Understanding Youth Culture  

Introduction

"It's 10 o'clock. Do you know where your child is?" This popular slogan was designed to encourage parents to get involved in their children's lives. Now that we've entered a new millennium, a more appropriate question could be, "It's the 21st century. Do you know what's influencing your child?"

Recognizing expressions of youth culture is a major step toward understanding your teen. This understanding can help you keep lines of communication open between you and your teen. Making it clear that you do not want your child to use alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs is a proven factor in reducing youth drug use.

This book is designed to help you to understand the language and images of the current youth culture.  By the time you finish this book, you should be able to know what your kids are saying.  It will also help you to understand what the images and symbols of the current youth culture mean.  As a result, you'll have a good chance of recognizing the messages that are conveyed by the symbols, decals, and patches that kids put on their clothes, notebooks, and just about anyplace else possible.

To help you understand the youth culture,  I'm going to take take you on a guided tour of the the various stages of the American youth culture from the 1950s to the present.  My goal is to show you where the youth culture has been, where it is now, and where it's likely to go.  I also want you to see how the youth culture is everywhere.  Once you understand its language and secrete symbols, you can't miss it and neither can your kids.  

Since the youth culture is spreading its messages everywhere, it will influence the attitudes and behaviors of your kids.  It will do so whether you like it or not.  The youth culture sends its messages in sneaky and insidious ways that you can't stop even if you want to.

Fortunately, not all of the messages of the youth culture are bad.  There are segments of the youth culture that give positive messages and much of it is neutral.  Unfortunately there are aspects of the youth culture that give negative messages.  These negative messages often revolve around alcohol, drugs, violence, and sex.  Although you can't stop most kids from getting exposed to these messages, you can discuss these messages with your kids and give them powerful counter messages and teach them skills for making decisions and pursuing more positive life options.

The youth culture is media-driven.  This is why we're going to spend a lot of time exploring the role that media and music play in supporting the positive and negative messages of the youth culture.  It is vitally important that parents develop high levels of  media literacy in order to understand and be able to engage their kids in meaningful conversations about what these messages are.   

The bias of this book is that you can't control your kids, but you can and do influence them.  There are two primary things that influence your kids - what you do and how you communicate.  Your kids will look at what you do when they evaluate what you say.  If you don't walk the talk they'll assume that what you're saying isn't true.  If you don't do what you tell your kids to do. you will lack credibility as a role model.  In other words, your kids won't believe what you say.

So we're going to spend time showing you how to communicate with you kids and how to overcome the common road blocks that most adults hit when trying to talk with kids.  By the time you finish this book you'll be exposed to many suggestions for starting conversations with youth about various topics, including alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and media influences.

Teenage boy with tongue ring.Being a parent is one of the most challenging jobs there is. Parents must feel confident and comfortable talking to their teens, whether it is about sex, drugs, or other important issues. The choices teens make and the values they adopt can determine whether they become happy, productive adults. Ironically, the older a teen becomes, the less likely it is that parents will talk to him about these topics. Sometimes parents may feel intimidated or unsure of their roles as their teens grow more independent and subscribe to a youth culture that may be unfamiliar to adults. However, teens still want and need their parents' support and guidance during this pivotal period. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's 1999 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse, almost 11 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 currently use illicit drugs. New drugs like ecstasy, ketamine, and Rohypnol— commonly known as "club drugs"—are always emerging, and parents need to stay informed. It is important for parents and caregivers to continue to discuss alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs with their children early and often.

By revisiting the popular culture of the past, showing you the world your teen lives in today, and taking a look at things to come in the world of kids you'll learn the basic information you need to start a meaningful conversation with your teen.  You'll learn the communication skills that you need to maintain the open, two-way communication that is essential in building strong family connections.

Cultural Expressions

When we witness our adolescents'"strange" clothing and behavior (such as tattooing and piercing), and hear "meaningless" and provocative (to us) language and song lyrics, we may hope that they are just passing fads. However, what we; are actually seeing and hearing are the expressions of youth culture. Cultural expressions are onstantly changing, and attempts to describe them are usually dated before the ink dries. The following examples in no way represent a comprehensive list, but we present them to give adults a "snapshot" of some of today's cultural expressions of youth.

See: Expressions of Youth Culture

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