World Congress of Families IX: Millennials discuss family, marriage and social media

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People applaud during the World Congress of Families event Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, in Salt Lake City. About 3,000 attendees are expected in Salt Lake City for the four-day World Congress of Families event to hear a lineup of speakers explain why they think families led by a man and woman who are married are best for society. (Associated Press)
People applaud during the World Congress of Families event Tuesday in Salt Lake City. About 3,000 attendees are expected in Salt Lake City for the four-day World Congress of Families event to hear a lineup of speakers explain why they think families led by a man and woman who are married are best for society. (Associated Press)

Current students, graduate students and working professional millennials gathered in the grand ballroom at the Grand America Hotel for a panel session discussing a variety of topics, ranging from media consumption to marriage to close out the first day of the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City Tuesday night.

The panel was co-chaired by Tim Rarick, a professor from BYU Idaho, part of the United Families Foundation, and Bob McCoskrie, from Family First New Zealand.

Panel participants began by sharing briefly where they were from, where they attended school, and different aspects of their careers and studies that related to the family.

Rarick began with the topic of marriage, asking the panel why it thought millennials were getting married later and later than any other generation, and if they thought their generation in general saw it as “prison.”

“I think the answer to that question really depends on your faith,” said Rob Baehr of MovieGuide. “My view of marriage is shaped by my Christian faith. I think that question about what millennials will believe about marriage is really a focused question, because it focuses on what millennials believe about faith.”

One panelist, Emily Bleazard, of the Sutherland Institute, expressed concern that millennials don’t know the value of marriage because they don’t understand it.

“If we really understood what marriage was, then we could believe in it more,” Bleazard said. “We don’t know what marriage is; no one has taught us. We’ve really not been taught what it could be. Do millennials really understand what it is? Maybe if we did then we would believe in it more.”

Chelsen Vicari, author of “Distorted”, added to Bleazard’s thoughts by sharing how the dating realm has changed for millennials, from in person, to online, to virtually non-existent.

“Dating isn’t even people going to bars anymore, it’s scrolling through an app to size people up based on people’s profile pictures,” she said. Now I can’t even imagine having someone sizing me up based on a profile picture. Courtship is out the whole window. We’re not being intentional, even about marriage or our dating lives.”

The conversation then shifted to some of the married panelists with children, and how, or if having children had changed their perspective on marriage.

Eric Teetsel, co-author of “Marriage is: How Marriage Transforms Society”, has a five-month old daughter, and said having her has transformed his life. It’s a reality other millennials can have if they become open to marriage and having children.

“I’ll never forget the first time my child smiled at me,” he said. “It’s hard; you work and work and you don’t sleep and they’re just kind of there. But one day they smile at you. I think it’s really interesting to understand my wife as a mother, and for her to understand me as a father, and then to relate to one another in that capacity. It has been hard at times, but ultimately it’s a project we get to work on together, and it definitely has brought us closer.”

Social media and exposure to media in general was a hot topic throughout the discussion. Opinions ranged from letting children discover media with reasonable boundaries set by parents, to being very strict, even terrified with what is online awaiting young people.

McCoskrie used the example of his family before posing a question to the panel on social media, saying that at some point at night all the cellphones and electronics went into a basket for the evening. Ultimately, he wanted to know if controlling the social media of his child was appropriate.

“It’s different for each child. If you’re treating every single child the same, you’re doing it wrong,” Bleazard said. “If the child doesn’t have the capacity to regulate media by themselves, you’re taking away someone’s agency, and you’re not teaching the principle that should be learned by them, under your direction. That should be learned before they go to college, because your basket doesn’t exist in their dorm room.”

The discussion concluded with the panelists answering the question, “If you could boil it down to 50 words or less, what would you say to your fellow millennials to give them hope for the future?”

Most mentioned faith, and loving all people as an essential piece to future happiness. A sentiment Nathan Porter, a student at the University of Utah, agreed with.

“We need to be sharing the love of God,” he said. “We hope in the love of God to transform the world, living through us. We aren’t just hoping that God will do it, but through us through the Spirit. God’s love will prevail in the end.”

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