We have a 13-year-old in our house. My son’s pushes and pulls as he births his identity is torture — for us as much as him. At the center of the confusing seventh grade conflicts, the flailing for independence and the arguments over homework and rules, one constant thought keeps coming to my mind, “I wish we would have never gotten him a cell phone.”

My impossible dream of putting the iPhone genie back in the bottle is probably not for the reasons you think. I’m as concerned as anyone about pornography, and wish I could cut screen time to protect all the synapses I fear he’s frying as his eyes are transfixed on the glowing screen.

But my real concern is bigger, and one that reflects the time we all are in, whether we are 13 or 43. Philosopher Charles Taylor has argued that we are living in the age of authenticity. And this age has an ethic that we all follow or crash up against. It says that every human being has a right to define for himself or herself what it means to be human.

In this age of authenticity and its ethic of self-definition, we work out these identities through a politics of recognition. Social media platforms like SnapChat, Twitter and Instagram (and cooler ones I don’t know about) become the stages on which we express our authenticity. While this authenticity is supposed to be mine alone, it can’t really be lived out that way. I need others to recognize my unique way of being human. I know that I’m doing well, because I’m recognized and receive the likes, retweets and overall affirmation I need.

This is what I’m worried about with my son — the constant 24-hour, non-stop, in-his-pocket push to seek recognition and to form his identity primarily by getting this recognition.

Furthermore, the huge dark side of the politics of recognition is what James Davison Hunter has described as ressentiment. A kind of resentment that leads to haters, and moves all of us to rush into ideological enclaves, liking and consuming only what supports our definition of what it means to be human, and in turn despising all those who seek recognition in ways we don’t agree with or like.

This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.

Andrew Root
Andrew Root is associate professor and the Carrie Olson Baalson Chair of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary. He has written several books, including “Faith Formation in a Secular Age,” “The Grace of Dogs” and “Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross.” Root is the principal leader for a John Templeton Foundation grant called “Science for Youth Ministry.” He holds an M.Div. and M.Th. from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.