Parenting with Technology

Successfully navigating parenting paradoxes in the technological landscape that is modern life.

Is my teenager turning into a Millennial?

Is my teenager turning into a Millennial? A Hipster maybe?

No.  What your teenager is “turning into” is an adult.  More accurately, they are not “turning into” anything at all.  They are just exploring, trying on new thoughts and ideas to see what fits, and while they do, they are taking those from the group of adults they most closely identify with.  They may act like those twenty-somethings that you see at Starbucks, they may be wearing flannels, growing beards and listening to folk music, but all that means is they are growing up. These young people, (I Hate the label “Millennial” as it now carries such a negative stigma with it) are no different than the other generations are, or were, back when the older people were young.  They do have differences of opinion on many things, but different doesn’t mean wrong. (It does make them scary as we are all afraid of change)   The media and other Oldsters (like us) tend to apply tags to people in a way to normalize them, rationalize them or relate to them.  Maybe we do it because we are afraid of them, or some small thing about them that we don’t understand.  For whatever reason, our labeling of them also makes it easier for society to overlook them, discredit or marginalize them.

One of the areas where we are more comfortable to label them as self-absorbed instead of trying to understand and accept them is in their unorthodox use of technology.  In an earlier post, I mentioned that the kids are using technology in a way that is novel and scary.  I didn’t mean that in a bad way, my point was that what we think of as advancement the younger people think of as fixtures of society.  The idea of email, text message and instant message are relatively new to parents of teens, these things have only been around for a “few years”.  We use it all the way the inventors instructed us to.  There was no other way to do it before that.  The younger people look at it differently.  They see these same things: IM, text messages, snap chat, smartphones, and GPS enabled wearables, as nothing new at all. These are simply parts of the foundation of their society.  They look at these things as tools to be used in any way they see fit.  They are not bound by the thoughts and opinions of the inventor regarding proper use.  In the same way that many of you would not hesitate to use a screwdriver as a prybar or a chisel if the need arose, the younger people see our “bleeding edge tech” as simple screwdrivers, and they will use it in any way that they want.  When they use these tech items in unforeseen ways, we immediately assume they are using them “wrong” as they are doing it differently than we would.  Frankly, their unusual use of tech scares us, so we condemn it.  If however, we look at them as innovators instead of deviants, our life could be easier, and their lives could become more fulfilling.  How so?  Well, when we see it for what it really is, a younger generation using our tools in new and innovative ways, we can accept them and their contributions to society.  In doing so, we can gain from their work as much as they do.  When we accept and appreciate their contributions, they become validated.  Their hard work is recognized, and that recognition fills a need for them at a much higher level on Maslow’s chart. Now if you are over 40 you may say “But wait!  We can’t give credit and recognition to the “Me First” generation.  They are the problem, not the solution.”  In my opinion, you would be very wrong and here is why:

The young adults of today, the Millennials as the media loves to refer to them, are struggling and succeeding in a society that they didn’t create, playing by rules that they didn’t write, and while they are succeeding, they are changing the world for the better as they see it.  Yes, they are using technology in ways we didn’t foresee and therefore ways we are afraid of.  People (especially older people) fear and resist change.

The generation of people that the media is painting as “me first”, “self-absorbed” and “entitled” are the very people using social media to spotlight social injustice and help end it.  They are bringing public attention to the homeless, the bullied, the mentally ill and the abused.  And they are doing this while we try to prove how they lack empathy.   I read how we are dooming our children by not teaching them compassion, at the same time, I see more compassion in this younger generation than I have since WWII.  If you doubt this, just click around YouTube for a few minutes and you will bump into a dozen videos of young people helping the homeless, raising money for a cause (remember the ALS ice bucket challenge?) or spotlighting social injustice. They are starting projects to fund the needy, support medical research and feed the hungry, and while they are trying to change the world, we are either rushing to catch up or prattling on about how self-absorbed they are.  This isn’t my opinion, just search the words “millennial” and “giving” there have been several articles from Time, Huffington Post, and CNBC highlighting the work they have done.  They are raising their own families, supporting themselves, paying their taxes, and tuition (which just happens to be at the highest point in human history), while still finding time and money to care for their aging parents, and grandparents.  They are working multiple jobs, usually including the internship that they have to do for free to graduate. (because that’s how we decided a career should start)  The baby boomer owned media paints them as a useless group of selfish children, but then when they give up on conventional media because of that bias, those same media outlets label them as disenfranchised or scramble to retarget them.  You may disagree with this and can probably site several “studies” that show otherwise, but to be honest, if this isn’t the case then why have charities like Patreon, GoFundMe, and theChive Charities (yes, theChive is a crowd-funded charity) virtually exploded in the last few years. (according to Fortune and Forbes 65% of Millennial adults regularly give thru a mobile app)  Young adults (16-30) are the main target audience of these sites and also the source of the MILLIONS of charitable contributions that they raise a few dollars at a time.  These young people are so socially motivated that many major retailers like Amazon have started advertised giving programs in order to regain their business. (Pew Research and UCLA School of Management call this the “Compassion Effect” and credits it and its generation, the 22-35 yr olds, with making corporations strive to be better members of society in order to market to this demographic.)

Back to my original point, if this is what your teenager is becoming, you should be very thankful!  They are joining a group of highly motivated, highly educated, socially conscious and compassionate young citizens that you will have no trouble being proud of.   Just drop the labels and give them a chance.

Categories: Parenting Thoughts

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