If you believe a recent article in The Atlantic, kids born 1995-2012 (in other words, kids my niece and nephew’s age) are going to be “destroyed” by their mobile-technology-driven lifestyles. I am not going to respond directly to all of the article’s points, but for a change, I’m going to stand up for the younger folks. They might be doomed by some future cataclysm we cannot imagine yet, but I don’t think smartphones are going to be the direct cause of it.
I’m convinced that the problems parents (and researchers) find to worry about with the current generation of young people are often NOT the things that generation really faces. I recall the parents around me in my youth worrying about, in no particular order:
- Heavy metal music
- Role-playing games
- Violence on television
- Teen suicide
What were the problems Generation X really faced as adults?
- Economic recessions (at least four since 1980) raising prices and killing jobs
- Terrorism and the massive military, security, and surveillance measures government enacted to combat it
- Political polarization and related incivility drowning out responsible public debate
- Heightened concerns about race and discrimination
- Financial/”identity” theft, pornography, and relationship dysfunction via the Internet
How much do those first five items relate to the second five? I could probably write a clever story or scholarly article connecting them, but at a first or even second glance, I would argue that whatever parents or researchers are worrying about now, those will not be the things the “iGen” (as the Atlantic author so cutely calls them) actually has to face and worry about.
The teen suicide rate now exceeds teen homicide, the article notes, which is distressing, but not insurmountable. Teenagers’ music is just as “bad” as it’s always been to older ears. The violence on the TV news is almost worse than you see in the movies, so one quick cure to social media-related depression (I’ve taken it) might be to reduce one’s news viewing. As for role-playing games, the friends I know who played or still play them tend to have very clever, agile, and imaginative minds, as they draw upon creative storytelling to address problems in the real/adult world.
The Atlantic article frets about young people’s reduced socialization and outdoor activity while feeling hopeful about the reductions in teen sex or alcohol use. However, more likely my niece and nephew will instead be dealing with problems related to asteroid defenses (or lack thereof), artificial intelligence, biosphere/environmental pressures and their related responses, and political instability brought on by too many people in politics trying to look exciting, impressive, and cool to their 300 million-plus “followers.” So my advice to people stressing out about their little darlings is to reach them where they are now (via social media) and engage them with ideas and technologies that will solve problems so they have the education to handle them. There is more to life, after all, than how much socializing you do in high school.
End of rant. Go get ’em, iGen. I’m rooting for you.