Teen interest in supernatural can promote family dialogue

The young and the eerie
The Daily Camera (Colorado), June 24, 2003
By Susan Glairon, Camera Staff Writer

From the television program “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to the film series “The Matrix,” manifestations of teen interest in the supernatural are everywhere.

But in most cases, parents shouldn’t worry. Instead, they can use such interests as a stepping stone to closer communication, says local author Lynn Schofield Clark. Teens who take it a step further by experimenting with seances, Ouija boards or other supernatural practices usually do it for fun rather than to engage in a serious quest for religious meaning or to join a cult, she says.

“It’s not that they are watching TV and becoming convinced there are angels,” Clark says. “(They’re saying), ‘That’s interesting. That’s possible.'”

Clark teaches media studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s journalism school and authored the newly-released book on teen spirituality “From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media and the Supernatural” (Oxford University Press: 2003).

Teens have long been fascinated by angels, ghosts, aliens, witchcraft and magic, Clark says.

What’s changed is the availability of supernatural material — how much the media caters to that population’s interests — and a vocal opposition to such programming by conservative Christian groups. Strong opposition may be inciting more teens to engage in supernatural practices, because teens rebel against cultural authority, she says.

Whereas baby boomers grew up with three television networks designed to appeal to all ages, today whole channels, such as WB Network, specialize in teen interests. Today there are many shows geared to teenagers’ fascination with the supernatural, such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

The film industry has also geared itself to teens. While baby boomer teenagers were fascinated by films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist,” today there are even more offerings for those with an interest in magic or fantasy — including film series such as “Harry Potter,” “The Matrix” or “Lord of the Rings.”

What has also changed, Clark says, is that unlike the baby boomer generation, which clearly accepted or rejected particular religions, today’s teens pick and choose their beliefs. Teens recognize they don’t need to believe in all the traditional philosophies of a particular religion to identify themselves with that religion, she says. They may entertain the possibility of angels or magic even though the religion they are affiliated with may not.

“Young people are interested in the religion of possibility,” Clark says. “They are more interested in the questions than the answers. They see themselves as the authority of what it means to be religious or spiritual.”

While marketing to teens hasn’t caught up with that generation’s fascination with the supernatural, it’s just a matter of time, says Gia Medeiros, director of strategy for Kindred Keziah, a Boulder marketing strategy consulting firm.

“The generational change is inevitable,” Medeiros says.

She says statistics show teens are closer to their families than previous generations, and those firmly ingrained values are also evident in programming that deals with the supernatural.

“(Buffy’s) mom is not an idiot that she tries to get away from,” Medeiros says. “She loves and cherishes her.”

Kari Fraser, a licensed clinical psychologist in Boulder, says she has seen many teens exploring their spirituality, but not to the point of eschewing more traditional religions for the supernatural. The bulk of kids are reading a lot of books about fantasy and magic for escape and pleasure and are just into a good story, she says.

“They are not shaping their religious beliefs,” Fraser says. “I find a lot of exploring, the basic classic adolescent thing. They ask themselves questions such as: ‘What am I going to choose to believe in the world?'”

Fraser says teens’ interests are wider these days because they use the Internet to develop their interests and to find others with the same interests.

“Kids have access to a broader spectrum of information than they used to,” Fraser says. “They look at everything.”

Although parents may find all the programming geared to kids’ interest in the supernatural overwhelming, taking an interest in their fascination with the topic is a way to talk to young people about what matters to them, Clark says.

“When you are talking about Buffy, you can ask your kids: ‘Do you feel you have a purpose, like Buffy does?’ Ask them why they are interested in it. Or ask: ‘What about Harry (Potter) is like your friends?'”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday June 25, 2003.
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