Free Live Sticky Faith Webcast with Kara Powell and Brad Griffin

Aug 20, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

Kara Powell and Brad Griffin had the opportunity to share about the Fuller Youth Institute's newest resource, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. Check out the interview with the Youth Specialities team below. 

Want more?

  1. Check out our exlucsive interview with danah boyd, leading researcher at Microsoft.
  2. Find out more about the Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family and download a free chapter.
  3. Sign up for our free monthly resources.

What Every Woman and Girl Needs to Know About Models

Aug 19, 2014 Kara Powell

I have yet to meet a female over about age 13 (and often it’s more like about age 10) who hasn’t looked at pictures of women in advertisements or other media and thought, “I wish I looked like that.”

But there is a secret behind those images. One that all females need to know. It’s a freeing message that we need to share with the women and girls we care about.

In real life, those female models don’t even look like their pictures.

Want proof? Check out these “before” and “after” shots of some celebrity women who have been photoshopped, including Madonna, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum. (Warning: A few pictures feature scantily clad women.)

The contrast is stunning.

Faith Hill’s arms instantly become thinner. Cameron Diaz magically gains a perfectly flat belly. Every single woman’s skin is more golden and less blotchy. Wrinkles and laugh lines disappear.

When I see these types of pictures, I feel two emotions: anger and determination. Anger that females are held captive to unrealistic images of the female body. Determination to share the message that the models and actresses who can make us feel insecure don’t even look like their pictures.

These most recent pictures are just one stream in a river of online resources that shed light on the problem of unrealistic images, as well as how we can respond. This 3 minute Dove video about selfies raises some great insights about the real meaning of beauty. And here’s insight into Seventeen’s Body Peace Treaty, in which the magazine has pledged not to change girls’ bodies or face shapes.

So will you join us at the Fuller Youth Institute in our determination to share the message that the media’s portrayal of “beauty” is often unrealistic? If your answer is yes, here’s what you can do:

  1. Show these pictures to young people you know – especially females. Ask them to identify the differences in the “before Photoshop” and “after Photoshop” images. When I did this last night with my 11 year-old daughter, she noticed more discrepancies than I did.
  2. Talk with young people about how they feel when they see these pictures. What about these pictures makes them sad? Angry? Glad? 
  3. Decide the messages you collectively want to remember when you see ads that make you feel inferior. When I was a high school student, I remember my youth pastor, Mike DeVito, saying that “God doesn’t make anything less than a perfect ten.” I probably told myself that mantra over 100 times when I would feel insecure and it filled me with confidence and courage.
  4. Beware of the messages you are (unknowingly) sending about physical beauty. Parents, do you only compliment your children’s appearance when they are well-scrubbed and well-dressed? How do you talk about your own body’s curves and “flaws”? Leaders, do you tend to shower kids who promote their appearance with more attention and positive affirmation? 

What else do you do to help females recognize the unrealistic images of beauty in media, and embrace their own inner beauty?    

How the Post Office Can Help Build Sticky Faith

Aug 13, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Jasmine Fitzwilliam.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story from my own experience in college is described in chapter 12: “Sticky Transitions: Helping Kids Leave Home with a Faith of Their Own.”

The two credit card applications I expected. The handwritten letter was a surprise.

It was my first day on campus as a college freshman. With the help of my parents and two RAs, all of my belongings had been carried from my Toyota to my dorm room that morning. I had unpacked my clothes, plugged in my Macintosh computer (a light-grey tower about the size of three cereal boxes), spread out my new blue and white bedspread, and strategically placed my Bible on a visible but not too obvious shelf above my desk.

About the time I was wondering what to do next, my roommate walked in. I immediately liked Tammy. Not only was she cheerful and friendly, but she was also a Christian (a rarity at my college) who was taller than me (I’m six feet tall, so that’s even more of a rarity). A few other freshmen on our floor swung by our room and asked us if we wanted to walk a few blocks with them to check our PO boxes. Not having anything pressing to do and wanting to get to know our floormates, Tammy and I agreed.

Upon opening my PO box, I immediately discarded the two credit card brochures. My mom had warned me about those.

As I chucked the applications, I was surprised to find a handwritten note. It was from Pamela, one of the high school small group leaders in my home church. The week before I had packed up my car for the drive to college, Pamela had asked my mom for my new school address. She wasn’t even my small group leader, but she knew enough about life at college that she wanted a cheerful greeting from home to be waiting for me.

