Q&A: Keeping Up With Youth Culture

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Photograph of a young woman watching television.

For Kelly Miller, getting hooked on “The Vampire Diaries,” a TV show about two vampire brothers in a small Virginia town, is a job hazard.

As the executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, Miller oversees Boise’s Center for Healthy Teen Relationships and the anti-dating-violence project Start Strong Idaho. To tailor their anti-dating violence messages to teens, she and her colleagues regularly (off the clock and on their own dime) go to teen-oriented movies, read young adult fiction, watch TV shows popular with young people, and tune their car radios to stations teens listen to.

Miller and her staff and the teens they work with go to movie openings, too, surveying teens there about the images they see in movies like the “Twilight” series and “The Hunger Games.”

We talked to Miller about how she and her staff keep abreast of trends, and why adults who work with youth should follow popular culture.

NCFY: How do you keep your finger on the pulse of popular culture?

Miller: You have to move at the speed of teens, and the only way we have found to do that is to be surrounded by teens. We have teen activists that are in our office almost five days a week. During the summer we have about 30 teen interns that work here in different shifts. Some are paid and some are unpaid, but it’s the young people that really help keep us tuned in to what’s popular. Some of them, their specific job is to keep us updated, almost on a weekly basis, on what’s popular in music and television and movies, what’s upcoming. Teens are the experts in that, and so that’s who we go to.

If something’s really getting a lot of young people talking about it, we immerse ourselves in it. So almost everybody here read the whole “Hunger Games” series--some of us in the course of a weekend because they were so exciting.

NCFY: What can grownups who work with young people gain by paying attention to their popular culture?

Miller: It’s such an opportunity for teachable moments. We encourage adults to sit down and watch television with teens, to go to movies, to read some of the same books. And not to judge them, because if you start to judge them, the young people will stop listening. Just have a real conversation. “What do you think? This I what I think a healthy relationship looks like, are you seeing it in this show? Are you seeing that in this movie?”

It’s so important that we have those conversations before young people start dating. We really need as a society to start to have much more honest, open conversations with young adolescents so they can learn the values and the characteristics of healthy relationships, they can learn the skills of negotiation and communication, and so they’re much more prepared to respond to the communal pressure that they’re feeling about being in a relationship and also understand what equality looks like in a relationship. So for us popular culture is an opportunity to engage in conversations that adults sometimes find to be awkward and difficult, and it opens the door.

More Information

Hunger Games survey results (PDF, 122KB)

Hunger Games lesson plan (PDF, 173KB)

Audio interview with Kelly Miller about the “Hunger Games” survey and lesson plan

NCFY's advice on using literature to prevent relationship violence

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