FYI

A Sticky Faith Invitation From Fuller President Mark Labberton

Sep 29, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

 

Did you know that Fuller’s President, Mark Labberton, used to be a senior pastor? We sat down with Labberton and asked him to share some of his thoughts about Sticky Faith and especially our yearlong Cohort process.  As a pastor he wondered, How do we do the best job we can serving young people and families?” Calling for a renewal of intergenerational expressions of ministry, Labberton shares concern that youth ministry has been segmented from the congregation as a whole. He sees a great need for Sticky Faith in churches, and wishes that he had had access to our resources when he served as a senior pastor.

If you’re a pastor, have you ever felt as though the youth ministry was like an island drifting somewhere off the coast of the mainland congregation? Or if you’re in youth ministry, perhaps you’ve felt something similar. Our president recognizes that struggle. We get it, too.

Like Labberton, we see the faith development of young people as a congregational formation issue. The Sticky Faith Cohort process invites everyone across the whole community to engage in doing a better job in the ministry we share together among young people.

Through the Sticky Faith Cohort, we strive to inspire change within a church's context to bring lifelong faith to teens. Each year we gather a community of leaders to walk through that process together, and want to invite you to join us. Through the cohort, we give you the resources to create a Sticky Faith culture through a customized breakthrough plan, personalized coaching, research-based webinars, and our two in-person summit gatherings in Pasadena, CA.

Commit by October 1st to save $500 on your total cost.  ONLY TWO DAYS REMAIN FOR EARLY REGISTRATION. Confirm your spot by emailing Brian Nelson at bnelson@fuller.edu.

Also join Kara Powell and Brad Griffin on a conference call October 16 at 9am PT to discuss any questions regarding the yearlong cohort process. Call in at: 

(619) 326-2730
FYI-General Access Code: 559575

World-class thinkers gather at FYI for 2nd phase of new research project

Sep 24, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

It’s no secret that we love research at FYI.

It’s the way we live out our mission of equipping young people with the lifelong faith they need: by leveraging research into resources you can use in your own ministry context.

So this week we’re salivating a bit as we launch into a three-day research summit with some incredible thinkers and ministry leaders from around the country. We’re in Stage Two of a three-phase project we announced last fall called “Churches Engaging Young People.” As we slog through mounds of data (hundreds of surveys and interviews from all kinds of interesting churches), these thinkers will help us continue to interpret our findings and hone our process as we carry the project forward.

Here’s a brief overview of the project from last year’s press release:

Fuller’s “Churches Engaging Young People Project” will study exemplary churches nationwide that have been identified for their thriving ministries with young people ages fifteen through twenty-nine. The primary goal of this research is that other churches can learn, contextually apply best practices, and become more effective in their ministries to young people…

Citing recent studies that indicate that as many as half of formerly churched young people disengage from God and the church after high school, [Kara] Powell announced that the aim of the project is to “empower entire congregations with an approach that incorporates extensive studies of church practices that engage youth.”

“We are so grateful for the generous support from our grantors to conduct this research and meet an important need,” she added.

The study will take place in three stages, beginning with a survey of approximately 200 nominated churches (representing Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations) that have perceived effectiveness in their engagement of young people, ages fifteen through twenty-nine years old. Stage two will explore in greater detail the characteristics and practices of forty churches that are especially noteworthy. Stage three will consist of site visits to ten of these churches for more analysis. Each stage of the project will include review, evaluation, and input of a national council of fifteen experts in the areas of youth ministry or church health.  FYI anticipates broad dissemination of the findings through various print, media, and training channels. 

We’re thick in the “brain work” right now. But what we’re most excited about is what will come out of this work to serve the church—and specifically, your local congregation. When we started the research behind Sticky Faith, we had no idea how God would use it to spark a movement in churches around the globe. As we take a next important step with our current project, we do so with open hands to how God might work through it in new ways.

Would you pray with us this week? 

Show and Tell: Using Media to Co-Create with Young People

Sep 17, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by leeclarion.

In FYI’s recent interview with digital media expert danah boyd, she advised church leaders to “focus on creating media that teens can appropriate, remix, or otherwise engage in and see what clicks…Work with youth to co-create this stuff. That is the core of authenticity for them.”

