Culture youth ministry

How does a teenager become an adult?

How does a teenager become an adult?

How does a teenager become an adult?

Is it something intrinsic? Like, does a person become an adult because of the way they think of themselves? Is it when they except responsibility for themselves internally and start making adult-like decisions? Is it putting them on a pathway towards independence? (Vocation, education, relationships)

Or is it extrinsic? Do you cross a threshold physically to become an adult? Does turning 18 years old make you an adult? Does achieving some physical characteristic make you an adult? Does some level of educational achievement or military service make you an adult?

Culture youth ministry

A link found between adolescent hook-ups & depression

From a paper published in September, 2012.

Depression and Adolescent Sexual Activity in Romantic and Nonromantic Relational Contexts: A Genetically-Informative Sibling Comparison

Results indicated that adolescent dating, in and of itself, was not associated with depressive symptoms. The association between depressive symptoms and sexual activity with a romantic partner was fully accounted for by between-family genetic and shared environmental confounds. In contrast, sexual activity with a nonromantic partner was significantly associated with both mean levels of depressive symptoms and clinically severe depression, even within sibling dyads. This relationship was greater for younger adolescents (<15 years). These results are consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating that relationship contexts may be critical moderators of the psychosocial aspects of adolescent sexual experiences.


Not surprising for anyone working with teenagers. Does the above statement surprise you in any way?

Culture youth ministry

The role of father’s in adolescent sexual education

Existing research preliminarily suggests fathers influence the sexual behavior of their adolescent children; however, more rigorous research examining diverse facets of paternal influence on adolescent sexual behavior is needed. We provide recommendations for primary care providers and public health practitioners to better incorporate fathers into interventions designed to reduce adolescent sexual risk behavior.


“Our research suggests that fathers matter when it comes to their adolescent children’s sexual behavior,” Guilamo-Ramos said. “Moving forward, more attention to the role of fathers in shaping adolescent health and wellbeing is needed. Fathers represent a critical missed opportunity to support the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and represent an additional mechanism to influence teenage sexual behavior.”


I’m intrigued about where this research can end up.

What do you think? Obviously, dads have impact on their adolescent children. But what are ways that you’ve seen dad’s attitudes towards adolescent sex positively or negatively impact his children? 

social media

Social Media is Linked to Depression

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have linked depressive symptoms in college students to their internet usage. It’s a small study, only 216 participants over 1 month, but the correlation quantifies what other researches have hypothesized. This is the first of its kind that overlaid subjects actual internet usage and diagnostic testing. Participants were college students on a closed network. So once they agreed to participate the researchers gained access to their real time usage via the schools network.

In short, the more time subjects spent checking social media sites like Facebook, chatting online, and shopping– especially late at night, the more depressive symptoms were measured.

In this paper, we report our findings on a month long experiment conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology on associating depressive symptoms among college students with their Internet usage using real Internet data collected in an unobtrusive and privacy preserving manner over the campus network. In our study, 216 undergraduates were surveyed for depressive symptoms using the CES-D scale. We then collected their on-campus Internet usage characterized via Cisco NetFlow data. Subsequent analysis revealed that several Internet usage features like average packets per flow, peer-to-peer (octets, packets and duration), chat octets, mail (packets and duration), ftp duration, and remote file octets exhibit a statistically significant correlation with depressive symptoms. Additionally, Mann-Whitney U-tests revealed that average packets per flow, remote file octets, chat (octets, packets and duration) and flow duration entropy have a statistically significant difference in the mean values across groups with and without depressive symptoms. 


This fits into the advice I share in my seminar, (and forthcoming book co-authored with Marko) A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, that parents need to focus less on WHAT their kids are looking at and more on WHERE and WHEN they are using the internet.

ht to Mashable and Huffington Post UK

Photo credit: Ars Electronica via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How to buy a used car for way below Kelly Blue Book, Part 1

After a couple months of research we were finally able to purchase a great used minivan while getting a good deal from a reputable dealer.

General used car buying advice

Preface — Download the free Kelly Blue Book app for your phone. In order to beat the dealer in real time, you’ll want to have access to the data when you are shopping.

Goal— This plan is loading you up on leverage so that you can be in the offensive position when it comes down to negotiating price.

