Culture includes everything beyond nature and our biological being. Our way of eating, working, sleeping, our clothes and fashions, our conversations, relationships, families and societies are all part of human culture. The study of youth culture must be seen as a part of studying culture.
Youth culture is the way adolescents live, and the norms, values, and practices they share. Culture is the shared symbolic systems, and processes of maintaining and transforming those systems. Youth culture differs from the culture of older generations.
It is important to see youth culture as a social creation of adult society and to understand its development since the Industrial Revolution—and especially in the middle of the twentieth century with the extension of “youth” through universal secondary and further education.
We should also note the relationship of youth culture and popular culture. Popular culture’s increasing significance in the twentieth century paralleled, to some extent, the growing isolation, sophistication, and power of youth culture—and its youth market. Youth with their growing economic power, were both influenced by, and in turn influenced, the growing popular media.
Some academics insist we cannot speak of a youth culture, only of youth cultures (plural). However commonalities among global youth would seem to present us with a “both…and.” There is a global youth culture (closely aligned to changing and diversified pop culture) and also a wide diversity of youthful sub-cultures. We imply this when we speak of “globality,” both a globalization and a local variety of youthful styles. Both global pop culture and youthful subcultures are constantly changing.
Important to all of us is the fact that young people are discovering and working out their individual identities within their given cultures and chosen sub-cultures. They are influenced by what Uri Bronfenbrenner and many after him, refer to as the micro-systems (family, neighborhood, school, mass media and peers), larger and intermediate exo- and meso-systems (parents’ workplaces, teachers unions and such) and finally the macro-system of any society (its politics, economics, class systems and prejudices).
To be concerned about a young person, or class/group of youth, one must be interested in his or her family dynamics, their community (and perhaps church or temple), their school situation, athletics and possible part-time job, their digital life on screens and social networking, and their additional social life and “hanging out.” All this is “their culture.” And beyond family, ethnicity, gender issues, and socio-economic situations, world and local events, are powerful ways culture affects youth. Because dominant cultures, and especially youthful subcultures, are changing all the time, no one person can be an expert on it all.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Does this overview point you to some salient issues around the complex topic of youth culture? Has it confused you, and if so what are your questions or criticism? What one point can you take from this article?
Do you agree that anyone who would teach or help a young person needs to understand his or her culture (and subculture)?
How do you understand the nature of culture and subcultures, and how do you define or describe them?
When immigrants come into a different dominant culture, what tends to happen? What helps, and what hinders, cultural adjustment? How does this similarly apply to youth culture?
When two subcultures face off around a school, what dynamics do you see operating? What might calm down particular tensions?
When a minority culture enters a dominant culture, three different things may occur: assimilation, conflict, or accommodation. Which of these have you experienced and/or observed?
We have defined culture as all things of human origin. Do you see anything beyond nature and human thought and activity, anything divine or supernatural?
Because a young person must work out her identity in cultural contexts, we who care and are responsible for healthy growth need to interpret and understand culture and the youth culture.
Because our world and nations are racked by cultural tensions and conflict, we need to respond as peacemakers with some cultural understanding.
Because matters of culture and of youth culture are so complex, we need to collaborate among ourselves as observers as well as to partner with youth themselves as investigators of culture. [CYS is meant to be a resource for such exploration and discussion.]