Boyd’s suggestion seems easy enough, but it raises two important questions:

  1. Why is co-creating media “the core of authenticity” for young people?
     
  2. What are some ways that leaders can use collaborative media projects?

Why Co-Create?

In his 2006 book Convergence Culture, media scholar Henry Jenkins coined the term prosumers, which combines “producers” with “consumers” to describe the interactive way that many young people now interact with media. Rather than simply watching a movie or reading a book, today’s fans go a step further and produce their own content.

Young people use things they enjoy as a jumping-off point from which they create and share media like fan-fiction, music videos, animated .gif memes, and so on. Jenkins was primarily looking at entertainment and recreational uses of media, but many educators have also picked up on this prosumer mindset in recent years and are now using interactive media projects for educational purposes.

Several years ago I was part of a research team at the University of Denver that explored how this kind prosumer use of media might inform the way we conduct research on the spiritual and religious lives of teens. It is notoriously difficult to conduct good research with young people on those topics for a variety of reasons, so our team did a pilot study that incorporated media and technology into our methods to see how the results would compare to an interview-based approach.[1]

We asked the groups to help us produce something like a commercial for them: a five- to ten-minute video that they could share online with their friends at school and the adults in their congregation. Our research goal was to get a glimpse into how young people think about both media and their youth group experiences through the collaborative process of creating the video.

What we found as the project unfolded was that the young people we worked with were more eager and willing to talk about their groups as a collective, in the royal “we,” than they had been speaking about their own personal beliefs in one-on-one interviews. They also seemed more comfortable showing us what their groups were like, rather than telling us.

But what you don’t see in the finished videos are all the group “creative” meetings that were part of the process. These were often fascinating conversations to observe. At first it was easier for young people to point to the important moments they shared together than to articulate their significance. Our group production meetings became a space where they talked through and identified what they had felt was meaningful, and why. Creative decisions, like whether to juxtapose an image from a service project at a homeless shelter with an image of the communion table in their church’s sanctuary, became important moments of reflection on how the two were connected.

In a previous post we discussed how young people are now doing a lot of the ‘work’ of identity formation through digital media. Our storytelling project showed us how media-making projects encourage young people to think about their relationship with the church, and experiences with youth group, as part of their own individual identities.

It was also a very valuable experience because it allowed both leaders and young people to think about how they shared an identity together as a group. It provided an opportunity to think about and discuss sharing a collective identity—which is an important part of what church is all about. They determined what set them apart from other groups and traditions, defined their relationship within the church or synagogue they were a part of, and reflected on how their faith was perceived more broadly by our culture.

After the videos were completed, congregations showed them at youth services, posted them on YouTube, shared them at larger denominational meetings and conferences, and gave DVD copies to their graduating seniors as a memento.

How to Co-Create with young people

Our digital storytelling project is just one possible project your group might try. Here are more ideas for more on using digital storytelling in ministry.

Here are a few more ideas for ways your church or ministry can collaborate with young people on media projects:

  1. Produce fun promo videos for upcoming events and projects (for the whole church, not just youth group).
     
  2. Teach classes for older members on how to stay connected using digital technology and social media—including things like sharing photos, video chats, a Facebook “How To,” and explaining some of the most popular apps.
     
  3. Co-create a series of audio or video podcasts in which pastors answer young peoples’ questions about Christianity.
     
  4. Collaborate on presentations for holidays and church anniversaries in which young people interview older members about their experiences, and assist with digitally preserving archival materials like old bulletins, photos, and so on.
     
  5. Curate multimedia content such as videos, graphics, and playlists to accompany other content like sermons, lessons, and devotionals.
     
  6. Generate ideas for new ways to share prayer requests digitally.
     
  7. Give young people a leadership role promoting church events on social media, including raising awareness (and funds) for service projects and missions. 

What are some of the multimedia projects your group or congregations have collaborated on together?
 

Like reading about media and technology?


[1] Dierberg, J., Bamford, A., Clark, L.S., and Monserrate, R. (2009, October). ‘“We’re not just here to hang out’: Exploring collective identity in moderate and progressive youth groups.” Presented at Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Denver, CO. Two of the videos that were produced as part of the project may be viewed online here <http://vimeo.com/30320846> and here <http://vimeo.com/30316329>.