I walked back to my dorm room and taped that note from Pamela to the right of my mirror. Her note stayed there until Christmas, a daily reminder that my home church was thinking about me and praying for me. I had not been forgotten.

In the twenty-five years since I opened that mailbox, technology has expanded the quantity and quality of pipes we can use to shower high school graduates with our care and concern. Our research team recently heard from Sheila, a mom who asked a number of her church friends to write to her son Matthew, who was heading to a college fifteen hundred miles from home. A week later Matthew posted on Facebook, “I’ve only been at college for a week, and I have already received countless letters, texts, and posts from my home church. Thank you all so much! Every letter has encouraged me to keep my faith strong. With all the ‘options’ out there at college, it’s comforting to know that I have a church family back home supporting me and my beliefs. If you haven’t written to a college student yet, I encourage you to do so. It will make their day!

To Sheila’s delight, Matthew received letters from folks she hadn’t directly asked to write him. Upon hearing from others about her invitation, they had decided to pick up a pen to let Matthew know that while he was out of sight, he wasn’t out of mind.

How have you used mail to help build Sticky Faith in young people?

Spread the Word.

How Vacations Build Sticky Faith

Aug 11, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by .fulvio.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story about my family and research that emerged from our interviews with 50 amazing parents is from chapter nine: “Vacation!  Downtime Ways to Build Sticky Faith.”

I’ve lived with two different men for sixteen years each.

One is my husband. We have been married for sixteen years and are still going strong.

The other is my brother.

Matt is eighteen months younger than me, and we have always been close. We grew up sharing not only the same last name and parents but also the same sense of humor and commitment to our faith.

The week before Matt’s wedding, I handwrote a four-page letter listing highlights of our relationship.

Like when we played hours of Go Fish at a picnic table and I kept winning. My secret? His mirrored sunglasses allowed me to see his cards.

Or the “rap” (quotation marks definitely warranted), which we adapted from a TV show, that repeated over and over again, “We have some fun but we get the job done.” Even though we made up the song while we were in elementary school, almost every time we are together, we hum a few bars and chuckle.

Or sharing the back seat of the car, sometimes bickering with each other but more often playing games and serving as map readers (generally me) and sign readers (generally Matt) to help our mom as she was driving.

All three of these memories happened on family vacations. In fact, about 50 percent of the memories I included in Matt’s prewedding letter were from trips together.

Matt and I went to the same schools, were on the same swim team, were part of the same church, and had adjoining bedrooms fifty weeks per year. But half of my fondest memories are from the two weeks each year when we were on a family vacation.

Placing Priority on Time Away Together

By far, the most common theme in Sticky Faith parents’ descriptions of their vacations is that they simply did them. They made them a priority. Despite all that parents were juggling, they didn’t drop that ball.

In the midst of this nearly universal priority placed on family travel, there was great variety in what these trips were like. Some families drove to the next state; others flew to the next continent.

Some loved camping and sleeping under the stars; others loved resorts and sleeping under a down comforter.

Some enjoyed returning to the same location annually; others determined to head to a new destination every year.

Some wanted as much adventure and excitement as possible; others preferred decompressing by the pool, doing as little as possible.

Regardless of the size of the vacation budget, these Sticky Faith families invested days each year to be together, away from the normal hassles and pressures felt by adults and kids alike. As one dad described, “Whether we stay close or go far, our trips together build trust. This might sound strange, but it is almost like we buy back family intimacy on every vacation. The bonding that happens is worth every penny.”

How do vacations contribute to your family relationships and faith?

Spread the Word.


A 6-Word Phrase That Can Change Your Family’s Faith

Aug 06, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Gustavo Andrade.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story from my family kicks off chapter three: “Handling Mistakes: Showing Sticky Forgiveness”.

Perhaps your children have the same continuum of crying as ours.

On one end of the continuum is fake tears.

Next comes “I’m tired” crying.

Followed by “I think you won’t punish me if I cry” tears.

Then “I’m mad or sad or scared and need you” tears.

And finally “the world is ending and I can’t stop crying” waterworks.

One Tuesday morning, Krista’s tears pegged the last. Our then eight-year-old walked into our bedroom in full-blown, wet-faced panic.

