines CRT by four tenets: 1) racism is permanent, pervasive, and normal; 2) racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc., are all inextricably linked forms of oppression that must be fought simultaneously; 3) claims of “objectivity,” “neutrality,” “universality,” “meritocracy,” and “color-blindness” are mechanisms to disguise racism and oppression; and 4) the experiential knowledge, or lived experience, of people of color is critical to understanding racism. (For more, we recommend Shenvi’s interview on Relatable.)
In brief: the academic definition of CRT categorizes all humans as oppressors or oppressed, and this is based on group identity more than individual action. Oppressors are those in positions of privilege, which in the U.S. means anyone who is male, White, cisgender, or straight. Objective truth does exist, but privilege blinds oppressors to it, and members of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities have special access to that truth by virtue of being in oppressed groups.
Opposite Shenvi in the Unbelievable? podcast is Pastor Rasool Berry, who believes CRT can help show how the concept of race has been weaponized to keep people of color stuck in systems of oppression. But he argues that Christians aren’t limited to wholesale acceptance or rejection of the theory. As Dr. Ralph West also articulated after leaving the SBC, the unwillingness to accept CRT’s framing of systemic racism as a problem has unnecessarily divided those who might otherwise agree that its underlying worldview and proposed solutions are misguided.
On how to talk with teens and tweens about CRT, Monique Duson counsels first developing a robust understanding of CRT (again, see Shenvi on Relatable), and from there insisting that truth is truth regardless of its speaker’s skin color, and that our fundamental identity is not as a member of an oppressed or oppressor group, but as a beloved image-bearer of God. Without Jesus and a biblical worldview, the problem of racism will never be solved.
Here are some questions we hope might spark discussion with your teens:
- Do you think being in a minority group helps people see truth more clearly? Why or why not?
- What makes something oppressive?
- How does Ezekiel 18:20 shape the way we should think about individual vs. group accountability?
Keep the Faith!
The Axis Team