Walt Mueller’s Youth Culture 101

Walt Mueller’s Youth Culture 101 (2007) is the contemporary primer for parents of youths – and especially for those with teenagers.  It aims to be a comprehensive, if not exhaustive work that can be used both as a preparatory book for parents, and a behind the scenes reminder for moms and/or dads who encounter bumps along the way with their children.  The subjects covered are varied, but also closely related.  They range from sheer acceptance, such as the understanding that ‘yes you have teen(s) and yes they’re different’ to accepting certain of those differences while still drawing lines.These differences that are discussed deal primarily with two subjects.  The first is a general cultural set of chapters.  The book explains how teenagers don’t always view their moment in time as having been based on other’s before and how they are as a result able to discard the teachings of the past.  It then goes on to address the more specific areas of these cultural differences in such topics as understanding of sex as a form of relationship, drugs and recreation escape and depression and other teen emotional experiences.  Finally, the book follows an overarching agenda of how the media contributes to these issues and their acceptance.  Youth Culture 101 ends with a brief chapter on how to share these pieces of the parent/child puzzle with children while encouraging them to see their place in God’s plan for their lives.Two key ideas emerge from Youth Culture 101 to me as I read the book.  The first point is made strongly in Chapter 6 and consists of all the different pulls of the media on today’s teens.  Primarily focusing on marketing and sex, it allows us to see the varied ways that sexuality is pushed.  It is not just the traditional movies and television – although that certainly makes up a great deal of the problem.  Ratings on both have been edged out a little at a time until the amount of flesh and intimate interaction is absolutely shocking, and worth reviewing some time at the Federal Communications Commission.  More insidious is the marketing that kids’ are doing toward spreading sex.  I haven’t seen this addressed before.  Mueller’s book brings that problem out into the open, so to speak.  Teens today are following each other’s lead in wearing clothing with not only outright promiscuous sayings, but also lewd yet unstated messages, too.  Naturally, this invitation only assists the teenaged mind to assume that the wearer is ‘available’ and promoting themselves.  Especially in cases where the person displaying the clothing is naive and following the crowd, this can result in disastrous misunderstandings.  To me, this is one of the most crucial topics the book covered.The next important content area I found was in Chapter 11.  It dealt with teen suicide and depression.  Surely this has been covered widely in other works; what impressed me the most about how Mueller approached it was the amount of time he devoted to teen bullying and its consequences.  For generations, bullying has been an accepted part of life for kids at school.  This is not to say that it has been promoted, but it does almost seem a rite of passage.  There have never been too many youths taken out of school for this behavior, even if it becomes outright ‘tormenting.’  Slowly this is beginning to change because of books like Youth Culture 101.  Identifying bullying with depression and even suicide is a breakthrough concept.  Leading parents to understand the effect that this can have on their teens will lead to them listening more, and taking their kids more seriously.  At the very least, books like this will help parents connect with their children, and at the most it may save lives before they end up in the deadly spiral of lack of self esteem and suicide.That I recommend this book strongly should be obvious – but I will state that here.  This is a fantastic tool with the ability to begin to bridge the generation gap, make up for lost time and lost understanding.  Ultimately it should make up for lost teens, too.  Although I can see this work used in the avenue of Christian resources, I think that this best place to utilize it is in the non Church world.  An appropriate use would be as a resource that school counselors could provide to parents during open houses and through regular student/parent conferences.  These would be great places to begin identifying ‘non-connected’ teens and their parents, and would offer great hope to them as they face uncertainties in their futures.ReferencesMueller, W. (2007). Youth Culture 101. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.