A Cell Phone Contract to Help Build Sticky Faith

Sep 15, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by sally anscombe.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This cell phone contract emerged from the research we conducted for chapter ten: “Home Sticky Home: Making Your House a Hub of Faith”.

Dan and Denise’s fourteen-year-old son has two cell phone contracts: one with his cell phone carrier and one with them. In order to clarify their family’s cell phone expectations and protocol, Dan and Denise printed the following guidelines and had their son sign them and post them in his room.

001  It is our phone. We bought it. We pay for it. We are loaning it to you. Aren’t we great?

002  We will always know the password.

003  If it rings, answer it. Say hello and use good manners. Never ignore a phone call if the screen reads, “Mom” or “Dad.”

004  Hand the phone to one of your parents before bed every night.

005  If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.

006  Put it away in public (for example, in church, in restaurants, in movie theaters, wherever you are with other people). You are not rude; do not allow your phone to change that.

007  Do not use your phone to lie to, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first.

008  Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

009  No porn. Nothing you wouldn’t want your mother to see.

010  Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh. Despite your intelligence, someday you might be tempted to do this. It is risky and could ruin your life.

011  Take pictures, but don’t forget to live your experiences. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk.

012  Leave your phone home sometimes and be okay with that decision. Learn to live without it.

013  Download music that is new or classic or different from what your peers listen to. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.

014  Play a game with words or puzzles or brainteasers every now and then.

015  You will mess up. We will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We will always be learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.

What other ideas do you have for cell phone agreements with your kids? What types of limits have you set on kids’ use of technology to help strengthen your relationships with them?

Reggie Joiner FREE WEBCAST

Sep 15, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

Join us and Reggie Joiner, CEO and Founder of ReThink Group, for a FREE LIVE WEBCAST on how leaders can best equip parents to build a Sticky Faith Family. We will be live TODAY September 16 at 9:30am PT.

Watch live:
 


While you wait:

Read our latest blog post on developing a cell phone contract.
Look into joining our 2015 Sticky Faith Cohort.
Check out our latest resource The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family: Over 100 Practical and Tested Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Kids.

 Watch. iWhat?

Sep 13, 2014 Art Bamford

On Tuesday, Apple unveiled a bevy of new products, the most notable of which was their new Apple Watch. As CEO Tim Cook explained to his drooling audience, "What we didn't do was take the iPhone and shrink the interface and strap it on your wrist.” The watch, Cook promised, will be an all-new gadget to fiddle with (alongside the rest).

It remains to be seen how well the watch will play with consumers, but in the mean time (pun intended) the buzz has been about how this is a big step for Apple into the world of “wearable tech.” In recent years designers have focused on integrating devices into our clothes and accessories so they can be worn rather than carried.

Apple’s foray into wearable tech points to a broader cultural shift as well. Technology has slowly crept into the territory of fashion and style, rather than simply focusing on utility and functionality. We have come to perceive carrying, and now wearing the gadget du jour as if it were a trendy pair of jeans, hairstyle, or designer outfit. (And I blame Zack Morris for it—continue on to the end of this post for a sidebar on why!)

Conversations about whether or when young people can have a new device still seem to focus on usefulness and entertainment demand, but increasingly it is becoming much more a question of fashion.

Young people may appeal to their parents’ pragmatism, but really they just want to fit in. Now it appears that the Apple Watch will push conversations about buying back-to-school clothes even further towards whether or not to allow young people to start using the latest piece of technology.  

As parents and youth leaders engage in conversations about the Apple Watch and other wearable tech in the days ahead, here are a few points to keep in mind:  

1. Ask questions about how it actually looks, rather than how well it might function. Critics are already dismissing the Apple Watch, and other wearables like Google’s Glass eyewear, for being useful as tech but ugly as fashion. Appeal to a young person’s sense of style.

2. The era in which owning the latest high-tech device is equated with coolness may be ending. A lot of responses to the Apple Watch were equal parts excitement over the technology and weariness about using it. At some point consumers may echo that sentiment with their wallets and decide they have as many devices as they want or need. Ask teens where they think we are on the threshold of “too much tech.” 

