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Global Youth Culture

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					Global Youth Culture
Each generation has its own unique features that make it different from other generations. We have given each generation titles such as Generation X and Baby Boomers to acknowledge those differences. There are certain characteristics of each generation that are the benchmarks of who they are and the way they act. Underneath these characteristics there are obviously similar traits with other generations but also there are large differences. In the Western world much has been written about Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1995). People have sought to list values and actions of each generation as a way of defining them but also as a way to provide understanding on how to work with these age groups. This is fine in the Western world but how does this relate to a 23 year old in India, a 15 year old in Ghana or a 20 year old in Ecuador. Can you take some of the understanding of Generation X and Y from the Western world and apply the same ideas to this age group in other parts of the world or alternatively can you take some of the ideas about youth in say India or Nigeria and apply these ideas to Western young people? The answer is yes. There is a melting pot of youth ideas and values that is becoming common among young people from a diversity of cultures and languages. That is to say that a young person in China may have more in common with a young person in New Zealand than they do with their own parents. Instead of culture based around age or country there is now a general culture that many young people all around the world can identify with and it is called Global Youth Culture. I think many of us understand the differences in cultures around the world. When you visit different countries and cultures you see quite clear differences in the expression of values, tastes, clothing, music, religious views and many other things. It is these differences that help create different cultures and differences between one culture and another. At the same time cultures and therefore language and religious views are becoming spread far and wide all around the world. Most countries in the world are becoming very multi-cultural and therefore cultural differences are becoming quite clear but at the same time quite intermingled.

This is increasing dramatically when it comes to emerging generations around the world. They are growing up in a world where media and travel have created a common culture that is becoming familiar with young people whether they are in Canada, Mexico or Zambia. This is global youth culture. Global youth culture is expressed in the outward appearances of young people such as dress sense, music, media, internet, piercings and tattoos and technology. More than this however, it is expressing itself in common values and principles that are becoming widespread in youth culture all around the world. What creates global youth culture? Global youth culture has emerged because young people all around the world can see, hear and experience similar things. Many of these influences have to do with media and the internet. Radio and television have spread the influence of music. Music television (such as MTV) is now in many parts of the world creating a strong international and local music scene where young people develop common styles in music, fashion, attitudes and values. You can find international and local chat rooms on the internet where young people are sharing stories, discovering new ideas and values and are learning to think for themselves and to establish their own pathways that are quite different from previous generations. There is also easy access to Western and non Western movies and television (ie: Nigerian, Indian, Japanese, Australian, USA) where young people hook into new norms of standards, language and relationships. I have watched regional music channels in many parts of the world, and I have checked out regional chat rooms in Ghana and Ethiopia and other parts of the world. I have watched WWF wrestling in Zambia, listened to Akon (international rap star) in Liberia and watched Hip Hop dancing in China. I have talked to young people around the world whose ideas, values and concerns seem to be similar to young people in Western countries. A few years back a Youth Work lecturer from New Zealand that I know spent a month with young people in Ethiopia. He came back amazed and saying that young people in Ethiopia are just like young people in New Zealand. They are concerned about careers, relationships, parents, the reality of God and how they can have more input into determining their own path at home and in church. Now I know this doesn‟t fit everywhere in the world. I have talked to missionaries in Maradi, Niger who talk about there being no one they know in their town being connected to the internet or television. But they also talk about influences from the wider world that are impacting

the young people of the area because by nature young people are social animals and so ideas, values and what “is in” spreads quickly among young people whether it is verbally or by means of technology. Why this is different than previous generations? Welcome to the connected world. In previous generations the sharing of ideas and information was fairly limited. When I talk to some of the older people in New Zealand in prayer meetings they talk to me about going to the movies and seeing news reel about what was happening in World War 2. Now I can go onto CNN and watch live action of war taking place and I can even watch as young children are killed in cross fire. It is this ability to be connected to the world via media, the Internet and increased travel that is allowing an unusual occurrence to take place. This increased connection to one another is helping to create for the first time a global culture and this global culture is occurring around young people as they are the first generation growing up with this increased connection. Young people therefore have access to not just the latest music and fads but also to a shared values and life attitudes. Young people want more say in authority and institutions, they are starting to question cultural and national norms and they are gaining information and financial freedom that their parents never had access to. An example of this occurred just before I went to Liberia in March 2007. There was a controversy in Liberia about a member of parliament who was photographed in a sexual situation with two women. The interesting thing about this event is that the photo was shown on the web (didn‟t show detail but you knew what was happening) and for the next few months on various Liberian related chat rooms people were able to share their views about the situation and whether the member of parliament should be fired or whether it was his personal life. People, and many of them young, were able to share their own views about the situation in these chat rooms. Reading through the responses gave me insight into the lives and views of the people responding. There was the ethical and therefore religious aspects of what the man had done but coming through quite strongly was two common views of young people in Liberia. One view was that it just reiterated their belief that adults were able to do what ever they liked while telling everyone another message. The other side of the argument stated that this man was free to do whatever he wanted as long as it didn‟t impact other people‟s lives. This view was about personal values and actions being your own

