Guest post: What we can learn from the world’s oldest teenager
By interlinc team member Phil Baker
We lost a music legend this week. And he never played an instrument or sang a song. Dick Clark will be remembered as an authority in the music industry. Why? Because he recognized the power of music. It lifted him out of depression when he lost a brother in World War II. And he saw it lift the American teenager from culturally insignificant to culturally influential.
He was known as “the world’s oldest teenager” not just because he seemed to age slower than the rest of us. But also because he kept his intuitive finger on the drum beat of popular music. Youth leaders also tend to be “just older teenagers”. (You know I’m right.) Like Dick Clark they too are kept young by the company they keep. So it is only appropriate that we pause and observe the life of Dick Clark to see what truth a youth leader can glean from it.
You don’t have to dress and act like a teenager to gain their trust.
Dick Clark started “American Bandstand” in 1952 and saw three decades of music and teenagers twist, hustle and break-dance across his dance floor. And in all that time, he remained professional in action and in dress. While fashions and trends flooded the culture in which he plied his trade, he remained uninfluenced and unchanged, like a handrail for those trying to make their way.
Nothing is sadder than someone trying to be something they’re not. And Dick Clark showed that you don’t have to dress and act like a teenager to gain their trust. Teens, more than anyone, can sniff out the inauthentic.
Listen beyond the beat
On “American Bandstand” teenagers danced to and then rated the most popular songs of their day, often commenting mindlessly that “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” But there’s much more to a song than beat and dance-ability. As a youth leader, you have to listen beyond the beat to filter out those messages that might endanger what you are trying to instill in your teens.
No opinions, just discussion
While an appearance on “American Bandstand” could make or break an artist, rarely did Dick Clark comment on the content or message of the music. In interviews with his audience, he offered no opinions, just discussion, letting them criticize or praise a song or artist.
As a youth leader, you have a great “in” with the teens who darken the door of your youth room. It’s possible you could “make or break” their spiritual future simply by discussing their favorite artist with them or exposing them to a Christian artist who they might not otherwise come across. There’s no need to judge their musical tastes or force a song into their ears. A simple question or lighthearted conversation about the merits of an artist (Christian or mainstream) can go a long way.
There’s a lot to be said for Dick Clark’s unique effect on the music industry. Makes you really think about how someone can change the world in an unexpected way.
Like all legends, Dick Clark will live forever, his name etched on the stone memorial of music history. And I hope a little of him will live on in youth leaders who recognize the potential impact music has on a person and a ministry.