  1. Start with a class, not a specific make/model/year. In our case, we were looking for something that seated 7 people that was 3-7 years old. As you get deeper in the process it’ll help to know the basics about your class. Which car is most desirable in that class? Which is least desirable? What are the best features in that class for those years? On and on.
  2. Use and Yelp. Once you have #1 figured out, create two searches on AutoTrader and set them up to send you a daily email. Do one search for the cars you are most interested in within 25 miles. Do another search for the entire class within 75-100 miles. This will notify you when something you really like is close, so you can go over and take a look. But it’ll also give you an idea of what cars are going for in your class within your area. (Lots of dealers have several locations and move cars around so their lots look fresh.) Save the ones you like the most. This will make it simple to go back and compare, plus if you use it long enough you’ll see which cars in your class move the fastest and at what price. For Yelp, get to know the dealers reputation in your community before you see their striped tie on the lot… just type in the name of your city and “used car” and you’ll learn all sorts of things about the dealers who look awesome on AutoTrader.
  3. Avoid tent sales, sales events, and anything attached to the name “Giant” or “Super.” If you don’t believe me, leave your checkbook at home and go visit one. It’s every slimy sales guy/tactic at one place trying to out-sell the other slimy guys. From a strategy perspective this is how dealers move inventory quickly at higher-than-normal prices OR ridiculous financing. These events put the seller in the power position and you, the buyer, in the weaker position. Have you ever gotten a good deal at a carnival? I didn’t think so. 
  4. Sunday and after hours are your friend. In our area (San Diego, CA) most of the lots are closed on Sunday. And most lots are closed by 6 PM during the week. If you want to get a closer look at a car you might be interested and want to avoid the people in ties this is the best time to do it. Everything looks nice on AutoTrader. Just do a few recon missions to see who carries what and at what quality. Most smaller lots and a lot of big name dealers buys their cars at auction. Then they spend $1000 on them to spiffy them up at a nice profit. But a few of the name brand dealers keep the best trade-ins and then fill their lots with some auction stuff. Get a close-up look and you’ll spot the winners from losers right away.
  5. Keep the deal simple. You won’t be able to do the math in your head if you start talking about financing, trade-in value, etc. You only want to talk about “out the door” price. (Including all their fees, sales tax, etc.) So take care of your financing ahead of time, sell your car on Craigslist– just do whatever you need to do in order to simplify the deal to an “out the door” price.
  6. Buy at the end of the month. Salesperson paychecks and quotas are measured on the last day of the month. If you are walking onto a car lot knowing you can buy when you find the right car, knowing what you can spend, and are willing to negotiate, and willing to wait another few weeks if you need to– you have about as much leverage as you’re going to get in the last few days of the month.
  7. Don’t go alone. Typically, dealerships assign one salesperson to each buyer on the lot. So having two of you and one of them is a big, tactical advantage. When the salesperson starts showing you cars the second person can open up different doors and see the price or give you a quick opinion. I took my 8 year old son and he was perfect for this job. He and I worked out little looks and gestures for when it was time to move.
  8. Test drives are free. You ultimately won’t know what you like until you get behind the wheel. If a salesperson is douchie about it just walk off the lot. (Most require your drivers license. If they ask to run a credit check in order to test drive, it’s time to bounce.) It’s not like they really think you are going to buy a car without driving it. Test out if you like where the controls are, if things move like they are supposed to, if everything works, etc. Any reputable dealer is also fine with you taking the car to a mechanic to get it looked at. (Usually this is under $50)
  9. Don’t fall in love. If you’ve done your research you’ll know that your #1 – #5 choices are likely available at various lots. Until you sign on the dotted line you need to be prepared to walk away. In fact, walking away is your best leverage point. You have everything the salesperson wants, your money. And only you can decide when the sale makes sense.
  10. Character matters. Be willing to walk off a lot and miss out on your #1 choice if the dealership is shady. Even at the best dealerships, service is going to go down drastically from the moment you buy the car. So if you feel weird about the guy in the tie talking to you– know that he’s the nicest guy at the shop. If you don’t like him you’re really not going to like the service department or anyone else. There are thousands of dealers and millions of used cars available. Just trust me, if you feel weird… walk away.

In Part 2 of this series I’ll share our actual experience with getting a deal 22% below Kelly Blue Book price and nearly 50% cheaper than similar dealer list price for the exact same used minivan. 

youth ministry

You need to get out more

“Leaders are learners.”

We’ve all heard this. And most people I know in youth ministry are very well read. They read a lot of books and attend a lot of training stuff.

