I’ve spent a decade in middle schools, both as a teacher and school administrator, and I’m continuously impressed by how technologically savvy students are by the time they enter middle school. These children seem to possess a unique skill set that my generation doesn’t have—and I was born in 1981. Most can even text faster than many adults can type. Even so, there are a few hard-to-shake myths, including those stating that the current generation of students lack real-world knowledge and struggle with common sense.
Myth 1. They can’t pay attention to anything. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Kids are much better at multitasking and maintaining several conversations at once, even if they’re digital. They may, however, have difficulty listening to the same speaker for an hour at a time, but let’s take something into consideration: if you’re a member of Generation Y (or earlier), you may remember a time when fewer television channels existed, or when you needed to physically turn on a radio or use a Discman to listen to a different musical artist. It’s not inconceivable to think that the reason kids seem a little impatient is because waiting just doesn’t take as long as it used to. It’s also important to note that many students now have to go to school without frequent opportunities for breaks or recesses, unlike our generation. Is it any wonder they’re a little antsy by 3:00 p.m.?
Myth 2. They don’t want to read or to do any work. Correction: they don’t want to read print materials. You’re probably aware that the readership of print media (like newspapers and magazines) has declined in recent years, so much so that many large publications have converted entirely to the digital space. But the amount of reading that kids do now, due to the amount of knowledge that is literally at their fingertips, is staggering. A good portion of middle and high school students have smartphones; machines that are unquestionably more powerful than the devices we called computers in the early to mid-1990s. The reason we had to do manual research back in the 90s is because we didn’t have the capability to look it up whenever we wanted. Current students have that ability to withdraw information on a whim, and they exercise that privilege frequently.
It’s not a bad thing, either. Have a question about someone (or something) being discussed in class? Instead of walking to the media center to turn on a computer or to the library to pull out an encyclopedia, students can google information immediately on their smartphones.
Myth 3. They don’t retain enough historical or cultural knowledge. Why bother? When they need the information, they can look it up instantaneously. While students may not learn cursive anymore, they are learning how to use technology at a very early age. Cultural differences are less surprising because children are able to connect with other people beyond the United States. Some schools even use video conferencing to connect with schools in other parts of the world, making for some pretty interesting conversations. I suspect that the current generation of students will be more willing to explore the world because they’re only a FaceTime or Skype call away from their families. There’s no need to worry about sending letters or racking up long-distance charges to stay in touch. Do kids now even know what “roaming” means on a cell phone anymore?
Myth 4. They don’t know how to deal with conflict. They do, but they deal with it differently. When we were upset about something twenty years ago, five people might know about it. Now, thanks to social media outlets, five hundred people might know about their grievances. This scope issue makes conflict difficult to navigate, especially because many parents don’t have the experience necessary to offer advice. As a result, students generally deal with problems by talking via text or social media rather than engaging in face-to-face confrontations. When confrontation occurs, it can often be in the presence of others, and that never tends to go well.
Regardless, kids are capable of working through conflict—conflict just manifests differently. Think about it: if most of your social communication occurs on a digital platform, you will try to solve your problems digitally. Children use digital media to connect to others and to maintain their relationships.
Myth 5. They don’t care about anything. This is also completely false. Kids are bombarded with news headlines and streaming media, making them very aware of what’s going on. These children are the most socially aware generation thus far, which is potentially why their tolerance might be mistaken for apathy. Though it might seem like these kids don’t have an opinion, they’re often aware of so many viewpoints that they seek to avoid making black and white judgments while they process their worldview. There’s a lot to take in!
I believe it’s important to highlight the strengths of the current generation and think about how these strengths will be applicable to our society and our global economy. By working with these digital skills rather than picking apart their flaws, you can help your children develop the tools necessary to assist them in their future endeavors.