On the 21st of the month, the world celebrated the official launch of summer and today’s teens are loving this season for all sorts of reasons, not just the fact that most of them are off of school. Along with the launch of the carefree season came the rise of a lot of great music, some sentimental moments in entertainment, and particular attention drawn to some major social issues.
Movies and TV
If the summer of 2019 feels a little like the summer of 1999, don’t be alarmed. We’re experiencing a cultural nostalgia. That’s why movies like Aladdin are killing it in the box office and why teens were clearing their weekend schedules to be available for the first weekend of Toy Story 4. In addition to the nostalgia, teens have also been filling their extra free time with nostalgia of old TV shows, continuing to re-watch and binging old TV series’ like Friends, The Office, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Teens aren’t solely committed to things of the past, however. Many are excited about the return of Stranger Things, with season 3 arriving this Thursday. Teens have also been invested in the futuristic tales of the Netflix series Black Mirror, which unpacks some of the potential consequences of the choices we’re making societally today (particularly in regards to digital and social technology). They also haven’t shied away from the hard realities addressed in Ava Duvernay’s Netflix series, When They See Us, which tells the story of the wrongful charge against the Central Park Five. For more reviews on the most popular shows for teens this summer check out this blog.
Let’s move into — what I might consider — the most insightful area of teen culture: music.
The Jonas Brothers have finally released their first album, Happiness Begins, since coming back together and releasing their Amazon Prime documentary. Teens seem to be loving this album as they feel personally invested in their journey and look up to these three brothers as much as younger listeners did nearly a decade ago. Teens are excited and curious about Chance the Rapper’s new album to drop and have still been enjoying Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which some might consider a “meme in song form.”
Speaking of Lil Nas, he first made headlines for “Old Town Road” but at the end of June he made a big splash when he came out as gay on Twitter. While he is expressing his personal experience, Lil Nas is not the only musician involved in this conversation. Although many teens seem to be disillusioned by Taylor Swift, they can’t deny her pop stardom and involvement in this conversation. Her newest release, You Need to Calm Down, is an anthem celebrating the LGBTQ community and shaming any opponent to their rights and she paired it with a Pride Month-inspired letter to her senator advocating for the Equality Act — which would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their places of work, homes, schools, and other public accommodations.
While Pride Month brought with it ongoing events and conversations surrounding the LGBTQ experience, it was not the only issue that demanded national attention. Immigration, and our country’s ongoing challenge to address that issue and to humanize the people who it affects, has likely made its way into your teens’ feeds due to the celebrities and public figures who have been speaking freely about their various opinions on the issue. While teens don’t seem to be making the association between their faith and social issues like these (beyond the vague “Jesus calls us to love all people”), it’s worth exploring with them why the eternal reality of the Kingdom of God makes these issues eternal realities, not just passing problems.
In addition to all the wild things going on in the world, it is conference season, summer camp season, and many teens, especially if they’re involved in a Life Teen parish, are encountering the person of Jesus in youth ministry contexts. With that in mind, if your teen or teens are going off to a Steubenville conference, a Life Teen camp, or a mission trip this summer be intentional about taking time with them to unpack what happened. Ask them about their experiences and encourage them as they continue to seek the Lord.