But I also think one reason people can’t think outside of the box to solve problems is that their context is so tiny. They only really know how to “do youth ministry” one way. Sometimes I’ll sit down at a conference or spend an hour on the phone with a friend and we’ll agree… their current strategy isn’t working. But they’d rather get fired than change.

Why is that? 

  • Is it that they are stubborn? (No)
  • Is it that they are uneducated? (No)
  • Is it that they are dispassionate? (No)
  • Is it that they lack creativity? (No)
  • Is it that they lack the power to change things in their ministry? (No)

It’s usually because they’ve only ever seen youth ministry done the way they do it. They grew up exposed to a style. They went to college or seminary and were fostered in that methodology. Then they got hired by churches who want them to run a program that same way. And they hang out with people who do ministry like them. And when they go to conferences, they go to conferences who do ministry just like them.

You know the mantras— We do Sunday school and small groups. Or we do a midweek program. Or something like that.

These are all viable methods. But there are TONS of other methods available in youth ministry. Chances are good that you never even took the time before you started the job to figure out, “Does the method I know even work in this context?” Oh no, we usually come at it the other way. “This method worked for me in another context, it’ll work here.

It’s not a lack of learning holding them back. It’s the lack of contextualization, study, observation, and experimentation that’s killing you.

You need to get out more

If you want to consider this a profession, you need to expose yourself to a wide variety of methods. It’s like going to a doctor who only wants to cut people open. He might know there are other types of surgery out there, and he might have heard about some pills that you can take, but he’s really into cutting people open because that’s what he knows how to treat your problem.

You wouldn’t go to that guy would you? He’s a 1-trick pony.

But that’s how we roll in youth ministry. We have tribes of people who are 1-trick ponies. It’s not that they don’t know there are other methods out there. They just do what they do. We hide behind terminology like “primary giftedness” and other ways of self-convincing ourselves that we can only do ministry the way we grew up doing it.

Learning that isn’t diverse in its approach isn’t really learning, it’s reinforcing what you already know.

You need to get out more.

If learning is a value and all you’re doing is reading books or going to conferences reinforcing what you already know, you’re not a learner. Spend some time observing other methods. Go visit other churches who aren’t like yours. Go see youth ministry in another culture. Make the time to do so. Set up some experiments. Create some brand new theories and test them out.

Whatever you do. Don’t keep working on something you’ve proven doesn’t work in your context.

That’s not professionalism, that’s insanity. 

Culture youth ministry

Understanding & Reaching Wireless Students

Whether you are a high school teacher, a high school pastor, or the parent of a high schooler we all have the same problem. How do we understand and reach the teenagers in front of us with messages that matter? 

I’ve found that this lead in question is often the problem.

  1. We are a generation of adults who likes to talk and pretend to be experts on things we don’t understand, we over-assume.
  2. What matters to you isn’t necessarily something that matters to the students in your life.

That said, there is plenty of research available which will help you better understand what’s important and how to reach those in high school right now. Why is there so much research done on this age group? Because bagillions of dollars in spending are influenced by them! (What? You thought researchers just liked them? Maybe so?)

Here’s what’s on the menu for understanding those who just graduated high school:

  • Soup of the day – The Beloit Mindset List for the Class of 2015. We start things off by recognizing the world they have grown up with. They’ve never had a home phone, they’ve never dialed up the internet, they’ve never known a world without terrorist plots or going to the gate to pick up a friend at the airport. This list provides context.
  • Chef’s salad – The cost of college is on the forefront of their minds. Most high school students live with the adult assumption that they need to attend college. They are marketing savvy enough to ponder, “Do I need to go to college or do adults depend on me going to college?” They are asking good questions to count the cost like, “Is college right for me? Why do I want to go to college and spend all of that money if I don’t know what I want to do? Am I going to make enough money in the long run to afford the debt it will take to graduate?” This is why the gap year is so intriguing to them. (This is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs)
  • Featured entree`5 Ways to Friend the Class of 2015. Research start-up Mr. Youth has published a powerful marketing whitepaper which dove deep into the forces that move them. The five ingredients of this dish include: Help them express their personal brand, Integrate organically into their world, Get in good with their friends, Become an on-demand brand, Get to know them before assuming what they want.
  • DessertMillennial Donors 2011 Executive Summary. Today’s students are motivated to change things. According to the second year study called Millennial Donors, 93% of those surveyed gave money to charity. 79% actively volunteered their time. But 90% of those surveyed said they would stop donating (time & money) if they didn’t trust the leadership.

