Two days after I received my high school diploma, I found myself standing at one of the main entrance/waiting areas of the airport in Austin, surrounded by people I didn’t know. I was beginning my first summer as a intern for Wild Week youth camp, a traveling teen evangelism camp that featured Ken Freeman, Paul Vick, Kacy Benson, and the worship music of Among Thorns. That summer, we were on the road for 11 weeks, we did eight camps in four states, and on average saw between 600-1200 kids per a week. It was a truly amazing experience for me, one that changed the way that I see Christ, believers, music, and churches (to the point at which I was trying to jump on tour with Among Thorns so I could stay on the road). Quickly into the trip, I noticed that the other interns were sending kids my way when they found out that bands like Marilyn Manson or Korn were making the music they loved, hoping that I could provide a safe alternative for them; and although I haven’t been able to stay in touch with any of the kids I talked to, I believe I was able to at least get them on the right track. I was even allowed to play music for the kids as they came into the worship area (it is an awesome thing to hear Souljahz at a volume that could bend your windows), and it was during this summer that I began to notice a key part of youth ministry that is too many times seen as secondary; music.
It has always seemed funny to me that while most people see music as JUST entertainment, they point to it very often as signs of very serious matters in their child’s life, like hanging out with the wrong crowd, bad language, and even sexuality (ex.”You didn’t act like this before you started listening to that crazy music!”). Listening to music that parents don’t understand is often a clue for those parents that rebellious behavior is on the way; or in most cases the music in their minds IS the rebellious behavior. The fact is that most kids use music as a symbol of their new found ability to choose and be independent; their taste in music, most times in opposition of their parents, is a way for them to quietly tell themselves that they are calling their own shots now
Note: while most teens will say that they wished their parents liked the music that they listen to, most kids would be mortified to come home and find their mom grooving to Kanye, or have their dad turn up Foo Fighters at full tilt while driving them to school.
It is during this time in kid’s lives that teens start to use music as more than just an entertainment choice, but start allowing the sound, feel, and ideals of the music to shape their personality. Music influences the way that they dress (or don’t), the friends that they will select, and the other activities that they take part of(skateboarding, art, sports).
Now, I don’t want you to hear that I am saying that music controls kids, or that it is somehow responsible for kids actions. Deviant behavior is not sparked by music, but sometimes is fueled by it. While I am not in support of artists such as Marilyn Manson or Eminem; to blame them for acts committed by some of their listeners is turning a blind eye to all the other factors in their lives that led up to the incidents. What I AM saying is that in most people’s lives, from the ages of eleven to around their early thirties; music is part of their identity. This is even more intense at younger ages, but during this time music is worn like a badge, a calling card for others to know their personalities.
The real problem is when the music that attracts young people espouses values that are inconsistent with their beliefs.
It is in this that I see many churches, youth workers and parents unknowingly missing the mark. To talk and understand a kid’s music tastes is very personal but very liberating for a teen with all these new ideas in their head. It is a way to reach them, to talk with out the pressure of small talk or the fear of having the kid tune you out, because there is rarely a time when a teen won’t want to tell you about what is playing on their IPOD. A light comes on behind people’s eyes when they get to talk and discuss their music, especially when they believe that they are talking to someone who is as interested in the subject as they are. As we engage the youth in our churches, know that this is the simplest way to start a relationship with them. On top of that, if we were able to appear to know as much about their music as they do or just listen to them about their music, then a lasting ease between leader and youth will remain.
This article is not meant to be received as criticism, because I am certain that were a lot of mistakes I made while doing youth work. What I am simply trying to say is that this element in kid’s lives is vastly important and cannot be ignored. The key to engaging is education; listen to the music your kids listen to, even if you hate it, do real research on the artists you think are dangerous or misleading to get the real story behind the headlines, and engage your youth about their musical tastes from a perspective of understanding and not criticism (this is where I have always failed the most).
We have been posting a lot on here trying to explain why we (The One21 music) are starting this business. This is why. When we are able to complete our main website, we intend to be a vital resource for you to understand this music and these artists.. We are bringing all of this music together in one place in hopes that you are able to discover and pass it along. We are hoping that for your kids, when they are trying to find that place in music that communicates their identity, that they and you, are able to find it through us.
That is our calling.
How big of a role do you think music has in people’s lives, especially in those of teens?