Youth Culture Window
The 16-year-old girl stepped out of the limo, careful to keep her dress from riding up any higher than it already rested on her upper thighs. Clasping her date’s hand, she stepped into the decorated school gym—an ocean theme.
The music pulsated so loudly that even her heartbeat soon surrendered to the rhythm, pumping in sync with the deafening subs. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. An instant later she found two of her friends in the crowd dancing with their boyfriends. The girls ran to greet each other.
Hugs. Smiles. Then a new song began.
Her friends grabbed the hands of their boyfriends, but didn’t turn to face them—instead they heard the lyrics insist “back it up, back it up,” and that’s just what her friends did. Their boyfriends smiled as they thrust against the girls from behind. Aside from the clothes, it was clear what was going on.
Following the lead of her friends, she did the same. Her date wrapped his arms around her front and she backed up, pushing herself against him, moving in a motion that would have made her blush in any other context, but the darkness and the safety of this crowd covered any embarrassment. Tonight this dark room was no place for second thoughts.
This is what he wants, she thought to herself. He’ll like me if I do this. He’ll notice me when I wear this. After all, if I don’t do this for him, there are a hundred other girls who are willing to.
Blame it on the music or the company she keeps or a dad who didn’t give his little daughter enough hugs. Regardless of the cause, another young girl has given up her innocence in exchange for a lie. It’s the norm to give your date a lap dance.
I’ve read dozens of articles and studies about the "sexualization" of today’s young girls. I’ve written about it and cited it in the media. But Saturday night I was surrounded by it. Literally hundreds of girls played the part our culture has written for them: Be a sex object.
I’ve always thought I had a pretty good finger on the pulse of youth culture. I know what goes on at school dances. After all the articles I've read on the subject, as well as the ones we've written on our own site, not to mention the plethora of MTV Video Music Award shows I’ve reviewed... I really didn’t think I could be shocked. But last night I was flabbergasted. It was sobering to see the effect of sexualization first hand— young girls with dresses so short that their underwear often peaked out from underneath, and literally hundreds of girls “backing up” into guys and rubbing up against them throughout the evening.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
A week ago a student from my kids’ high school called and asked if my wife Lori and I would chaperone the homecoming dance. “Sure,” I replied, intrigued with the opportunity to catch a glimpse inside a public school dance. Even though I volunteer with the junior high ministry at my church and frequently speak at camps and youth events, how often do I get to go on a public high school campus other than for my kids’ sports events? Probably only a few times a year.
I love opportunities like this—when all the research I’ve done actually takes a back seat in favor of a first-hand view from the front lines. It’s one thing to read the studies about what kids are listening to…it’s quite another to see them dancing to those songs.
In an interesting turn of events, the weekend before Lori and I chaperoned this dance, my daughter was invited to another public high school dance with some friends from our church. This group of friends was full of solid, responsible kids, so we said, “yes.”
Last week many of you read my blog about that “rite of passage” my daughter went through. The “warnings” printed on the dance ticket revealed volumes as to what goes on at these dances. Here are just a few or those warnings:
- Are expected to face their partner at all times (no back to front motion)
- Must maintain a 4 – 6 inch space from their partner
- May not engage in ‘leg wrapping’
- With the exception of feet, may not place body parts on floor
After the dance I asked my daughter and her friends what they experienced. All of them were surprised how many kids were “getting low” and “grinding.” (It’s funny... I’m trying to choose my terms wisely. How exactly do you say, “Sex with your clothes on”? Okay, I just said it.)
Being curious, I asked three of them— individually—what percentage of teenagers they saw dancing like that. Was this just a few friends, or a majority? Separately they each responded “over 50 percent.” One of my daughter’s friends said that a classmate even came up behind her and started “grinding” against her. She turned around and backed away, not sure what the protocol was for rejecting a boy trying to hump you from the rear.
My wife and I tried to prepare ourselves mentally for what we would see firsthand.
It didn’t work.
Saturday night finally arrived. My own kids each left with different plans with church friends while Lori and I got dressed for homecoming.
When we arrived at the school, we learned we’d be the only parents patrolling the dance floor. It would be Lori, me, and three teachers. The vice principal instructed us that if we saw kids dancing too risqué, just shine a flashlight on them, and they’ll usually quit. If they don’t, then we should take their wristbands (as an official warning). If you warn a kid a second time (a kid with no wristband), we were to kick them out of the dance.
After receiving the instructions, Lori and I were confused about exactly what behaviors we weren’t supposed to allow. This school wasn’t as specific with instructions as the homecoming dance my daughter visited. How close was too close? Were we supposed to allow that “front to back” thing? I wondered if the “over 50 percent” calculation would play out tonight at this school.
Thirty minutes later we had our answers. The majority of today’s kids don’t even face each other at a dance. The girl simply turns around and backs into the guy, the guy puts his hands on the girl, and the grinding begins. Sometimes two girls will face each other, almost pressing against one another, then a guy will appear on each side from behind, sandwiching the girls in the middle.
There was no flashlight that would stop what was going on in that gymnasium. The only thing that would have stopped the “grinding” at that dance was turning off the music and turning on the lights.
