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Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Your (Global) Teenager

Before social media and the prevalence of pop culture, it was a lot easier to enforce whatever ideologies you wanted your child to follow.

But as globalization increased, this changed. Young people became increasingly exposed to the rest of the world. Today, their ideologies and values no longer find a basis in what their priest or imam preaches but in what social media and pop culture influencers might be saying and doing. – Neha Rashid, “How Young Muslims Define ‘Halal Dating’ for Themselves,” NPR Code Switch

This reflection rang true with conversations I’ve heard around North American faith-based water coolers for several years. Kenda Creasy Dean has written and spoken at length on the sociological realities of the “Nones,” following the publication of her 2010 book, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church.” She has spoken to groups of church leaders and pastors about why the faith of parents and grandparents outwardly seems somehow to be skipping a generation.

To read Rashid’s “Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed” article, you would think you were listening to conservative North American parents expressing their fears that their children were shedding valuable elements of the shared family faith. Yet Rashid is exploring the realities of sex and dating, not for suburban Baptist teenagers, but Muslim teens and college students who want to date on their own terms, without heavy-handed family intervention in the architecture of the relationship.

I find it wryly amusing that you could put conservative Christian parents and conservative Muslim parents in the same room with coffee and pastries and they would commiserate about the challenges of attempting to instill religious values in their kids in an age of globalization, when many influences far outside their zip code influence their children as much as – or more than – locality does. They have a shared enemy: Western secularization. The religions are not the same, but the frustration is.

Meanwhile, smart phones have become a lingua franca. Case in point: last fall while I was at a global gathering of Wesleyan Methodist clergy, some new acquaintances and I excitedly pulled out our smartphone and showed each other our continent-specific Pokemon that we had caught, because we all had Pokemon Go! on our phones. They were young adults, I am in my 30’s, and we immediately spoke a common language: the summer’s hot smartphone game. I am North American. They were Cambodian-Australian and Chinese-Australian. We immediately understood each other.

Not long after at the same conference I sat in a small group of young Methodist leaders, and within the group there was an odd, emergent surprise at the realization that we were all facing a similar challenge – in a group comprised of people from Wales, Italy, England, Australia, South America, and the U.S. The level of similarity was breathtaking.

But it seems that no matter your religion, there is a shared global youth/young adult culture. If MTV kicked it off, over the past ten years smartphones have brought it to the end zone. It’s not just a North American culture war about Judeo-Christian ethics, it’s a phenomenon affecting families around the globe who are attempting to navigate lightning-speed change. Religious parents and grandparents are baffled at how quickly the primary influences in a young person’s life can change. Interreligious dialogue aimed at furthering local community relationships may begin by shared parental lament at the challenges of instilling strongly held religious values in a generation accustomed to selecting who to follow for themselves – on Instagram or in their religious life.

The global trend is an emerging complexity. In many regions – for good or ill – nationalism is on the rise in response. Introduce rapid, sweeping globalization, and a knee-jerk reaction to protect cultural, linguistic, and religious identity is a predictable response. But we cannot rewind globalization, nor, at this point, would we want to. And we cannot rewind exponential technological advancement. Even cloistered communities can’t escape the presence of technology. In the United States, it’s possible to see a Mennonite woman with a head covering and a smartphone. It’s possible to order coffee online from a group of Carmelite monks in Wyoming.

Given that, the only way forward is to face the realities of the day with uncommon wisdom, patience, and discretion. You may be navigating how to introduce your children carefully to the internet. You may be weighing how to foster within your family both appreciation for rooted local community and creative global engagement. You’re certainly not alone – there’s a whole world of people with different diets, customs, and rituals attempting to puzzle out the same thing.