choice and that no other person or society as a whole has a right to judge you. The young people in Liberia were able to interact about an issue and the values that go with that issue in ways that their parents never could have. They were being exposed to the reality of the world and issues because of the media and technology and because of this they were being challenged with the need to come up with an opinion about those issues. The views expressed in the Liberia situation are common across youth cultures around the world. Is Global Youth Culture a Scary Thing? Global youth culture is a bit scary but at the same time it is an amazing opportunity. It is an opportunity to be able to work with a generation around the world with similar tastes, ideas and values. It is also an opportunity because much of global youth culture is about being honest and real about life and the world. For Christian young people it is about being honest about the Christian faith, the church and how they live their lives. In Liberia the young people I met expressed their frustration with me that the church leaders and their parents would not talk about „Where was God?” during the thirteen years of civil war that Liberia had recently been through. Young people didn‟t want to just point the finger at God but they wanted to express their questions and fears. And in Kenya a group of young adults expressed their views about the established church in the following comments: “I was with a group of about a dozen young Kenyans at the opposite end of the spectrum: lawyers, doctors, business owners, engineers, teachers, workers with NGO‟s. I could have been with any group of young adults in Stockholm, London, Santiago, Seattle, or Boston. Too often, the conventional church was no longer working for these educated young Africans. It focused on getting souls saved, building bigger buildings, and attracting bigger crowds, but its gospel ignored the systemic injustice, corruption, poverty, violence, and suffering in which these young adults had come of age. One young woman told me, “I work at an NGO that is staffed by young Kenyans like me. All of us grew up in the church, but not one of my colleagues identifies himself as a Christian. They call themselves agnostics or atheists. But it is the god of the personal prosperity gospel that they have rejected. Their desire to make a difference shows that they really have faith in a God that nobody talks about – the God who cares about justice, poverty, oppression, and suffering.” From the blog of Brian Mclaren (www.brianmclaren.net)

I think that there are many positive aspects of global youth culture but obviously there are some elements of global youth culture that negatively impact young people. This includes certain values and lifestyles that mainstream media and music portray, the sexuality of clothing styles, the use of drugs and alcohol, the use and freedom of sex, and the disrespect of authority and parents. There is not the scope here to evaluate each issue or area of global youth culture but I will say that if youth workers and leaders and parents aren‟t given the skills to understand global youth culture then two things will happen. Firstly, they will not know how to work with the young people in their communities. Secondly, they will allow their young people to be absorbed into the global youth culture without the understanding or skills to help them interpret it from a Christian point of view. What does Global Youth Culture look like?  Younger generations are looking for someone they can follow – someone that inspires them and has big dreams. They will give so much more of themselves if they sense you believe in them and that you will go out on a limb for them. They are inspired by heart, attitude and character rather than position and age They live a life that is fluid and in motion – this means that their life and role in life is open to change and adaptation all the time. Evaluation of „where I am at‟ is a normal part of life – this means that I am not wanting to throw out what I am doing but rather it means I want to make sure that where I am at and what I am doing is relevant and needed Career and status do not mean as much to people today – what gives people meaning and the glue in their careers is „ a sense of meaning and purpose‟ in what I am doing. If that sense of meaning goes then so might I. Obviously this changes in places where unemployment is very high and just to get a job means so much but even in these places I speak to young people who are seeking something more deeper in the jobs they obtain Commitment is to people and not to the structures needed to minister to them Friends are becoming more important than family relationships. Emerging generations gain a lot from relationships then it is in teams and relationships that they want to function. They do not want to be lone rangers but they want to lead in relational ways (facilitating, equality, sharing of ideas, shared responsibility) The need and right to question. This is questioning not for the sake of undermining the world around them but because young people see so many „grey‟ areas in the world and the Christian church. If younger generations are not given the chance to

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tackle the grey areas in life then they get frustrated and they are more likely to stumble in their faith. Understanding of truth. Often truth in Christian circles has been determined by what leadership and older generations consider being truth. This has been based around morality and structure. But what is truth for older generations is often not truth for emerging generations. I am not talking the truth about the Gospel story but truth regarding how you live out your faith, Biblical interpretation and what is considered acceptable in Christian circles. Action speaks louder than words. Young people have a strong desire to live out their Christian walk in ways that actually make a difference. They want to see that what Jesus talked about in the Gospels is relevant for today otherwise they question what being a Christian all about. Emerging generations around the world are concerned about a person‟s spiritual condition but they are also concerned about their physical condition. It is not just in the Western world that you will find young people who are concerned about equality, justice and fairness. These concerns are raising new questions about what is church, mission and what it means to be a Christian. Distrust for organisations. Young people struggle with the rules, regulations and traditions of organisations. They struggle with both church and Christian organisations because from the outside (and the inside) they often look like clubs rather than the body of Christ and community on earth. They question how much different the church actually is from the rest of the world. Freedom. The freedom younger generations are experiencing in many countries around the world means that younger people are outside the controls and structures of many societies that would have previously contained their knowledge and understanding. Knowledge and the control of it is now an open source item more freely available than ever before. Living with uncertainty. Young people are concerned but not panicked by the world they are part of (Sept 11th / Bali / London Bombings / Boxing Day/ Famines / Armed conflict). It is a reason for action and hope rather than inaction and fear. It impacts their view of world politics rather than view of humanity. They are aware that in many places around the world stuff like this happens all the time and it may happen in their own communities They are experiential. Younger generations grow up in an experiential world where they get to feel and sense a variety of things so this leads to the view that if you cant experience it then it isn't real

Conclusion The reality of what I have talked about is that these are generalisations. Not every trait and value fits every young person around the world. Issues such as rural and urban, rich and poor, access or non-access to technology come into play. But what I have experienced time and time again is that young people all around the world are somehow magically drawn towards finding out and experiencing anything related to global youth culture. They seek out all those things that connect them into this culture. This includes the media, music, clothing, style, attitude, belongings and lifestyle of what it means to be young. You cannot stop a young person wanting to experience all there is about global youth culture but you can better understand this culture so you can better speak into the lives of young people and understand how to journey with them in their personal and faith journeys.

Rev. Sean Marston (Cert Mgt / B Theology / Post Grad Development Studies / M Phil) works for SIM (Serving in Mission) International as their Youth and Student Consultant. His passion is great coffee and mobilising emerging generations for mission. He can be contacted at: sean.marston@sim.org His website is: www.youthmesh.org


				
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