3. Encourage young people to think about the ramifications of being literally connected to a device rather than figuratively. Wearing a “regular” watch ties us to a particular way of relating to time. Wearing a mini-computer links us to much more connectivity with the world. Teens initially adopted cell phones without much concern that it would be an invasive means of surveillance for parents. Use the Apple Watch topic as an excuse to affirm that you trust the young people in your life and do not want them to feel like you are constantly monitoring them.

4. Think about watches as meaningful objects apart from any impressive technological enhancements. Before phones became the standard timekeeping device, watches often marked a rite of passage from childhood to adolescence, and then into adulthood. Consider giving a teen their own watch as a gift marking the fact that they have reached a certain maturity level.

5. Physical boundaries help to reinforce digital ones. Wearable tech is most alarming because it seeks to collapse the boundaries between us and technology even further. We encourage families to consider developing a family covenant or contract to establish healthy media and technology boundaries. Incorporating wearable tech into these agreements could be a difficult hurdle if these products take off.

Although the Apple Watch does not hit the market until 2015, if the teenagers around you are talking about this new release, it’s a good time to talk with them about thoughtful responses.

“I Blame Zack Morris”  

That’s right, a character from the iconic 1990s teen TV series Saved By the Bell.

If you look back through pop culture history, most characters who used what were considered at the time to be the most high-tech gadgets were almost always geeky outsiders. The 1985 film Revenge of the Nerds is a perfect example—nerds exact revenge on their “Jock” tormentors using then-cutting-edge gizmos like synthesizers and LED lights.

In 1989 young people started seeing Zack Morris, the popular jock-looking teen, making calls on a delightfully clunky Motorola DynaTac mobile phone.[1] What most teens didn’t realize at the time was that the phone would have cost Zack’s parents $4,000.

As cell phones became more affordable, a lot of parents recognized that it would be wise to give their newly licensed teens a way to call home in case of emergency. Rather than shrug off the high-tech brick that would tether them to mom and dad, most teens gladly accepted the new device. The logic was simple: Zack Morris has one of these! Many teens might have fought back against lugging around those early, geeky looking cell phones if Zack hadn’t made them seem cool. That is why I blame Zack Morris for turning technology into a fashion accessory!

 

[1] If you’re unfamiliar with Zack’s legendary cell there is a site devoted to:  http://zackmorriscellphone.com/

Less is More: Setting boundaries for ourselves with digital media

Sep 11, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo via Creative Commons Flickr.

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 reviewing a lot of the existing commentary about the overuse or addiction to digital technology, I have noticed a trend. A number of ministry resources recommend retreats without digital devices. This is a good idea. Retreats without our devices help by calling attention to just how over-connected we are to digital technology in our everyday lives.

However, this does not really address the need to set healthy boundaries apart from retreats. With any other type of bad habit or addiction, you can see the flaw in the logic pretty easily: Go spend an occasional weekend without your vice of choice and then return home to it again. We accept our over-attachment to technology as an inevitable part of contemporary life.

It is not.

There is a great deal of concern over how much young people use their digital devices, but little recognition that they mirror the behaviors they see in adults. Their reasons for wanting to use technology may differ—they primarily use it for socializing, playing, exploring interests—but their overuse and failure to recognize that they should turn off their devices from time to time primarily comes from an example set by adults.[1]

Below is a list of a few possible strategies for expanding our repertoire of routine practices that model technological boundaries well. You probably shouldn’t try to adopt everything on this list, but think about how you might implement a few practices that might make your boundaries more obvious and apparent to the young people in your life.

  1. Set designated places where you keep, and put away, various devices. Setting physical boundaries helps reinforce digital ones.
  2. Turn off all your devices before you go to bed and, if you’re a youth leader, occasionally post something that indicates that you are doing so. “Had a great time hanging out with you all today! Shutting everything down for the night. Sweet dreams, Internet. See you and your cats tomorrow.”
     
  3. Bring a camera rather than a smartphone to take photos during events. Post the photos afterwards rather than during. 
     
  4. Here’s a great one from Kara Powell: have everyone set their phones in the middle of the table at the start of a meal. The first person to reach for their phone has to pay for everyone else. (You may need to adapt that consequence for young people).
     