And that was really the key: Turn off the music.
I don’t want to come off as shallow, so please hear me out on this: The music is much of the problem. The administration opened the door for this kind of activity when they allowed music with that kind of content. The exact thing the administration claimed to object to was being pumped through the speakers and projected on the wall (the DJ had the videos of the songs being projected for all to see).
Here’s how it worked. The school tells the DJ, “Don’t play any explicit music.” I went back and watched the DJ’s computer screen throughout the night. Almost every song he played had parentheses next to the song title, “(Clean Version).” Think about this. That means that every song he played has an “other than clean” version. And it didn’t take more than 30 seconds to realize that the kids knew the “other” version of the song.
For example, the DJ put on the “clean version” of “Get Low” by Lil’ Jon & the Eastside Boyz. It starts like this:
Get low, Get low…
But the kids are all singing this:
To the window, to the wall (to dat wall)
To the sweat drop down and fall (fall)
To all these females crawl (crawl)
To all skit skit skit skit skit skit …
Get low, Get low…
By the way, if you’re offended by those lyrics…good. You should be. And I’m posting them because most of our kids hear this music, or at least encounter other kids singing content like this. I know, because my junior high daughter came home from soccer practice asking me about this very song. The girls on her team were singing it when the coach wasn’t around. (What does that tell you about our world today- when girls would sing these lyrics?)
To the window, to the wall (to dat wall)
To the sweat drop down my balls (my balls)
To all these b*tches crawl (crawl)
To all skeet skeet motherf***er (motherf***er!) all skeet skeet got dam (got
Now forget the dirty version of this song for a moment. Instead, allow me to introduce you to a snippet of “the clean version”—the version played at the dance last night.
She getting crunk in the club I mine she workin’
Before I go in and interpret, I have a quick question:
Then I like to see the female twerking taking the clothes off OOH she naked
ATL. sorry don’t disrespect it
Pa pop yo thang like this
cause ying yang twin in this B I
Lil Jon and the Eastside boyz wit me and we all like to see tig ole bitties
Now bring yo’self over here girl and let me see you get low if you want this Thug
Now take it to the floor (to the floor) and if yo wanta act you can keep yo self where you at
“How stupid are we?”
Seriously, how stupid are adults? Think about this for a minute. The school administration has a rule: No explicit versions of songs. So we cut out the F-word, b*tch, and p**sy. But we don’t care about content or meaning.
So the music industry (brilliant, really) has come up with “clean versions” of all these songs. And foul, demeaning songs like “Get Low”—songs that sexualize young girls—are deemed “okay” as long as they don’t have cuss words. Perhaps school administrators need to start reading some reports like this one from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Musical content consists of much more than merely language.
I won’t spend too much time with the meaning of this one song. But if you look at the lyrics, it’s about a girl who’s doing some sexy moves on the dance floor, getting naked, and moving her body (which in the clean version is “her thang”; in the original version it’s “p**sy”). Then they mention how much they like to see “tig ole bitties”—basically a slang version of “big ol’ t**ties”—and instruct her to “take it to the floor” (a dance move where you get real low).
Now let’s bring it back to the dance floor on Saturday night. Picture this song playing and teachers walking around with flashlights saying, “Stop getting low” while the song (titled, “Get Low”) is instructing them to “get low.” Then “the clean version” says this:
Drop dat body ya shake it fast ya
I probably don’t have to tell you what the girls did when the lyrics encouraged them to “back it up” and “den wiggle with ya.”
Pop dat ass to the left and the right ya
Now back, back, back it up (repeat 4x)
Now stop (O) den wiggle wit ya (repeat 4 x)
This is just one song. The whole night was filled with chaperones saying, “Don’t do that.” “Do what?” “Don’t do what the song and video being projected on the wall are telling you to do!”
One kid was kicked out for drinking that night. But they played songs like these:
“Like a G6,” Far East Movement
“But don’t drink, kids!”
…Ladies love my style, at my table getting’ wild
Get them bottles poppin’, we get that drip and that drop
Now give me 2 more bottles cuz you know it don’t stop
Drink it up, drink-drink it up…
“Tick Tock,” Kesha
…Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack
Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back…
…Pulling up to the parties
Trying to get a little bit tipsy…
How clueless are we? Or more accurately, “How naïve do we think our kids are?”
For those who are curious, the following is but a handful of some of the other “clean” versions that were played that night:
- “I Got a Feeling”
- “Salt Shaker”
- “Teach Me How to Dougie”
- “Carry Out”
- “In Da Club”
- “Check It Out”
I told Lori when I walked into the gym, “I’m not kicking anyone out tonight. I’m just here to observe.” Maybe that was irresponsible of me, but I had a hunch. I really wanted to see if these teachers were going to kick anyone out for “grinding” each other.
I didn’t see a single person kicked out.
I saw teachers take wristbands, I saw them ask boys to put their shirts back on, I saw them ask girls to pull the bottoms of their dresses down to cover up their underwear…but no kids were removed.
Let me be clear: I don’t blame the teachers. I believe they felt as though their hands were tied. They literally would’ve had to send home the majority of the crowd.
Who is going to take that initiative?
