Book Review: Youth Culture 101, by Walt Mueller
Author: Walt Mueller
Title: Youth Culture 101
Publisher: Youth Specialties
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
If you work with middle school to college kids, you need to get this book. Walt Mueller has presented in this book the finest outline of youth culture today, aptly applying psychology, sociology and theology into such an overview that you would be impoverished to pass this one up. He is the founder and president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, and is a 30-year veteran of youth ministry.
What do I like about this book? I think Mueller was on the right track to not specify his research and writing too much so as to render it obsolete quickly, but rather he identifies big cultural trends and undercurrents of thought and behavior that characterize youth culture. Much of his attention is on media and marketing, as they are the primary shapers of young people. As the digital age continues to sweep over us, entertainment and the values it proposes to us are perpetually accessible. Whereas in yesteryear it was costly and rare to be entertained, today we have instant access to a virtually unlimited music, television, and movie catalogue for less than a dollar (or free with online piracy).
Tools of media discernment are required in an age of always-on, always-connected media. Walt does not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Though there is much trash online, there is also a lot of positive value there as well (such as this website!). This book can equip parents to be effective cross-cultural missionaries, reaching their loving hands beyond the cultural divide to their teenagers.Parents need to teach media discernment to their kids, and this book shows you how.
Walt's emphasis is about growing the teen's awareness to what worldview a movie, song or commercial is advocating, which is often overlooked in parental watchfulness of their teen's media consumption. On selling worldviews, he remarks that:
ads tell stories, depict people in real-life situations, and embed products in messages that promise relief from anxiety and fulfillment of aspirations means much more is being communicated through the ads we see. By selling both a product and a message, ads influence the way young people look at, understand, and live in the world... Kids see thousands of marketing messages each day and only purchase a small fraction of the products advertised. But the ads' messages still come through loud and clear.
The book also deals with the more difficult subjects, such as substance abuse, peer pressure, depression, cutting and suicide. Chapter Ten, "Under the Influence: Teenagers and Substance Abuse", Mueller goes through the major categories of drugs (depressants, hallucinogens, narcotics, etc.) and then lists all of the specific drugs that fall in each category, explaining what they are and what they do to a user. He also busts out 11 reasons why teens abuse drugs and a comprehensive list of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse.
As the years went by in my ministry I noticed that more and more teens were doing something that I had never heard of, let alone tried myself: cutting. Cutting and other forms of self-mutilation are growing in frequency with the youth, and are serious signs of distress. Walt's treatment of these "Self-Injurious Behaviors" (SIB) is excellent, offering psychological explanations, professional guidance and spiritual wisdom. Teens that self-injure are often dealing with massive amounts of anxiety or depression and have little coping skills. Self-injury is to them a controlled pain and an endorphin rush. In short, it is another habit-forming escape that is self-destructive and popular.
This book is a must for everyone trying to understand youth culture. I began using Youth Culture 101 as a textbook for a class that I led for the parents of teens in my Life Teen program, called ParentLIFE. In conjunction with Hurt by Chap Clark, each evening's lesson topic was framed around one chapter, and I can tell you that every class was filled with intense discussion and a lot of learning. There was also a lot of hurting parents out there who feel like they have little to no connection with their teenager, their child whom they have loved deeply all their lives. The shock of teenage hostility often overwhelms the parent, reducing their relationship to silence or shouting matches.
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but parents are a mixed bag for youth ministers, being either incredibly helpful or extremely harmful to ministry or to their child's faith. I considered parents my biggest obstacle, until I read this book and offered that ParentLIFE class four years ago.
It changed my entire perspective. Instead of obstacles to one another, we became allies in the war for our children's future. As I would devour this book, alongside Walt Mueller's Center for Parent/Youth Understanding website, and present each lesson, many parents came alive.
It is my sincere hope that this book can help you reach out effectively to the young Church. We need to become the cross-cultural missionaries who, emboldened by the Gospel, are ready to become mentors in the Faith to teens and young adults. Because if we don't, there is a whole universe of media stars and marketers who desperately want that role.