The Kids Are Alright

alg_textingHas anyone noticed how quickly we have turned into our parents, especially when talking about the next generation? We have become just as alarmed as previous generations about “kids these days.” It’s interesting to note we are alarmed about the same issues of previous generations. Kids these days are ungrateful, too focused on technology, easily distracted, and think life should come easy.

Let’s take a look at some of the previous generations and parental worries. In the 70’s (when I was a kid), the main worry was television and music. We were told that TV would rot our brains and stop any creativity. Our music would turn us into a bunch of rebels with no respect for authority. The 50’s generation of children and teens were also told the same things about TV, but especially about music. It seems that most generations of parents are worried about the things that they don’t understand, which most recently has been technology and music.

I take a different view of today’s youth. I think they are amazing individuals who are going to do things with their lives that will be stunning. Why do I have a different view of today’s youth? One reason is because I get to spend hours a day having long and sometimes intense conversations with them as a licensed counselor. Kids these days, at least in my opinion, are smarter, more driven, and more connected than any generation previously. We should be focusing our energies on encouraging them and less on worrying about them.

So why do we worry so much? I think there are two reasons for this. The first reason 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 that is natural as a parent.

The second reason we worry so much is a lack of understanding. Just like every generation before us, we parents worry about what we don’t understand. Take respected Swiss scientist Conrad Gessner. He was extremely 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. Keep in mind that Dr. Gessner died in 1565. What technology was he worried about? The printing press.

Believe it or not, the printing press caused great alarm in the 1500’s. Worriers were convinced that people would stop being productive and would, instead, spend all their time with the noses in books. Sound familiar?

I remember having an “aha” moment when it comes to today’s technology. I was in my office talking with a teenager and his mother. He was sharing a story about talking with a friend and his mother interrupted by asking, “Did you ‘talk’ with her or text her?” The teen got annoyed and said “It doesn’t matter!”

It doesn’t matter to teens these days. It’s the message that matters, not the delivery 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.

Another big difference between us parents and our kids is how they view friendships. Teens these days view the idea of spending time with friends very differently than we view it. For us, we are either alone or we are with others. For teens, that line is very blurred. I had a teen tell me: “My parents don’t understand that, for me, my friends are always with me. When a friends texts me and just says ‘hey,’ it means she’s thinking about me. That makes me feel good. When I reply back with just one word, it also means I’m thinking of her. That makes her feel good.

This is a huge change in how each generation views friendships. The new generation of teens view social connections and conversations very differently than we do. Their friends are always around, not just when they are on the phone or with them physically. This explains why teens are so annoyed with us when we ask them to put down their phone for a while. To them, we are asking them to be rude to their friends. To them, there is little, if any difference between the people that are in the room and those that are not in the room. They are all people that they care about.

So does that mean we should tolerate texting during dinner? In my family, the answer is no. We do not tolerate it. But I understand the reason why my kids would want to bring their phone to the table even if I don’t allow it.

Teens 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. And, at least 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.