So the dance went on. The girls kept “backing it up” and the guys kept “grinding.”
When Lori and I came home from the dance, she walked into our bedroom and just paused for a moment. Setting her purse down, she turned to me. “I’ve never seen so many trampy girls in all my life!”
Can We Blame Them?
It’s an interesting time we live in. I can’t really blame many of these teenagers. No, I’m not trying to defend them in any way, but our culture has taught them that this kind of behavior is okay. Adults produce this music and shoot the videos. Parents allow their kids to watch it, listen to it, and they even pony up the cash so their kids can buy it.
“But please don’t do what the lyrics are telling you to do.”
This kind of dancing is the norm in every music video. Celebrities model it. We even give awards to the adults who pimp this content to our kids. A few months ago I was watching the Regis and Kelly Show, when Kelly Ripa threw up her arms and began dancing like that with rapper Ludacris.
Our young girls are only copying what they see practiced by adult “role models” in every video and on every channel.
Some of the world was shocked when Miley Cyrus was caught dancing like this with movie director Adam Shankman (which, if you’re curious about what this kind of dancing looks like, in that candid video, Miley dances exactly like every girl at the school dance I chaperoned). Then Miley’s father, Billy Ray, responds with, “It’s what people her age do.”
Sadly, he has his facts straight (even though his response is far from it).
A Parents Response
So how are parents supposed to react to this? Should we respond like Billy Ray—“It’s what people her age do”?
Here’s a few thoughts:
- Start with your own kid. What would your kids do at their school dance? What have they been taught and modeled? Do they listen to all this music and watch these videos? (which would answer the previous question about what’s been modeled for them)
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, there’s only one way to find out. No, the answer isn’t, over-reacting and probing them for answers. The answer is, a relationship. How can we know what our kids are up to if we don’t even know them? This all starts with building relationships with them, having conversations, asking questions, and listening. The more we connect with our kids and listen to them, the more they’ll share. If you have a relationship with your kids, ask them their opinion about this kind of music, those videos, and that type of dancing. Do they think it’s wrong? Have they ever been taught otherwise? Which brings up another thought…
- Get into the Word. How can they know to “flee sexual immorality” unless someone has told them? How do they know what’s appropriate to download unless someone has had that conversation with them?
Parents need to find time to read the Bible with their kids and talk about truth. (Our new website www.TheSource4Parents.com will provide some great Biblical discussion starters- launching very soon!) This world is full of enough lies. Home should be one place where they can count on hearing truth. Don’t underestimate the power of influence from the home.
Youth workers should also be about teaching the truth of the word. Don’t let fun and games trump good teaching, mentoring, and discipleship. Use free resources like TheSource4YM.com and books like Connect to help you build truth into the lives of kids.
- Don’t be afraid to apply boundaries. As a parent, will I let my youngest daughter go to one of these dances in the future? Probably not. Yes, I already confessed that I let my daughter go a week prior with 5 other friends from our church. But you heard what they experienced.
It’s up to you as a parent to decide. If your son or daughter has a strong faith and you’ve had multiple conversations about music, lyrics and the temptations that come along with dancing, then you might feel comfortable sending them with a group of other strong believers. That’s your call as a parent.
But there is no way I’d send them alone! (Eccl. 4)
And let’s be real. If your kid isn’t really making wise decisions in his/her life right now, if they are dating someone who doesn’t have the same values and they surround themselves with people that listen to this kind of music all the time… don’t send them to the dance.
These are hard decisions to enforce as a parent. But I promise you, the more you invest in your kid relationally (regularly investing in them and listening to them), the easier these rules will be to enforce. Rules without a relationship lead to rebellion.
- Check it out for yourself. Chaperone the dance at your local high school and see what you observe. You might find some different trends in your area. Just because I saw this in a high school in California, that doesn’t mean that it’s the same in Oskaloosa, Iowa or in Intercourse, Pennsylvania… well… maybe… I digress.
When I blogged about this particular dance, a youth worker from a U.S. military base in Korea emailed me, commenting:
“My wife and I chaperoned our homecoming dance and we experienced the EXACT thing you are talking about in this blog. We were truly saddened by it. So many very pretty ladies that dressed like total street girls looking like they were selling it. The grinding was crazy and to stop it was so hard. The lights were off so it was dark…WOW what a shock.”
You might find the same trends in your area. I encourage you to check it out. Watch how many teachers actually stop the “grinding.” Maybe even take notes of the songs played, then go home and look up the lyrics. What messages were being communicated to those kids?
Don’t over-react with what you discover. Go home, pray about it, and then come up with a logical and wise solution. If you want to confront the administration, do so in a calm, strategic manner with the evidence you collected. You're not alone in your opinions. Other school administrations are taking action to prevent this kind of dancing.
This is our culture today.
Pray how you will respond.
, president of The Source for Youth
Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new
The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager
Should I Just Smash My Kid's Phone?
, and youth ministry books like
Ministry By Teenagers
Connect: Real Relationships in a
World of Isolation
, and the award winning book
Do They Run When They See You Coming?
speaks and trains
at conferences, churches and events across North
America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his
. You can follow Jonathan on
, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help.
Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live
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