Pam and I have been leading a class for the last few weeks for the parents of teen-agers. Called “The Age of Opportunity,” we’re reading through Paul Tripp’s book by the same title and learning together a little more about being better parents.
Our latest topic was how we help our teens respond to the surrounding culture. “Culture” is simply the sum total of the stuff around us: school, friends, career choices, social media, movies, internet, styles, thought patterns, behaviors and all the rest of the ways we rub up against the world outside ourselves and our homes. While evangelical Christians (at least) focus on the unbiblical values and lifestyle choices that the culture is continuously bombarding us with, the reality is that culture really affects us in more subtle ways:
1. Culture determines the pace of our lives. We don’t usually choose how fast our slow our home lives are. Instead, the demands of the surrounding culture determine that. And we are almost always caught up in it. For modern families, the pace is almost always too fast. Every day is filled to overflowing with stuff that has to be done today; with school projects, special activities, get-togethers with friends, jobs, conferences, sports practice, music practice, and so many other things that just to list them all makes me tired. And we’re living at such a fast pace, it’s no wonder that families today feel overwhelmed.
2. Culture determines the agenda of our lives. School success. Professional success. Financial stability. Maintaining our place in the pecking order of our surrounding society. These are all parts of the agenda dictated to us by our culture. The Bible speaks otherwise, of course, and says the agenda we as created beings were designed for is to bring glory to our Maker, through His Son Jesus. But the culture around is so strong and seductive, so insistent and demanding, that it often has much more clout in our lives than the biblical one.
3. Culture determines the relational patterns of our lives. How we relate and respond to one another is more often the result of cultural values than biblical ones. For instance, our culture’s pervasive sexuality invariably affects the way our teens relate to one another. Teen-age boys end up viewing girls as sex objects instead of friends. In another direction, the cultural acceptance in students’ lives today of bullying is best understood as an issue of power. The strong are able to dominate the weak because relational patterns have been skewed by a secularized culture. Biblical values teach exactly the opposite.
4. Culture determines the importance of spiritual truths. Our secular culture focuses almost entirely on materialism: what you have, what you do, what others think of you. The notion that spiritual truths—things that are unseen and immaterial—are superior to material ones is so far off the radar of the surrounding culture that its laughable. Apart from whatever constitutional issues may be involved, for instance, the prayers that at one time were expected at the beginning of high school football games are now generally forbidden. Why would anyone want to invoke an invisible God’s blessing on a sports event? It’s much more important to pay attention to blocking, tackling and a passing scheme able to penetrate the opponent’s defense. The unmistakable message to our students, of course, is that the material world they can see and touch and hear is much more substantial and real than the invisible world of the Spirit. Spiritual truths are second class to material ones.
The task of Christian parents is to create a culture in their own home that, while not ignoring the realities of the culture their teens live in, is substantial and authentic enough to provide a real alternative. Not all Christian homes are alike in how they respond to that challenge. Some choose a course that is more separatist and overtly religious. Others are more laid back and easy-going. Most are somewhere in between. Some are methodical in their approach and carefully chart out a course for their children’s spiritual growth. Others depend on a more serendipitous style and use the inevitable crises of teen life as teaching tools, to help their children integrate biblical truths into their lives.
However it’s done, though, parents have to pay attention to the culture around them, and how it impacts the lives of their teens. If parents don’t provide a framework for their teens’ spiritual growth, the surrounding culture will most certainly supply its own.