What does this have to do with my role in students lives? 

  • To reach students we have to understand what makes them tick instead of trying to get them to understand our point-of-view.
  • The world they have grown up in is vastly different from the one you grew up in. They already have a million adults in their lives that lecture to them, your best opportunity for reaching them is through listening.
  • Instead of asking students to get on your team you’ll need to help them see how your team and their team can collaborate. The concept of personal brand isn’t narcissism, it’s an opportunity.
  • Understand that a recommendation is their most powerful motivator. They simply won’t go somewhere or do something that’s not recommended to them.
  • They are hard-wired to give back, volunteer, and contribute their fair share. But the key component is trust. If you aren’t transparent and honest they will just move on.
Do you work with high school students? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve pointed out? What are areas you’d like to explore more? How could this research impact your day-to-day interactions with high schoolers? 

City People Really are Wired Differently

Photo by Jerry W. Lewis via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In 2002, Kristen and I considered a position at a lovely church in rural Nebraska. The nearest large city was Lincoln some two hours away. The town was quaint and cute as a postcard. But as we dug into the realities of moving somewhere with one coffee shop, a small grocery store, a gas station, and three farm implement dealers we realized that we really couldn’t see ourselves living 45 minutes from the nearest town with a  supermarket. (Or hospital, mall, or even Applebee’s.)

We loved the idea of a ministering in a simple, farm town. And we adored the church and their vision for the community. (Nearly half the town attended their church each Sunday morning!) But, ultimately we are wired as city folks. We were used to riding the cramped train to work. And, in Chicago, we were never more than a few blocks from the nearest Starbucks. Even in our 5 years of living in Detroit’s northern suburbs we found ourselves constantly annoyed by the monoculture of suburbia. The quiet and wide open space and all of that stuff kind of raises my stress level a bit. When it’s that quiet and wide open I find myself humming the Dueling Banjos from Deliverance.

I feel alive and free in an urban setting while visiting or living in a more rural place raises my anxiety level. (Folks from Romeo will remember that we chose to live in the village and not out in the more rural areas of town.)

I always thought this was just my personal preference. But, it turns out that city people and rural people really are different neurologically. A recent article in Time Magazine shared some insights from recent research on the differences between rural and cities people’s brains.

In an international study, researchers at University of Heidelberg and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University report in the journal Nature that people who live or were raised in cities show distinct differences in activity in certain brain regions than those who aren’t city dwellers.

Those who currently live in the city, for example, showed higher activation the amygdala, the brain region that regulates emotions such as anxiety and fear. The amygdala is most often called into action under situations of stress or threat, and the data suggest that city dwellers’ brains have a more sensitive, hair-trigger response to such situations, at least when compared with those living in the suburbs or more rural areas. Read more

All of this is kind of locked in during the first 15 years of life. Your developing brain is either used to the stimulation of the city or in suburban/rural settings and that becomes comfortable with one or the other.

As the article goes on to point out– there are positives and negatives to either. City people tend to be more anxious over their lifetime than rural people. And people raised in the country are less likely to ever fully feel at ease living in the city.

Why does this matter?

Understanding yourself is often half the battle to managing life stress. As the article concludes, “So what does this mean for avid city livers like me? I’m not giving up my urban lifestyle, but I may have to balance the high-energy hum of city activity with more downtime. “In general when it comes to stress, it’s important to keep a balance,” says Pruessner. “These results suggest the need to keep things in balance so after a period of working hard, you balance that with a period of off-time as well.”

Read the full article here.

youth ministry

Sleep deprivation and the American teenager

To meet all of these demands, surveys show, high schoolers usually stay up close to midnight on school nights. And then they have to get up early the next morning, typically around 6 or 6:30 a.m., to get to school on time, as most high schools start classes around 7:30 a.m.

“Most studies show a fairly consistent 9 1/4 hours sleep requirement,” says Emsellem. “So there’s a huge gap between what they’re getting on an average school night and what they require.”

An adolescent’s biology bears some of the blame for this sleep problem. As teens progress through puberty, unprecedented growth occurs in body and brain that requires a lot of sleep.

Read the rest

In youth ministry we joke about all-nighters. I’m quick to point out that when hosting an all-nighter that I take tactical advantage over my students. First, I play with chemical warfare by loading my students full of sugar and caffeine early in the night while I load up on water and fruit, followed by a lot of physical activity. Second, as an adult I actually need less sleep. Third, I sleep well regularly so I’m not tired going into an all-nighter.

