As the mother of four young people ranging in age from 15 to 28, I’ve spent the last couple of decades trying to prepare them for the world they will live in.
Along the way I’ve listened to many a fellow parent bemoan the problems of “these kids today.” Memes of children walking around looking at their smartphones are our signposts of The End of Civilization as We Know It.
However, the parents and elders of every generation echo the lament, “These kids today …” There’s a quote, old enough to be sometimes attributed to Plato, which states, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
Obviously, nothing much has changed when it comes to the foibles of youth. Lacking direction, needing recognition, searching for one’s place in the world, easily distracted by the new and shiny, confused and conflicted feelings about love and sex—nope, nothing new under the sun.
So, if the character issues of youth haven’t changed in 6,000 years, what is so different about preparing our youth to overcome the stumblingblocks of our modern world?
Not much. I believe the challenges are inherently the same and our youth have simply adapted to their environment. It’s still our job to teach them how to live “soberly, righteously, and godly” in 2016 and beyond. It’s pointless (and a bit self-indulgent, don’t you think?) to complain about “today’s kids” without accepting responsibility for how they got here, and taking an honest look at society, culture, and technology as it is. None of this stuff is going to go away by telling stories that begin with “When I was a kid …”
What are our kids dealing with today?
Today’s parents absentmindedly ask their kids to program the thermostat, coffee pot, television remote and DVR, and fix the computer when it glitches. Children do this with the greatest of ease because they were born into a digitized world of apps and touchscreens. Science and technology move forward at such a mind-numbing speed that they take most advances for granted.
But because of a lack of employment options, as well as a shortage of funds, today’s youth are boomeranging back home to live with parents. This often means they are not taking on traditional adult responsibilities until much later, so they are not practicing basic life skills regularly. When they do become independent, they are acknowledging their shortcomings with the humblebrag of #adulting.
So the irony, in case you missed it, is that our children, well-educated and technologically savvy, don’t know how to change the oil in their car, fill out a job application, iron a shirt, or apply for a loan. Answers have arrived in the form of best-sellers like Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown.
Whose fault is that, I wonder?
Maintaining a public image
For generations, one’s reputation reached as far as school and church, and maybe your community. Even then you could fly under the radar if you chose to do so.
Our society takes for granted that kids will create and maintain a public profile online on a variety of social networks. Kids turn 13 and want a Facebook profile the way we used to be excited to turn 16 and get a driver’s license.
Judging by reality television, viral videos, and commercials, young people are expected to find their passion, live an amazing, breathless adventure, build a brand, become successful quickly, and find a purpose that is deeply satisfying.
We accuse kids of being narcissistic, but they are seeking acknowledgement and attention just like we did as young people. But taking selfies with a smartphone instead of a Polaroid—what are they thinking?! If you did something stupid in the 80’s, you could burn the evidence. Today it lives on forever on some server, a permanent digital record of your mistakes.
There’s no easy way to completely avoid having a public profile of some kind. Many of us are aware that if we want to be taken seriously and further our careers, we need to be on social media platforms like LinkedIn and have an online presence that extols our many accomplishments. Employers look at our skills, activities, and profiles are the new pre-interview. Most of us can’t tell our kids to reject social media without looking like hypocrites.
This is the direction in which our world continues to move, and simply restricting access to tech is not going to prepare young people for how to responsibly share their lives with a few million strangers. How to be content when most of what they see are Photoshopped pictures of carefully edited lives. How to deal with peer pressure multiplied by a few thousand followers.
Our kids need us to help them develop a foundation of core beliefs, and grow a spine to go with their thick skin.
The flow of information
Kids are no longer held back by the traditional gatekeepers we once depended on for information: parents, teachers, pastor, and possibly Morley Safer. The internet grants children the same access as adults, albeit without the same level of experience.
This is where education and communication is key. I’m happy that homeschooling gave me the opportunity to be deeply involved in my kids’ educations, but regardless of where your children get their schooling, they should get their education from you.
We no longer exercise the same level of control as our parents and teachers, but we can be guides, mentors, and coaches, teaching kids how to search for information safely, and channel their curiosity in healthy directions. And for all that’s sensible, talk to your kids about hard subjects like commitment and love, a healthy sex life, the risk of STDs, and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of birth control. Let them ask you questions and answer them honestly. If you don’t they’ll just go somewhere else, and unlike when we were young and had to find an older kid who’d spill the birds and bees, our children just need to find an unsecured connection to be exposed to every mind-blowing depravity under the sun.
There is no time to get all weird and blushy about this stuff. Get over it already. If kids know they can safely come to you with any question or problem, and that you will be honest with them, you’ve just won 85.7% of the battle for their minds and hearts. By the way, isn’t that what is going on throughout many chapters in Proverbs—a father speaking openly and honestly to his son about friendship, love, relationships, and sex?
Finding a purpose
They know the drill, and we heard it too—graduate school, go to college, get a degree, get a job, be happy and fulfilled. In today’s vernacular, young people are told to “pursue their passion” and make a meaningful contribution to the world.
Fear of failure and public humiliation leaves many of them waiting for a sign so they can immediately move from Point A and go straight to Boardwalk (that’s a Monopoly game reference for those of you in Rio Linda).
The path to purpose is not always a straight shot, and it isn’t the destination. Purpose is the journey itself, and it involves moving forward and taking action. Asking God for wisdom and searching the Scriptures are essential, but they are not supposed to substitute for continuing to build character through volunteering at church and in the community, and building skills through education and work.
Young people have heard too many of us talk about finding God’s will in terms that make them think it’s a magic place where they will be able to stop, rest, and find peace. But then look at Paul’s life—maps of his journeys look like someone handed a 3 year old a crayon and let them have at it. Whether Paul was on a ship, on a shipwreck, making tents, or in jail, he was busy working, talking, and teaching. Did he ever arrive at his Ultimate Purpose or Grand Passion? I suppose he did, only it involved incarceration and death, not $75,000/year, 2 kids, and a GoldenDoodle.
Young people need to know that they don’t have to decide the rest of their lives at 18 years old. Their lives, like ours, will sometimes move like water, or maybe Jell-O, and it really is OK to sometimes “go with the flow.”
The good news is that our youth generally seem to be optimistic, thoughtful, pragmatic, and inventive. They are Life Hackers who are happy to share their lives with their parents on Facebook, Skype, or Snapchat.
It’s time to stop complaining about today’s youth the same way our parents and teachers did, and start getting to know them, here and now, in 2016.