  5. Shut your phone off when you attend church on Sunday unless there is a reason directly relating to the service for you to keep it on (e.g. taking notes, texting prayer requests). I will confess that I leave mine in the car on Sundays so I will not be tempted to look at it.
     
  6. Set up separate email accounts for work and personal correspondence so that while you are out of the office you are totally out of the office. One member of FYI’s team said she uses two different email providers to make the experience of checking each account feel more distinct and separate.
     
  7. If you refrain from texting and social media as part of your weekly Sabbath, see if a friend will babysit your phone and reply to the messages that you do receive. “This is Art, Brad is celebrating the Sabbath today and left his phone at the office. He’ll get back to you tomorrow.” This also conveys a lot of trust, and implies that you don’t have anything on your phone you would be embarrassed about a friend or co-worker seeing.
     
  8. When you set your phone down during a conversation or when you’re home, be intentional about placing it face down so that you can’t see any notifications as they come in and are less prone to glance at it.
     
  9. Create a “no tech during meals” at home rule that both kids and adults regularly follow so you can practice face-to-face conversation. If it’s too much to make this a standard rule, start with one meal per week. Model for your kids that pretty much any call, text, or post can wait until dinner is done.
     
  10. If you have a hobby that doesn’t involve tech, turn your phone off before you start. If you feel like you need to explain later, you can say, “I turned my phone off to practice guitar for a while.” Doing this without apologizing can help create a new culture among your connections that allows space to be digitally disconnected at times.
     
  11. We have previously encouraged not allowing digital technology in a young person’s bedroom—the same applies for adults.
     
  12. There are a number of apps available that can help you with setting limits on where and for how long you spend time online. Most of these apps are tagged “productivity”—start your search there and see what best fits your needs.  

The important thing to remember is that these practices can easily go unnoticed. Make sure you periodically call attention to what you do so that the kids in your home or young people in your ministry will recognize your boundaries. Hopefully they will be inspired to integrate similar practices.

What are some of your best boundary-setting practices? Let us know in the comments section below. 

[Special thanks to the FYI team for their contributions to the list above!]

Want more articles on media and tech?

 

[1] Golden, A. G. (2013). The Structuration of Information and Communication Technologies and Work–Life Interrelationships: Shared Organizational and Family Rules and Resources and Implications for Work in a High-Technology Organization. Communication Monographs, 80(1), 101-123.

 

 

Parents’ Smartphones: Sticky Faith Builder or Breaker?

Sep 09, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Wei-Feng Xue.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This research finding from our interviews with 50 amazing parents comes from chapter ten: “Home Sticky Home: Making Your House a Hub of Faith”.

One of the most dominant themes in our fifty parents’ descriptions of their homes is that they limit their kids’ use of technology.

These boundaries are needed because of the way young people today are marinated in media. Let’s consider together a generation whose lives are heavily flavored by technology:

• Fifty-eight percent of this generation possess a desktop computer.

• Sixty-one percent own a laptop.

• Eighteen percent use a tablet or e-reader.

But the real king of all technology is the device in their pocket. Almost 90 percent of this generation carry a cell phone.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (June 28, 2012), http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2012/A-Closer-Look-at-Gadget-Ownership.aspx.]]

When asked to describe their cell phone in one word, this generation answered, “Awesome,” “Great,” “Good,” “Love,” “Excellent,” “Useful,” and “Convenient.”[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (July 11, 2011), http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2011/Smartphones.aspx.]]

You might be thinking that some of those words don’t sound very adolescent. Especially the words useful and convenient. That’s because the generation I’m describing isn’t teenagers. It’s adults.

Are young people avid users of technology? You bet. But the data suggests that while teenagers may be digital natives, we adults are fast-adapting digital immigrants. Before we judge teenagers for their quick-texting thumbs and seemingly permanent earbuds, we adults need to put down our smartphones and think about our own media consumption.

Eighty-three percent of young people are involved in social networking. So are 77 percent of their parents.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (August 5, 2013), http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx.]]

Among all US household types, the traditional nuclear family with two parents and children under eighteen is more likely than other household types—such as single adults or couples without children—to have cell phones and use the internet.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (October 19, 2008), http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Families.aspx.]]

