Youth today get a bad rap. As adults we accuse them of being lazy, too connected to their mobile devices, unable to socialize, lacking of morals and values, quick to spout off their every emotion on social media, and the list goes on and on. While many of the sentiments carry some truth, I would argue that youth, particularly preteen and teens, are living in a time period unlike any other in the history of the world.
Growing up in the 80’s and/or 90’s (or any time period prior to Napster), parents were able to relate to many of the issues and problems their children were dealing with. Sure, parents may have struggled to understand hip hop music, the grunge look, or even the fascination with the TV show “Friends.” However, for the most part, what kids were going through parents could relate to. Relationships, school, sports/activities, etc had advanced but not to the point where parents didn’t have a point of reference when their child had an issue. Times have changed and changed dramatically (for now)!
We live in a world of unbelievable growth and progress. To have nearly every bit of information at our fingertips or more accurately in our pockets would be the illusions of science fiction to humans of the 1960’s or 70’s. Technology has advanced and grown at such a rapid pace over the past 25 years that the computer you buy today is the “old” version in a couple of months. And the internet was only the starting point in changing how we have and interact as humans. But, I would argue that this technological wonder wasn’t the tipping point.
The smartphone and other portable connected devices fundamentally changed how we interact with each other along with the creation of social media sites. These advances in technology have impacted human interactions and spurred our continual desire to check our phones. But unlike parents of the past, there isn’t any reference point for how to help your child deal with issues caused by these newfound avenues of communication.
It’s hard to believe that smartphones and social media outlets have been in mainstream society for less than 10 years and for many of us even less than that. Where as I can still remember the first time I logged onto the internet in 1995, teenagers today have lived with these devices in their hands for as long as they can remember. In the past, parents would normally be able to share their “expertise” and “experience” with their children when issues arose. It is impossible in 2016 to do so because we are learning how to appropriately interact in this constantly connected world together. There isn’t necessarily a book or script for us to follow.
Additionally, kids take their cues from adults. When their favorite athlete, actor, internet star, or personality posts inappropriate, hateful, hurtful, sexual, or graphic posts on Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, or Facebook they believe that is the norm and acceptable because these post get thousands if not millions of likes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just not placing the blame on the famous. We all know adults that could use a lesson or two in proper social media use and digital citizenship.
So what do we do? Do we allow this behavior to become the norm with teenagers possibly forfeiting future opportunities (college acceptance, scholarships, jobs) because of what they posted to social media? Or do we become even more diligent in teaching not only youth but all individuals in proper social media use? As educators, I feel that even though it is just one more thing we have to find time to incorporate into the curriculum, it is vital that digital citizenship continues to be stressed. Social media and smartphones aren’t going away anytime soon, so we can either be a part of the solution or continue to look the other way and allow inappropriate social media use to become the norm. Luckily, the teenagers we are trying to reach will one day grow up and become parents themselves and their generation will have that reference point that adults in 2016 lack. If we create good stewards of technology today, these teenagers will carry on the message for generations to come.
Milford Jr/Sr High Principal