Krista has always loved to read. Her nightstand is invariably covered with books. She also loves to have a glass of water at night. That morning, Krista learned the hard way that books and water don’t mix well.

“Mom, water was spilled on a book.” (I’m regularly struck by how our kids use the passive voice when they make mistakes. It wasn’t that Krista spilled the water; it was that the cup somehow mischievously decided to tip itself over and spill its contents.)

She managed to catch her breath in the midst of her tears. “It’s a library book. I don’t want to tell the school librarian what happened.”

I hugged my weeping daughter. Together we walked to our laundry room, spread the sopping book on towels, and aimed a hair dryer toward its soggy pages. I wasn’t sure that our paper patient would fully recover, but spreading the book over towels seemed to calm my daughter. By the time we jumped in our van and headed to school, Krista was back to her normal self.

Until we pulled into the school’s car line. As Nathan and Jessica grabbed their backpacks and slid out of our van, Krista panicked. “Mom, my stomach hurts. I can’t go to school.” More tears, this time of the “I’m scared and need you” variety.

Allowing Krista to stay in the car, I drove across the street and into the school’s parking lot. Unbuckling my seatbelt and turning to face her in the back seat, I wondered aloud, “Krista, since you didn’t mention your upset stomach until we got to school, perhaps what’s happening is you’re scared about the library book.”

I don’t have a medical degree, but I do know our daughter.

I continued, “Sometimes when I’m nervous about something, my stomach gets upset. Do you think that’s what’s happening?”

Nods from the back seat.

I make so many errors as a parent. I regularly say the wrong thing, or say the right things in the wrong tone of voice. But this was one of those times when the Holy Spirit helped me. I knew exactly what I needed to say to Krista.

It was six words. Six words that I now share with every young person I can. Six words that I hope become a mantra in your family, as they have in ours.

The six words I told Krista are, “Jesus is bigger than any mistake.”

I added, “Krista, if Jesus can’t handle a wet library book, we need a new Jesus. But Jesus can handle that. He can handle everything you feel, and all your mistakes and flaws.”

The same is true in your family.

If Jesus can’t handle your kid’s partying, we need a new Jesus.

If Jesus can’t handle your kid’s rebellion, we need a new Jesus.

But Jesus can handle it. He is our Savior because he can handle our sins and struggles, and so much more.

Mom, Dad, Stepmom, Stepdad, Grandma, or Grandpa, please know this: Jesus is bigger than your mistakes too. On those days when you’ve failed to be the parent or grandparent you want to be, may this truth about Jesus help you learn from the past but not be imprisoned by it.

How do you try to show children and teenagers that Jesus is bigger than any mistake?

Spread the Word.


The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family is here!

Aug 04, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

We are thrilled to announce our latest family resource!



Parenting is like riding a bike down a water slide.

Exciting in theory, difficult in reality.

We’re constantly improvising. Guessing. Hoping what we’re doing is best.

That’s why we are so excited to announce our newest resource: The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family.

Building on years of research about nurturing long-term faith in kids, it’s a resource you can use right now in your family. In every chapter of this book, you’ll get a front-row seat to research-derived findings that can help you develop lasting faith as a family.


Need something you can use today?

Get a FREE chapter of the book

when you sign up for our free monthly Family Update below!



And here’s something else you can use…


If you order a copy of the Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by August 15, you will be entered into a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card. Who couldn’t use a little extra back-to-school cash to make it through the shopping rush? Just forward your confirmation of purchase email or scan and email a printed receipt to by August 15.

All winners will be notified by email after the drawing.

So in the midst of buying new backpacks and notebooks, we hope and pray that this guide will be something you can use to point you and your family toward Christ this fall and in the years to come.

Your biggest fans,

and the FYI team

#stickyfaithfamily Spread the Word.

Contest rules:

  • No purchase necessary.
  • Anyone currently a permanent resident of the United States of America is eligible to participate in the contest.
  • Contest opens 12:00am PDT August 5, 2014 and closes 12:00am PDT August 16, 2014.
  • Contest sponsored by the Fuller Youth Institute.
  • Prizes are $100 Amazon gift cards redeemable at
  • Prizes will be awarded by random selection by a Fuller Youth Institute staff member.
  • Contest winner will be notified on August 16 and will be notified via email.

You Belong Here: Two new insights from education research

Jul 29, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

Photo by Marvett Smith.

