As parents, carers, family members and adults, we can be forgiven for thinking of contemporary adolescents as emotionally, socially and civically disengaged. Why is this?
Yes - they are engrossed in technology and digital lives much more than any other generation. Many of today’s teenagers were born after the release of the first iPhone; many of them likely had their births announced on Facebook! We need to review our view of the world before blaming them for their own disengagement. Kids are a product of their environment, and that environment is laced with technology and instant access to a paradoxical world of alienating communication and connection.
Young people have had access to technology throughout their lives, the first generation to have been immersed in a digital society from birth. We are only just now starting to learn the impact of such an upbringing. Growing up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s has proven to be challenging for our cherubs because “over-parenting, ubiquitous technology and greater opportunities for instant gratification” (Sinek, 2014, p.249) have affected them, reducing their resilience, drive and understanding of the need for sustained effort.
Let’s unpack Simon Sinek’s points a bit more to explore three reasons for the perceived disengagement of young people.
1. Over-parenting is not a blame-game, but a proven fact. The reasons are plentiful and almost always come well-intentioned parents wanting the best for their children. These parents are the children of the 70’s, when parenting was much more free-form and children had less boundaries (Reyes, 2018). Naturally, we all want our children to have a better childhood than we did, so showing love and affection and being involved in the lives of our children is important. It is important. A keen interest in what they are up to and how they are going is productive, but it can have adverse effects when it becomes about having them avoid any setbacks, discomfort or failure (Morin, 2019). When over-parenting is a factor, young people become overly dependent on others to resolve their problems and they lack effective coping strategies (Odenweller, 2014). Young people need guidance and help defining their identity, but they cannot be pushed in every right direction; they must learn to steer.
2. Ubiquitous technology is the world today. No amount of parenting, not even over-parenting, can change that fact. That horse has very much bolted! This is not something we can blame on the youth because they have been born into such a world. We must be vigilant in educating children from a young age, however, about the safe use of technology to benefit, not impede, their lives. Lentz, Seo and Gruner (2014) completed a study that revealed, while 42% of children acknowledged bad things associated with the Internet, “no child mentioned that there might be dangers related to people” (p.18). This is an alarming reminder that technology can increase our rate and quantity of information and communication, but it is not on our radar as a source of meaningful human interaction. With increased prevalence of technology, something has to give. That something is generally the time spent establishing, developing, growing and maintaining solid, human-to-human friendships.
3. Instant gratification is easy to access in this technology-led world. Take and edit photos in real time, order food to your house, purchase online for next day delivery, swipe right and find a date - we can control our lives from the palm of our hands. Over-parenting condones such expectations - do you know a parent who has emailed a teacher at 6pm, frustrated when they have not received a reply by 8am the following morning? Reliance on technology to feedback into our lives means we forget the human element crucial to meaningful progress and success. Progress and success both require vision, and imagination is lacking in such a world (Heshmat, 2016). The effort and time required to complete an assignment, the labor necessary to build a house, the years of service and skill perfection needed for a promotion. Growing up with instant gratification does not mean young people do not want to work hard - they do not realise the need for it! Young people want to work for good causes and have a sense of purpose, but they have been misguided to believe that these are givens instead of things that require work and refinement. Harnessed fully, the instant nature of technology can offer positives (Samuel, 2017), like maximising the time spent on developing personal principles and vision through meaningful connections with peers and mentors.
All in all, it is a fair observation that today’s youth are disengaged. It is not fair, though, to blame them for this problem. Stronger adult guidance is necessary to challenge young people to think long-term and big picture. Positive relationships are needed to help them determine what it is that they stand for and want to achieve. It is foolish to provide the correct answers because not one of us have the solutions. We must pose thoughtful and considered questions that drive young people toward figuring the mysterious of life out for themselves.
Your Learning supports parents and families by using evidence-based approaches to effective mentor relationships that help young people define their personal principles and passions. While we offer tuition lessons for school students, our overarching intention is to provide positive role models for young people through our innovative mentor programs. The aim of the program is to facilitate a process of self-discovery, helping young people determine for themselves what they value most. Through this positive experience, we then help bridge the gap between them what they stand for and how they publicly exhibit those values through effective contribution and service to their broader community.
Heshmat, S. (2016). 10 Reasons We Rush for Immediate Gratification. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/science-choice/201606/10-reasons-we-rush-immediate-gratification
Lentz, C. L., Seo, K. K. & Gruner, B. (2014). Revisiting the Early Use of Technology: A Critical Shift from “How Young is Too Young?” to “How Much is ‘Just Right’?” Dimensions of Early Childhood, 42(1), 15-23.
Morin, A. (2019). Signs You Are Overparenting Your Child. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/signs-that-you-overparenting-your-child-1095052
Odenweller, K. K. (2014). Investigating Helicopter Parenting, Family Environments, and Relational Outcomes for Millennials. Communication Studies, 65, 407-425.
Reyes, Z. (2018). The Effects of Overparenting on Children. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-effects-of-overparenting-on-children/
Samuel, A. (2017). What’s So Bad About Instant Gratification? Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/whats-bad-instant-gratification/
Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. USA: Penguin Business.