the ‘6 degrees of sin’ generation

Talk about a sea change-in less than five years, the Internet has radically changed the way teenagers spend their afterschool time. According to a just-released study by Yahoo! and Carat Interactive, kids now spend more time online (16.7 hours per week) than watching TV (13.6 hours) or chatting on the phone (7.7 hours).

You could create your own stairway to heaven if you stacked all the books that have been written about the way TV, movies, and music have fundamentally impacted the way teenagers think, act, and feel. But next to nothing has been written on the Internet’s deep influence on the teenage soul. So, given the Web’s newfound dominance, let’s take a whack at how it’s changed kids.

* The music file-sharing/file-downloading phenomenon has fueled and revealed teenagers’ basic right vs. wrong belief system. Over and over, file-sharing young people express shock, anger, and disbelief that there’s anything wrong with downloading an artist’s copyrighted material (see Cybertalk on page 19). “When it comes to downloading music or movies off the Internet,” writes New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, “students. . . compare it with underage drinking: illegal, but not immoral. Like alcohol and parties, the Internet is easily accessible. Why not download, or drink, when

what really keeps kids drug-free

Not long ago the National Academy of Sciences created a big stir when it released a new study on underage drinking that slaps a $53 billion price tag on the problem (including $19 billion for auto accidents alone). That’s an amount “far exceeding the cost of youthful use of illegal drugs,” according to the study report.

So it’s a big problem, and lots of people think they have the “silver bullet” that’ll kill it. Here’s a rundown of what really works, and what doesn’t.


*o Teenagers who have “an active spiritual life” are half as likely to try illicit drugs, or to end up as alcoholics or drug addicts. The finding is true only for kids who make a personal choice to pursue a spiritual life, not those who are forced by their parents to go to church, for example.

* Some young people are genetically predisposed to binge drinking, according to a new study. So researchers are developing a strategy that would include giving kids prone to heavy drinking a drug that mutes the desire.

* The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) says kids are in danger of becoming substance abusers if they’re highly stressed, frequently bored, or have too much spending money. CASA chairman Joseph Califano Jr. says parents should treat their kids’ complaints of frequent boredom as a red flag, help them find alternate ways to relieve stress, and curtail the amount of money they give them.


* Students who go to schools that test them for illicit drug use are likelier to use drugs than students who don’t.

* Education programs aimed at reducing drinking among college students may actually encourage more drinking.

* The prevalent thinking among abuse-fighters in the last decade was that the best way to attack the problem is to cut off the supply through stepped-up enforcement against drug suppliers. But now those experts who believe this tactic works are in the minority. ‘everyone’ does it?”

Penn State Junior Dan Langlitz told Zernike, “It’s not something you feel guilty about doing. You don’t get the feeling it’s illegal because it’s so easy. They sell these things (MP3 players), the sites are there. Why is it illegal?”

The bottom line: Today’s teenagers have grown up on the Internet, and the Web teaches you that whatever you find there is free for the taking. In that sense, the Internet functions like a corral-all the cattle inside the corral are public property. You’re only a cattle rustler if you steal cows outside the corral.

* Nobody “owns” information-it’s a commodity owned by the collective. So many students have used the Internet to cut and paste information into their class assignments and papers that many colleges now require incoming freshmen to take a course that includes information on plagiarism. Nineteen-year-old Kristin Ebert told Zernike, “We think if it’s available, you can use it. It’s another resource.”

* They’ve been raised in a sea of entitlements, where deprivation is almost unthinkable. In the past, kids caught stealing felt guilty as sin. Among their catalog of excuses, you never would’ve heard something like, “Because I can’t afford this CD, I’m entitled to have it for free.” Over and over, kids say they’re offended about the record industry’s lawsuits against file-sharers. They fundamentally question the right of big-bucks artists and labels to charge for their products. The most affluent society in the history of the world has taught them they should have what they want-now. And the Internet is their trusted enabler.

endangered species: the 15-passenger van

After three years of hand-wringing over a growing litany of safety concerns, the National Transportation Safety Board now says a youth ministry workhorse-the 15-passenger van-is so prone to rollovers that drivers should be required to go through special training. The unspoken but underlying message is that the vans, when full of people, can be deathtraps.

Terry Butler, a VP at Carpenter Bus Sales, told a Baptist Press reporter that the vans were “never really designed to be passenger vehicles. They were cargo vehicles.” He says the vans behave “very differently” when they’re loaded with people but are popular because they’re much cheaper than the alternative. But that alternative-the commercial bus-offers a big upside for youth leaders. They’re safer, more comfortable, easier to access, get decent gas mileage, and often have overhead reading lights and luggage racks.

truths and lies about young people

The generation gap is nothing compared to the “truth gap”-that is, the difference between adult perceptions of young people and, well, reality. “Contrary to what many people may think,” says Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, “the nation’s children are faring better in many respects than they have in previous years.”


*Two-thirds of adults think the number of teenagers who commit violent crimes is increasing.

*The majority of adults think four out of 10 kids live in single-parent homes, and the number is increasing.

*Three-quarters of adults think teen birth rates are increasing, or at least staying constant.

*Almost three-quarters of adults believe drugs and alcohol are major problems among teenagers.

*The majority of adults say lack of school safety is a key problem in our culture.


* Crimes committed by teenagers are at their lowest level in 25 years.

* Only a quarter of all children live in single-parent families, and the percentage has stayed flat for several years.

* The birth rate for teenagers has declined substantially, and continuously, since 1991.

* The number of “heavy-drinking” and drug-abusing teenagers declined from 2001 to 2002, and the number of teenagers who smoke dropped to the lowest rate since researchers starting collecting data on teen smoking in 1975.

* Scott Poland, director of pyschological services for a Houston school district, says, “School is still the safest place for kids, safer than the streets or their own homes.”

Not-So-Bad Families

Compared to their older Gen X brothers and sisters, nothing is more strikingly different about Millennial kids (high schoolers and below) than their family-friendly attitudes.

According to the Horatio Alger Association’s annual “The State of Our Nation’s Youth” survey, the huge majority of today’s high schoolers say they:

* get along very well or extremely well with their parents;

* would rather spend extra time with their families than with friends, playing sports, or anything else;

* have few “serious disputes” with their parents-their most common arguments have to do with cleaning their rooms; and

* put family members at the top of their list of role models, over celebrities and athletes.

This is good news on many fronts. More and more studies show that parents’ positive influence has a profound impact on their kids’ behavior. For example, a report by the National Study of Youth and Religion finds that parents who frequently attend church and place a great deal of importance on their faith can protect their kids from “serious delinquency.” Also, a separate report by the study team says that “religiously involved” families get along better than families that are not religiously active.

Copyright Group Publishing, Inc. Nov/Dec 2003

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