Kids these days are entitled, spoiled, have low attention spans, and are completely self-centered. This is what we hear all over the internet and TV these days. Article after article focuses on the fear we should have of the younger generation because of their selfishness and inability to focus.
As someone who spends hours in conversation each day with kids and teens, I think I have a unique perspective on the issue. One of the rules I have during my counseling sessions is that they have to put down their phones. I know, I am a tyrant. But that allows me to have an understanding of how complex and insightful kids tend to be these days.
Our worries about the next generation are not new. I remember my parents’ generation saying similar things in the 70s: Technology will rot your brain. Of course, they didn’t use the word “technology.” It was television that would rot our brains. Although not the healthiest pastime, I think we can agree that our brains did not rot.
So why do we worry so much? I think there are two reasons. The first is that our media-driven society thrives on fear and worry. The way to get people to watch the news, or read an article, is to make them worry about the situation. This feeds into our already existing worries as a parent.
The second reason we worry so much is a lack of understanding. Just like every generation before us, we worry about what we don’t understand. Take, for instance, Swiss scientist Conrad Gessner. He was worried about new technology and spoke out strongly against information overload. He worried that the modern world would overwhelm people with data and that it would confuse and harm their minds. Dr. Gessner died in 1565. What technology was he worried about? The printing press.
Strangely enough, there was great alarm in the 1500s about the printing press. People were afraid that everyone would spend all their time walking around with their noses in books. Sound familiar?
I take a different view of kids these days. I think they are amazing individuals who are going to do things with their lives that will be stunning. Kids these days, in my opinion, are smarter, more driven and more connected than any generation previously. The problem is that we don’t really understand how radically different they view relationships.
For instance, I often notice a new type of confusion in parents about how their kids communicate with their friends. I recall hearing a conversation between a father and his son. The son was sharing a story about talking with a friend and his father interrupted by asking, “Did you ‘talk’ with her or text her? Was it face-to-face?” The teen got annoyed and said: “It doesn’t matter!”
It doesn’t matter to teens these days. It is the message that matters, not the medium. We as parents get caught up on how the message was delivered instead of the message, just like our parents were worried that we would lose all social skills because we spent so much time on the phone instead of talking face-to-face.
Can texting transmit the same amount of information as a conversation? Absolutely not. Face-to-face conversations transmit so much more data. Are kids becoming stunted because there is less face-to-face time? Not in my experience.
Kids these days are going to do amazing things with their social connections. We parents are worried that it will get in the way of their success. We worry, just like every generation before us. In my opinion, we worry too much. Our strength, as parents, lies in our ability to inspire and lead our kids. Our strength doesn’t lie in our worry for our kids. We should be focusing our energies on encouraging them and less on worrying about them.
[Neil McNerney is a licensed counselor in private practice in Leesburg and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out! He can be reached at email@example.com.]