Yet sleep deprivation is a serious ailment for our students. Missing out on 33% of sleep each night (on average) has loads of consequences.

Here’s a quick list of problems with chronic sleep deprivation that I’ve seen:

  1. Struggling in school academically. Some schools are compensating by starting high school later. A nice step, but doesn’t solve the problem if they just stay up later.
  2. Compensating for tiredness with caffeine & sugar might help them stay alert but leads to weight gain, doesn’t help acne, excessive odor, etc.
  3. Inexperienced drivers + sleep deprivation = recipe for disaster.
  4. Overly dramatic/depressive mood swings. Teenage girls have a unique ability to make a mountain out of a molehill. Staying up late thinking about it isn’t helping.
  5. Laptops in their bedroom and unlimited, unsupervised, broadband internet doesn’t help them make wise decisions.

With all that a teenager is doing in the areas of social, physical, sexual, and cognitive development the brain is working overdrive. Not giving their brains the time to rest, recover, and work while they are sleeping is just going to lead to being developmentally delayed.

Discussion questions:

Parents: What can you do to make sure your kids get the sleep they need?

Schools: Short of nap time or delaying the start of school, how can you help in this area?

Youth workers: How can your ministry be “good news” to sleep deprived teenagers in your community?

All: What do you think this has to do with the elongation of adolescence?

Church Leadership youth ministry

Love God, Cheat on Tests

If you believe in a loving, compassionate God you are more likely to cheat than people who believe in an angry, punitive God. This is according to a new study released called, “Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior” and covered in the April 30th edition of the L.A. Times.

In line with many previous studies, it found no difference between the ethical behavior of believers and nonbelievers. But those who believed in a loving, compassionate God were more likely to cheat than those who believed in an angry, punitive God.

“The take-home message is not whether you believe in God, but what God you believe in,” said Azim Shariff, a psychologist at the University of Oregon. Shariff conducted the study with psychologist Ara Norenzayan, who had been his doctoral advisor at the University of British Columbia.

Read the rest

More and more research is being done that youth workers need to unpack and adapt their philosophy of ministries to. There are studies like this, many of them, which show that Christian students aren’t altogether more moral than their non-Christian peers. (They cheat as much, sleep around as much, get in as many fights, etc.) And there are studies like Christian Smith’s work out of Notre Dame which shows that youth group graduates often believe in a god but not necessarily the God of the Bible. (Something he labels moralistic therapeutic deism.) and the Fuller Youth Institute’s Sticky Faith study which will be published later this year. (Based on what I’ve seen/heard from FYI, there seems to be some strong correlations between certain types of ministry/parenting skills and a successful transition from middle adolescent faith development to adult faith.)

Here’s what we do know:

  • There are plenty of people in America who worship the God they want to believe in instead of the God of the Bible. The first sentence delineates between a punitive God and a compassionate God. In truth, God reveals himself in the Bible as both. While we can’t fully define God with our finite minds, God has shown us that He possesses moral and non-moral attributes, the fullness of which we struggle to grasp.
  • While freedom from bondage to sin is part of the sanctification process, it is not the means nor main point of salvation through Jesus Christ. There’s a difference between being bought and paid for and going on to live a moral life. Christians believe there will be many, many good people in hell. Being good doesn’t make you any more a believer in Christ for salvation than being a Cubs fan makes you eternally optimistic. Somewhere along the way how we are teaching adolescents is leading them to believe that a life with Jesus means we can be happy sinners.
  • Much of our evangelical “nice” culture isn’t changing culture as much as its leaders would like to believe it is. I’ve never met a youth pastor who would admit that her students would cheat on test as much or more than their peers. They will always defer and say, “Not my kids.
  • Something in what we are teaching is awry if it doesn’t lead to high moral standards. While the point of a life with Christ isn’t to have flawless morals… it truly should be the by-product of a life sold out for Jesus! I don’t know what is going wrong, but somewhere, something is lost in translation.
  • Followers look up to their leaders. They behave the way their leaders do and they model their lives after them. So these studies also reveal something deeply wrong and disturbing about church leadership. We each must examine ourselves and ask difficult questions, seeking accountability. How is it that our leadership is leading to a belief that it is OK to lie, cheat, and act immoral?