“Are you listening to me? Really listening?” – Jesus (Matt. 11:15, The Message)
Radioactive B!+@H, Suckan*t Sl*t, Boyish Sex Machine, NaughtyXXXAsh - porn stars or teens on MySpace?
“Why should I care so much for everyone else when no one gives a s!*# about me?” “y do guys … say that they like u but make u feel like s!*#?” “I will get you drunk and help you plot revenge against the sorry b@$!@&! who made you sad.” “Why is it that life sucks?” “my mother … i can’t stand her!”
Welcome to the world of teenagers online, in their own words. These are just a few of the Internet identities and comments generated by teens on MySpace as they wrestle with emotional conflicts, relationship dramas, family strife, sexuality, insecurities, and purpose — all the important stuff that too many adults never figure out either.
Take Ariel, for example, a girl I’ve known for nine years (name changed). Since I no longer attend her church, I’m less directly involved in her life than in the past, but we’ve been able to stay connected through the Internet. I may well know more about her now than I did when I was her youth pastor. The difference? In the two years since we had regular contact, she’s amplified her voice online for anyone who cares to hear it. Subjects that used to stay hidden she now freely discusses on her personal MySpace website. Apparently boys, not to mention difficult home relationships, “make [her] feel like S!*#,” and now she’s exploring bisexuality.
A more high profile case is 18-year-old James Dungy, the son of Indianapolis Colts head coach and respected family man (and Christian) Tony Dungy. Last December, James’ girlfriend found him dead in his college apartment. For weeks the public wondered how such a seemingly well-adjusted boy from a great family could commit suicide. Then an investigative journalist found his MySpace account, which contained troubling clues.
Electronic Media Intake. James and Ariel are not exceptional. According to BusinessWeek, Wired, Time and other news reports, 87% of young people 12-17 now use the Internet. Pervasive Internet access includes home PCs, game systems like PSPs, cell phones, PDAs, high-speed classroom computers and Wi-Fi libraries. On average, teens spend 6.5 hours a day watching TV, listening to music, playing video games, and socializing online. For nearly two of those hours, they ingest multiple media streams simultaneously, iPods blaring in their ears as they surf the web and plan dates via text messaging.
MySpace Media Outtake. The media they consume must be digested somewhere, and increasingly it gets deposited in personal websites hosted by online social networks like Xanga, MySpace, Sconex, and Friendster. For 1.5 hours a day, teens utilize free web space and user-friendly software on these sites to meet friends, watch music videos, gossip, share pictures and intimate details (or locker room boasts) about their hopes, disappointments, and fears.
Some websites generate so much traffic they become part of our vernacular, like “Google,” which is now a verb synonymous with online searching. What does that say about the influence of MySpace, the leading social network site, which has 2.5 times more traffic than Google?
Founded by a 20 something college student and sold in July 2005 to publishing scion Rupert Murdoch for a pittance — $580 million — the rise of MySpace is nothing short of a pop culture phenomenon. Membership quadrupled in 2005 to 40 million by December, and as of July 2006, skyrocketed further to nearly 100 million. In a December 2005 cover story, BusinessWeek called the millions with MySpace accounts the “MySpace Generation.”
With so many kids online, how should the church engage this growing, global population? Should we condescend to them or resent them or judge them or give up on them because they offend us? Or should we seek to understand them by first inhabiting TheirSpace, hear them, pray for them, forgive them, restore them, guide them, and love them? (And what does it say about us that so many kids feel the need to share intimacies online rather than to a trusted confidante? And how do we protect kids from predators feasting on public disclosures?)
John the gospel writer tells us that God almighty, maker of heaven and earth, “became flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood” — our space — in order to engage us (John 1:14, The Message). He was neither shocked by our sin nor offended by our lifestyle. What should that incarnation look like now that many of the most vulnerable members of our neighborhoods have moved online? These young people Christ invites us to love by saying: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40, NIV).
Like Ariel and John, millions of Jesus’ little brothers and sisters have carved their space on MySpace and beg those of us with ears to hear to hear them. They ask: “Are you listening to me? Really listening?” They are on their Big Brother’s mind. He’s listening. He cares. Do you?
- Jeremy Del Rio, Esq. advises churches, ministries, and community groups on strategic planning, youth culture, and community development. Visit him online or schedule a consultation at www.JeremyDelRio.com.