The good news about education research these days is that there are new voices exploring not only how kids learn, but why they do or don’t succeed, and what other outcomes are connected with education. I think Paul Tough is doing some of the most fascinating work in this area as a research journalist beating down the doors of education innovators and researchers around the country (check out How Children Succeed for a surprising read on what matters and what doesn’t).

My team member Irene Cho, who coordinates our Urban Youth Ministry Certificate program, recently sent me this lengthy Paul Tough article entitled “Who Gets to Graduate?” In it he explores not only the college dropout crisis, but also a couple of insights that I think matter for our ministry with teenagers beyond education.

As it turns out, college students who think they’re going to fail or drop out have a higher rate of doing so. That sounds pretty basic, but think about the things that happen to students that strip away their confidence: They show up on campus and don’t know a soul, immediately feeling lonely and left out. They struggle in a regular math class and get put in the remedial section. They fail one course and are told they might not be cut out for college. It’s no wonder over half of students who enter colleges in the U.S. fail to graduate within six years. And for minorities and first-generation college students, the statistics are much worse.

But here’s some news. Success at the high school and the college level—measured on a number of indicators from GPA to physical and emotional health—can be boosted by changing young people’s mindsets around two areas:

1. Belonging

2. Ability

First, reducing students’ anxieties about belonging can improve the transition to high school or college. Learning from older students that everyone feels alone at first, but over time most people find others with whom they fit in, changes outcomes in dramatic ways from students who don’t hear this message. And it does so for students who are at particularly high risk of failing or dropping out—those who come from low-income and/or minority families or are first-generation college students.

Second, students need to believe that growth and change are possible, both socially and in terms of intelligence or ability. Hearing a message that when someone is hard on you or excludes you, that’s probably a short-lived thing rather than a permanent trait in that person or in you, had a stabilizing effect on depression rates in high school freshmen (a time when depression typically soars). In another study, simply reading an article that practicing new ways of doing math can grow students’ brains in new ways even if they haven’t done well on math in the past cut the math drop-out rate in half for nearly 300 community college students.

What’s fascinating in this cluster of studies is that the interventions are always incredibly brief—from 25 to 45 minutes of reading an article or essay and sometimes watching a video from an older student—and yet yield surprisingly strong results. Researcher David Yeager suggests that what’s going on here isn’t actually changing students’ minds in 25 minutes. Rather, the interventions “are simply keeping them from overinterpreting discouraging events that might happen in the future. ‘We don’t prevent you from experiencing those bad things,’ Yeager explains. ‘Instead, we try to change the meaning of them, so that they don’t mean to you that things are never going to get better.’”

What does that mean for youth ministry?

There’s something powerful about this insight for those of us in ministry. We interact with students who face failures of all kinds—academically, socially, morally, relationally, spiritually—during their season in our care. I wonder what difference it might make in how they interpret those events if we set them up ahead of time to know that 1) change is always possible, and 2) you belong here. No matter what, no failure is too big for our community to handle. And most importantly, no failure is too big for God to handle. I suspect too few young people hear this message soon enough.

  • When you look around your ministry and think about who is transitioning in—this year’s freshmen or sixth graders, or new kids to town—who among them might be particularly at risk for feeling like they don’t belong?
  • When you look at your recent graduates who are heading off to college, who might experience those same fears, or fears that they don’t have what it takes to succeed?
  • The researchers emphasize that these studies on belonging and ability need to be contextualized to the specific audience for each intervention. In other words, there’s not a one-size-fits-all confidence-boosting message. So what are some ways you can communicate belonging and ability to your unique students, even in snapshot interactions?

You might find that you end up unleashing a young person’s potential through a simple message that they belong, no matter what.

VIA MEDIA Shoot to Kill: The Real Impact of Violent Video Games

Jul 28, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by pawpaw67.

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

This is the second of two posts in which we’re tackling a pair of questions that often arise in families when it comes to video games:

  1. How can parents get their kids to stop playing games so much and do something more “social?”
  2. Are violent video games as bad as they seem in the media?

Throughout this series so far, we have sought to offer a more balanced approach than so much of what circulates in the media about digital technology and young people. In that same vein, we began researching violent video games thinking they were pretty harmless, eager to find proof that would help alleviate a lot of parental anxiety. However, the more we dug into the research, the more we became convinced that the genre of games known as “first-person shooters” are indeed capable of producing negative effects on young people.[[“First-person shooters” are games in which the player views the action through the eyes of a protagonist whose primary task is to shoot various other characters while moving through the levels of the game.]]

