Lessons We Can Learn from Youthful Transgressions

These days it seems that few people from age ten to twenty can be seen without a cell phone in hand. Now that school is out, parents complain of adolescent boys spending the summer playing video games, while girls are having full-on tête-à-têtes in 160-character text messages. One positive way to look at it is that adolescents can have virtual playdates without tracking dirt throughout the house and pilfering the fridge, not to mention learning the art of give and take in conversation.

[CLICK HERE to read the article, “How to Use Tech Like a Teenager,” at The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2014.]

If the last generation of youth was labeled the “entitled ones,” this new crop of kids is one of instant gratification — they need constant stimulation 24/7 or they complain of being bored. But before we all stand on our high horse and judge, please take a moment to consider what you did all summer when you were 12 or 13 years old. Chances are good you slept a lot, watched too much TV, your parents called you lazy and they threatened to have you tested for mono.

[CLICK HERE to read the article, “Why Playing Minecraft Might Be More Healthful for Kids than TV,” at NPR, March 28, 2014.]

[CLICK HERE to read the article, “5 Reasons to Get More Girls Playing Minecraft,” at Sugarpop, June 6, 2014.]

Some things never change, whether our options are climbing trees and riding bikes, or taking selfies and watching YouTube videos. The vast majority of teens and preteens simply do not do what their parents want.

But what is to become of a nation of technology-enabled — nay, obsessed — youth? Will every one of them grow up to become a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Not likely. Are there welders, nurses, schoolteachers and firemen in that bunch? Undoubtedly.

[CLICK HERE to read the article, “Minecraft is Shaping a Generation, and that’s a Good Thing,” at Forbes, April 26, 2014.]

The takeaway is that this information-enhanced generation could be able to perform their jobs better with less training. What they don’t know, they can Google. What skills they lack, they can learn by watching videos online. Is it so bad to have immediate access to information previously acquired through years of hard work and on-the-job training? Is it a crisis that a young recruit can visit an online forum and ask other participants what they’re being paid before negotiating salary and benefits with a potential employer?

It’s the age of transparency. That transparency may have been brought on by the transgressions of adults working on Wall Street and in other industries, but it will be perpetuated by this whole new generation of knowledgeable and tech-savvy youth. They will insist on fair play because they know what companies are up to: They can research everything from how employees are treated to the number and types of customer complaints levied before they even accept a job. The “good ol’ boy network” has expanded to 1,500 Facebook friends all over the world. They’ll have choices; even the slackers — the ones online all day instead of hitting the books.

We worry. We worry as parents and citizens who imagine that technology is contributing to the denigration of society. We shake our heads when we see a teenager staring at his phone while out to dinner with his parents. But honestly, didn’t your parents embarrass you at that age? Wouldn’t you have loved the ability to chat and play online with a group of 10 friends (maybe even one or two in another country) while holed up in the house on a rainy — or excessively hot — afternoon? Maybe not, but there are plenty of positives and no end of parallels between the way this era of youth behaves compared to previous generations.

[CLICK HERE to read the article, “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem,” at The New York Times, March 12, 2014.]

Are today’s youth obsessed with technology? Perhaps. But let’s not focus on the trees. Look up and gaze into the forest and on the horizon, to the great leaps that today’s empowered children will make in tomorrow’s world.

[CLICK HERE to read the article, “Taking the Learning Tablets,” at The Economist, June 7, 2014.]

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