Often parents use this technology to improve their relationships with their kids. After all, texting can help parents stay in touch with their children throughout the day. Social media allows parents to take the pulse of their kids’ lifestyle choices and friendships.[[Bradley Howell, “Using Social Media to Strengthen Family Bonds,” FYI E-Journal (July 8, 2013), http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/using-social-media-to-strengthen-family-bonds.]]

But the parents we interviewed have recognized that the same technology that builds bridges can also build walls. Kids are so focused on sharing videos online with friends five miles away that they become numb to family members sitting five feet from them. Parents become immersed in their computers, barely noticing when their kids enter and leave the family room. Given how technology cuts across generations, many wise parents impose limits not only on their kids but also on themselves.

What sorts of limits do you set on your own technology so that it doesn’t sabotage family communication and connection?

Best Books That Have Shaped Me This Summer

Sep 05, 2014 Kara Powell

Photos by x_miinzi_21.

My favorite thing about summer is that I get more relaxed time with our kids.  No homework.  Fewer commitments.  Time traveling together as a family.

While that’s a constant summer after summer, one of the additional highlights of summer 2014 has been the amazing books I’ve read.  They have been so interesting and transformative that I find myself recommending them in meetings and over coffee.  So if you’re looking for some good reading this fall, I have a few suggestions.

Listed in no particular order (other than how they came to my mind) here are my favorites from the summer…

Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.  A great behind-the-curtain look at what has made Pixar great, which has helped me think more about the power of collaboration and honest feedback in our FYI team. 

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  I can’t remember a book that I’ve thought about more after I read it.  Brown’s distinction between “shame” (meaning feeling like I am bad) and “guilt” (meaning feeling like I do bad things) explains so much of my own struggles and insecurities.

Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley.  After two different friends recommended this to me in one day, I knew I had to read it.  Stanley speaks so honestly about the reality that we can’t do it all and we have to choose where (or who) we are going to cheat with our time.  For the two weeks after I read it, I kept telling myself, “I’m going to cheat work, not my kids.”

One Summer:  America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.  A fantastic exploration of summer of 1927 in America, and how Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, and a host of other lesser-known Americans shaped not only that summer, but the America that we know and experience today. 

Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzer.  After hearing Joseph Grenny at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit, I immediately ordered the book.  Thanks to this book, I’ve got a better grasp of how to create a safe environment for tough personal and professional conversations.  I’ll be re-reading this one multiple times.

I’m always looking for good books to read, so what other books have shaped your summer?  

NSFW: 4 Talking Points to Help You Discuss the Celebrity Nude Photo Leak With Teens

Sep 04, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by Sofia Higgins.

As you probably already have heard, last weekend a hacker uploaded nude and sexually explicit photos that were stolen from the online ‘cloud’ storage accounts of a number of actresses, models, and pro-athletes including Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games, X-Men), Victoria Justice (Victorious, iCarly), and Kate Upton (Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model).

The celebrity images immediately went viral, and have since been seen and shared by an unfathomable number of people. Although the young women whose photos were leaked have very capable PR teams doing their best to get the pictures removed, it is likely they will never fully go away.

In light of the spectacle surrounding this ordeal, we wanted to provide parents and youth leaders with a few things to keep in mind when this story comes up in conversations you have with young people in the days ahead.

1. Don’t dismiss this situation as trivial pop culture gossip.
The young women whose images were posted are extremely popular among teens. Researchers have found that young people often view these types of teen icons more like friends and role models than distant celebrities. Accordingly, there is an abundance of research that illustrates how young celebrities are able to impact their fans’ political views, fashion sense, and purchasing decisions.[1] In other words, this story will likely hit home with young people more than it might for adults. Many of them see these stars as their cool older friends.

2. Remember that you’re talking about real people, not just celebrities.
It is easy for this conversation to veer off and become one about paying the high price of fame in our culture. As Christians, we still believe that these young women were created by God in his own image, regardless of how much money their last film made at the box office or how they conduct their personal lives off-camera. Put the situation into your own perspective for the young people you talk to; imagine if this was your daughter, her best friend, your sister, or your significant other and their privacy had been violated this severely and publicly. How would you feel?