In the previous post on video games we looked at the amount of time young people spend playing games, and the question of playing with family and friends as part of hanging out, versus playing recreationally. Where, how, and for how long a young person plays games are ultimately the most important considerations for parents and leaders. Gamers who play in public parts of the house with subtle but consistent parental supervision, for limited amounts of time, typically rate substantially lower on all the various negative effects researchers have investigated, regardless of the game content.

So how bad are violent games?

There is still a lot of disagreement among scholars as to just how much of an effect violent games have on players, partly because faster processors have made these games much more realistic in recent years. While ongoing research needs to be conducted, there is now enough evidence to comfortably say that playing first-person shooters can be a hindrance to the formation and wellbeing of today’s young people.

Researchers Lavinia McLean and Mark Griffiths published an article in 2013 titled “The psychological effects of videogames on young people: A review” in which the authors catalog and review all the existing data on the subject up to that point. Here is how they conclude their analysis:

“[One] cannot ignore the comprehensive reviews that indicate violent game play has a significant effect on aggressive behavior, affect, cognition and empathy across work conducted with over 130,000 participants…the effects have consistently been reported as significant findings with various age groups and in a number of different cultural settings.”[[McLean, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). The Psychological Effects of Video Games on Young People. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l'Educació i de l'Esport31(1).]]

In just one of the studies McLean and Griffiths reviewed, there is a pretty clear example of the desensitizing nature of these games. A 2009 study was conducted in which undergraduate students were asked to play violent or non-violent games for several hours. While they were playing, the researchers simulated a Good Samaritan scenario: there was a fight just a few feet from where the game players were seated in which one person assaulted the other then ran away, leaving the victim in need of assistance. The students who were playing violent games took 450% longer to respond to the person in need than those playing the non-violent games.

To be very clear, research does not condemn all action-adventure games. Many games carry a “Mature” rating, intended to be played by adults over 18 years old (who may be less affected by them). But in the case of first-person shooter games, particularly those with lifelike, photo-realistic graphics,[[Photorealistic graphics and a more realistic in-game environment have been shown to cause players to identify more strongly with their avatars, which heightens the effects described above.]] we need to be aware of their potential harm on children and teenagers. Young people might enjoy these games, but there are other equally enjoyable games on the market that are less likely to increase aggression or diminish empathy towards others.

Finally, it is important to address the claim we hear in the media that video games are a major cause or inspiration for many of the teen perpetrators of mass shootings. That claim has found very little support from social-scientific and psychological research, even among scholars who argue that games do produce negative effects.[[Strasburger, V. C., & Donnerstein, E. (2014). The New Media of Violent Video Games Yet Same Old Media Problems?. Clinical pediatrics53(8), 721-725.]] The perpetrators involved in those shootings exhibited substantial unrelated psychological pathologies and were entangled in other circumstantial factors that contributed to the tragedy. The appeal of violent games is that they give a sense of power and control to individuals who feel they lack those things in their real lives. The affinity for violent video games that school shooters have shared in common seems to have been a symptom, not a cause. 

What can we do about violent video games?

First, parents and leaders should learn and follow the ratings provided by videogame manufacturers, similar to the MPAA film rating system. The ratings are outlined in the image below, or you can click here for more in-depth descriptions.

Take note of the list of “Descriptors” as well—each game specifies why it falls under the given rating category. The first-person shooters described above will likely contain the descriptors “violence” or “intense violence” (as opposed to “fantasy violence” or “violent references”) in their rating. The phrase “first person shooter” will likely also be included somewhere on the package since this has become a popular genre. Retail stores are required by law to ask for ID from anyone attempting to purchase a rated ‘M’ game, and larger rental subscription services, like GameFly, allow parents to determine the rating-levels that their kids may rent.

On the positive side, access is a huge factor in curbing the potential negative effects of games. Research indicates that teens are not going to any great lengths to play games behind their parents’ backs—they are just playing the games they have available. A number of teens interviewed by researchers said they had received games intended for a mature audience from older family members as gifts on birthdays and holidays. Parents can help teens steer clear of potentially problematic games by purchasing others instead, and by encouraging friends and relatives who give games as gifts to do the same.

