The Teenager is Dead

It will leave our churches non-plussed. It may perhaps put our youth departments on the dole queue. It will cause parents to breathe a sigh of relief. And yet this news just slipped quietly into our world through a minor column in a morning newspaper: The Teenager is Dead.

The ’50s and ’60s saw the rise of the youth culture. And following hard on this new phenomenon came its parasite—youth directed advertising. The advent of a new target group necessitated new strategies to relieve it of its pocket-money. But in 1988 the advertiser has declared the teenager to be dead.1

It seems that there is no longer a ‘youth culture’. This age group is now divided into multifarious segments, too diverse for any one advertising strategy.

What will our youth ministries do? How will we cope with our bereavement? Before the sad demise of the teenager, the strategy used to be simple. To market the gospel you simply needed a youth worker who would:

  • buy a pair of jeans
  • get the right haircut (or lack thereof)
  • hang out in the right places (usually on a beanbag)
  • begin ‘building bridges’ with youth

Youth workers had to ‘identify’ with the youth culture, in the hope that there would be a gospel harvest sometime in the future (usually after the youth worker’s retirement).

But what do we do when the thing we were supposed to identify with has been pronounced dead? Where will we build our bridges to?

Before we hang up our jeans in disgust, let us notice something else that slipped into the paper. It is quite evident to anyone who drinks at the local milkbar that our world still possesses young people in the age group formerly occupied by the late lamented ‘teenager’. And you know what? It may sound unbelievable, even heretical, but these ‘entities’ which have replaced the teenager don’t need us to build any bridges!

How do we reach such a shattering conclusion? This is the age group that doesn’t like beating around the bush. The Rock Music of the ’80s is increasingly passionate and message oriented. Artists such as Midnight Oil, Tracey Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, and John Cougar Mellencamp, have been described as “too committed to be subtle”.”2 Perhaps we Christians should be ‘too committed’ to bother with the subtleties of ‘bridge building’.

Added to this is the fact that this age group is already looking for what our message promises. People under 25 are the most likely group in our society to believe in life after death.”3 Don’t Christians believe in that too? And don’t we believe that Jesus is the one handing it out?

Thank goodness the teenager is dead! Now we can stop all that interminable one-step-behind-you-bridge-building stuff and get on with saying: “Hey, do you want to live forever? Jesus says you can.”

  1. Sydney Morning Herald, July, 1988
  2. Deborah Cameron, SMH, 9/7/88
  3. Saulwick Poll, SMH, 11/7/88

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