3. Keep in mind that this could happen to anyone.
These women were certainly targeted because of their fame, but if anything that means the rest of us are even more vulnerable. New York trial lawyer Martin Garbus was quoted in response to this situation, “Nothing is safe on the Internet, period. Everything on your iPhone, whether it be phone calls, message texts, pictures, is all available.”[2] Some law firms have even gone so far as to stop using email altogether for fear of unknowingly breaking the attorney-client privilege.[3]

Here’s an important lesson for all of us that this particular incident illustrates: everything you share digitally can find its way onto a stranger’s screen (if it hasn’t already).

4. Have the conversation about viewing these types of photos.

As we have said often in this series, online behavior tends to be very consistent with offline behavior. This story may raise anxieties about whether or not young people are taking and sharing photos of themselves that are similar to the ones that were leaked. Thankfully, the percentage of teens engaging in sexting has been steadily declining in recent years. In a 2014 study on teen sexting, just one percent of the young people interviewed said they had sent or received sexually explicit nude photos.[4] Teens are appreciating the risks involved, and more and more are making their own decision to avoid it altogether, thanks in part to news stories like this one. The odds are extremely low that the young people you know are taking, sending, or sharing images like the ones that were stolen from these celebrities.

If there is a conversation we need to be having more often with young people, it is about viewing pornographic images like the ones that were leaked.

In the limited amount of research that exists on how much young people are viewing online pornography, there are a few points worth considering as you engage in conversations about this scandal:

  • For young men, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that religiosity has been identified as one of the only factors that seems to significantly reduce the chances of a man (of any age) viewing online porn. The bad news is that an overwhelming majority of young men are nevertheless still viewing it.
  • As it relates to young women, only a very small percentage actually view porn, while the majority condemn it. However those who condemned porn described it as oppressive and demeaning towards women, purely in terms of social equality and not based on any religious beliefs or moral commitments.

We need to do a better job communicating to young men and women that viewing sexually explicit images like the ones that were posted ought to be uniquely, superlatively offensive to us as Christians. Yes, viewing these kinds of images is demeaning and oppressive towards women, but it also distorts the way both genders interact with one another, destroys relationships, and becomes a major stumbling block for many young men as they try to follow Jesus. Moreover, as it relates to this particular incident, the images were stolen and shared without the consent of the women appearing in them. Some commentators have argued that this is comparable to sexual assault.

This can be a really difficult conversation to have with young people, but this news story may provide a natural opportunity to talk about it. While there’s temptation to simply respond by saying, “those women never should have taken the pictures in the first place,” or “you better not look at them!” let’s instead make the most of this unfortunate situation as a teachable moment that puts our alarming lack of privacy online into perspective, and allows us to engage with the tough topic of online pornography.

As we are empathetic and forgiving towards the young women who were victimized, it will demonstrate our capacity to do so towards celebrities that many young people view as friends.

 

[1] See: Giles, D. C., & Maltby, J. (2004). The role of media figures in adolescent development: Relations between autonomy, attachment, and interest in celebrities. Personality and individual differences, 36(4), 813-822.; Jackson, D. J., & Darrow, T. I. (2005). The influence of celebrity endorsements on young adults’ political opinions. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 10(3), 80-98.; Dix, S., Phau, I., & Pougnet, S. (2010). “Bend it like Beckham”: the influence of sports celebrities on young adult consumers. Young Consumers: Insight and Ideas for Responsible Marketers, 11(1), 36-46.

[2] Dastin, J., Parks, M., Reaney, P., Kelsey, E. (Sept. 2, 2014). “Celebrity Photo Breach Heightens Online Security Warnings.” Reuters U.S. Retrived from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/02/us-entertainment-photos-idUSKBN0GX1XO20140902

[3] Singha, Alex. (Aug. 14, 2014). “How US Surveillance Threatens Attorney-Client Privilege.” Jurist Magazine. University of Pittsburgh. Retrived from: http://jurist.org/hotline/2014/08/alex-sinha-attorney-client-privilege.php

[4] Lounsbury, K., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2011). The true prevalence of “sexting”. Durham, NH, Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire. [This study helpfully points out that “sexting” has been defined in a wide variety of ways throughout the existing studies on this topic. The percentage cited above reflects the percentage of teens who have sent or received images comparable to those that were leaked. The percentage may be higher for less explicit, but still sexually provocative, text messages and photos.]