Concluding Thoughts from the Author

As I said at the beginning of this post, I was surprised by what I found on this topic. First, as someone who has studied and conducted research on media effects I was impressed by how consistently studies found substantial effects—such effects are not typically found with other media, especially screen media like televisions or computers. Second, I was shocked because, like a lot of adults who grew up playing Mario Kart and Street Fighter, I assumed that games were nothing but harmless fun. While reviewing this research, I cringed knowing that I have bought games for my own nephews without consulting the rating, even though I would never in a million years take them to a PG-13 or R rated film underage.

To be clear, the effects described above won’t appear all at once if your kids play for an hour at a friend’s house. But I do want to urge Christian parents and leaders to stop and think about whether you want to allow first-person shooter games into your home or church. Many Christians may be weary of hearing condemnations of media like this, especially after having heard similar warnings about everything from comic books to MTV to Harry Potter over the years. But research on violent games makes a compelling case that they produce pronounced negative effects on young people—and that case should be considered.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance
VIA MEDIA Part 5: Cheat Codes: A Quick Guide to Teens and Video Games


VIA MEDIA Cheat Codes: A Quick Guide to Teens and Video Games

Jul 24, 2014 Art Bamford

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

"Don’t you have anything better to do?"

If you’ve ever muttered that out loud or in your head toward a teenager slothing the day away on a gaming device, the next two posts in our VIA MEDIA series are for you. We will tackle a pair of questions that often arise in families when it comes to video games:

  1. How can parents get their kids to stop playing games so much and do something more “social?”  
  2. Are violent video games as bad as they seem in the media?

Given how many different varieties of gaming exist, it’s helpful to narrow the scope of what we’re trying to understand. Researchers Mizuko Ito and Matteo Bittanti have helpfully categorized types of digital gaming into three distinct modes: killing time, hanging out, and recreational.[[Ito, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., Cody, R., Herr-Stephenson, B., Horst, H. A., ... & Tripp, L. (2010). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. Digital media.]]

Killing time

“Killing time” refers to those quick games of Angry Birds or Candy Crush that people play when they have a few minutes to spare between activities. Using a small personal game or puzzle to fill moments like this is certainly nothing new. App games have replaced distractions like crossword puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, the Chia pets of yesterday. We might prefer that young people used these moments to have a conversation or collect their thoughts, but we have to humbly admit that adults are as bad, or worse, than young people when it comes to “checking their phones” in these moments.

Hanging out

Ito and Bittanti’s next category is probably what many of us envision as the “typical” teen mode of gaming—hanging out. Playing games with friends and family, online or offline, as a way to relax and escape the stresses of everyday life. Here too we see that video games are not an entirely new phenomenon, but have quickly eclipsed a number of other similar activities in popularity.

In this type of gaming, parents and youth leaders start to get concerned. There is a perception that games, even when teens are in the room together, are not social because players do not have meaningful conversations or make eye contact. There is some truth to this perception, but researchers also point to the value of gaming as a relaxing social outlet for teenagers. It does require more cognitive function and interaction than if that time was spent watching TV.

Recreational gaming

The key difference between hangout gaming and the third category, recreational gaming, has to do with the reason the game is being played. If a person (teenager or adult) specifically wants to play the game—with or without others—it is recreational. The game is no longer just filling the void of “nothing better to do.”

That can be a helpful distinction: if a person or group of people is looking for something to do and chooses to play video games, it is hanging out. If they specifically want to make time for playing video games, it is recreational.

That does not make recreational gaming inherently bad, it just means this type of play indicates that it has become a more intentional hobby. And hobbies become an important part of a young person’s identity.

In research interviews, a number of teen recreational gamers spoke about gaming as an alternative to other available extracurricular options, namely sports. The good news is that gaming is now pervasive enough that it brings some measure of the same social benefits young people find from other hobbies: practicing to master certain skills, feelings of achievement outside of the classroom, and respect from peers. Gamers are no longer seen as “freaks and geeks.”

Setting boundaries

What becomes important for recreational gamers is setting boundaries. With more structured hobbies like sports or music, adults typically don’t worry as much about limiting the amount of time spent practicing and playing. In contrast, it is important for parents to set limits on how long gamers will play, and to create opportunities and spaces for groups to play together.

Some amount of playing alone is also not inherently bad within limits. [Click here for a post about young people’s need for privacy, and here for info on what a healthy amount of entertainment screen time is]. But unlike activities with built-in limits (like game time or fatigue), gamers can play continuously for extended periods of time uninterrupted—and many do. Research has found that many young male gamers regularly play for exorbitant amounts of time. One study found that the average amount of time teens in the U.S. spent playing games was one hour and thirteen minutes per day, with thirteen percent of those who participated in the study reporting that they played for three or more hours per day.[[Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2013). Generation M2. Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010.]]

The type of gaming that happens with digital technology is continually evolving. What is becoming more apparent to those studying the phenomenon is that gaming can potentially be a healthy, positive recreational activity or hobby for young people who might not excel at the extracurricular activities their classmates prefer. Researchers have found that games can improve perceptual skills, visual attention, visuospatial cognition, and spatial skills, and can be “potentially powerful learn­ing tools because they support multi-sensory, active, and experiential and problem-based learning.[[McLean, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). See also: De Lisi, R., & Wolford, J. L., (2002). Improving children’s mental rotation accuracy with computer game playing. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 163, 272- 282.; Feng, J., Spence, L. & Pratt, J. (2007). Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition. Psychological Science, 18, 850-855.; Green, C.S. & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video games modify visual selective attention. Nature, 423, 534- 537.; Green, C.S. & Bavelier, D. (2006).Eunumeration versus multiple object tracking: The case of action video game players. Cognition, 101, 217-245.]]

The most current research suggests that parents just need to be sure boundaries are set in place to prevent potential problems like social isolation, lack of exercise, a loss of sleep, and so on. Thankfully, some game developers are already taking this into account and have started creating games where players do more than sit on the couch with a controller in hand, but must physically move in order to play the game.

Assess your Teens’ Gaming Habits

You might be wondering how your teenager’s habits compare with the norm, or what steps might help in setting boundaries. Here are a few points and ideas:

1. The most recent data suggests that teens in the U.S. spend an average of 1 hour and 13 minutes playing video games, three to four days per week (13.2 hours total per week).

2. The amount of time spent gaming peaks between the ages of 8 and 13, then tapers off for most young people.

3. Researchers exploring the phenomenon of gaming addiction have primarily been concerned with gaming when it becomes disruptive to other responsibilities such as homework and chores. If a young person begins skipping these other duties, it could be a sign that their gaming is becoming unhealthy.

4. Taking breaks while playing can be extremely helpful. Researchers have pointed out that gamers can fall into a “flow” state comparable to gambling when they play for long periods of time. Some games have been designed to break this flow with things like timed levels and narrative sequences; others cater to it with endlessly continuous action. Extended gaming sessions of an hour or more should only be allowed if short breaks are taken frequently throughout.

5. Game selection is crucial. For reasons like the one stated above and the issue of violence (addressed in our next post), which games young people have access to is important. Parents should keep track of the games their kids are playing the way they would films, books, and music.

6. The system can help. Most video game consoles and devices have built-in features that allow parents to limit how long their children can play, restrict accessing the internet using the system, and in some cases can even block games above a certain content rating (e.g. “T for Teen” or “M for Mature”). Click here for instructions on how to use these settings with some of the most popular systems.

Make Gaming a Family Activity

Gaming isn’t likely to go away in most families, so why not look for ways to healthily engage it together? Here are some ideas:

1. Talk with your kids about which games they like and why. Don’t be afraid to tell them which games you prefer and why as well.

2. Have them teach you how to play so you can enjoy gaming together.

3. Try to find games that align with young people’s other interests: comic books, sports, music, science, etc. This makes gaming seem like a secondary hobby rather than a primary one.

4. Look for games that promote cooperation, healthy competition, creative problem solving, and constructive themes.

5. Ask kids what they are thinking and feeling while you play together. Similarly, ask them about which characters they prefer to be in different games and why?

6. If you’re interested in using games as a resource for talking and thinking about theology and spirituality with your kids, check out Kevin Schut’s 2013 book Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

What games do you enjoy playing most with your kids? Share your recommendations with other parents and gamers in the comments below.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance

VIA MEDIA My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance

Jul 22, 2014 Art Bamford

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

In a scene from the film Jurassic Park, one of the scientists explains how the velociraptors have been systematically testing the electrified fence all the way around the perimeter of their captive environment. He points out that rather than running into the fence and shocking themselves repeatedly, the dinosaurs were clever enough to start tossing sticks at the high voltage fence instead.

This image of savvy velociraptors is not unlike one of the ways that young people use social media. Researchers have found that new technologies have become an important part of the process of identity formation that occurs during our adolescent years.[[Ito, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., Cody, R., Herr-Stephenson, B., Horst, H. A., ... & Tripp, L. (2010). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. Digital media.]] Digital technology has become a space where young people can “throw sticks” at the boundaries of their identity to see what kind of reaction they will get before they decide to break out beyond those boundaries completely.

It is important to begin by reminding ourselves what the process of identity formation is about. Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains this developmental stage as follows:

“During our teenage years, we begin to discover that there exists a world of different ideas, different cultures, different people. We experiment with the idea that we don’t have to limit our life’s course, our personalities, or our decisions to what we were taught by our parents, or to the way we were brought up…when we are young, and in search of our identity, we form bonds or social groups with people whom we want to be like, or whom we believe we have something in common with. As a way of externalizing the bond, we dress alike, share activities, and listen to the same music.”[[Levitin, D. J. (2011). This is your brain on music: Understanding a human obsession. Atlantic Books Ltd.]]

It used to be the case that you might start listening to heavy metal and try wearing all black to school, for example. If you received positive feedback from your peers, you would align yourself more with that identity; if you received negative feedback you would try something different. Goth? Zap. Try something else. Hippie? Zap. Try something else. Repeat as long as necessary. This experimentation was not all done in public, and there was not usually a permanent record of it (apart from an embarrassing photo or two).

Social media provide another space where identity experimentation can play out. However, researchers John Palfrey and Urs Glasser explain how this has changed in a distinct way thanks to digital technology: “One of the big differences between what Digital Natives are doing in creating and experimenting with their identities and in interacting with their peers online, and what their parents did as teens talking on the telephone, hanging out at the local mall, is that the information that today’s youth are placing into digital formats is easily accessed by anyone, including people whom they do not know.”[[Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2013). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. Basic Books. p. 30.]]

So why not just share it all?

Digital technology lets young people explore their options and receive feedback from their peers in a seemingly lower risk, less intimidating space. They can post a selfie wearing all black and gauge the response of friends and followers before actually choosing to spend an entire day at school dressed that way.

But this is where it becomes frustrating for parents and youth leaders. It can be terribly difficult to discern what is a stick being tossed at the high-voltage fence of identity boundaries as opposed to something intended as genuine.

A lot of conflict can come from adult supervision of teenage online sharing because young people feel like their privacy has been violated. This is because adolescents want, and need, some space to go about the “work” of their own identity formation among their peers without an adult hovering around over their shoulders. Both having privacy, and negotiating between how we present ourselves publicly and privately, are key parts of becoming an adult in our society.

What’s that you say?

Adding to this confusion, there is a process of encoding that young people have developed as a strategy for preserving their privacy in digital spaces, where it is never quite clear who is looking. Teens will use “inside joke” types of clues from face-to-face interactions in order to conceal messages within what they share digitally. That is why the things that young people share online often seem like nonsense, or another language to parents and leaders. Author and scholar dana boyd helpfully explains that: “Rather than finding privacy by controlling access to content, many teens are instead controlling access to meaning.”[[Boyd, D. (2014). It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press. p. 76]]

Young people very intuitively determine what, where, and how they share content and interact with peers digitally across various social media platforms. More often than not, they are intentionally being cryptic and speaking to a specific set of their friends. Researchers have generally found that teens do not expect their parents to understand what they are saying and sharing online—but also that young people often enjoy explaining it to adults! At their age, being consulted to explain something is a pretty rare occurrence.

It is really tough to respectfully and responsibly keep track of what young people are saying and sharing through social media. But remember that this is tough on them, too. They are trying to navigate through the difficult process of forming their own identities in uncharted waters, using the tools we have given them. It is important to allow some freedom for identity formation to be acted out through social media (after age 13), and recognize that it is often the laboratory where they explore different aspects of identity.

The best thing parents and youth leaders can do is to humbly ask for help translating the stuff we don’t understand. Young people may be willing and eager to teach us to speak—or at least to understand—their digital language better, and sometimes even to join in the conversation.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance