3 Ways to Save Today’s Generation

Do you honestly think that I am going to help you save our youth in this post? The real question is, do you, as many other adults believe today’s youth needs saving and the future is in tenuous hands?  Were you drawn to the title because it reaffirms your beliefs about this generation?

My post really should be called, 3 Ways we can address some problematic issues around cell phone and social media use.

I often share the example above. It is seemingly what people believe is wrong with today’s generation. And yet, the real story, is that the students were using the museum’s app to learn more about the painting. The media continues to circulate articles about how this is a lost generation. The most recent, an article in the Atlanta, Have Smartphones destroyed a Generation?

I was glad to see Patrick Larkin, a progressive and innovative superintendent, ask questions about the content of the article in this post to educators, We Need to Talk About Smartphones, and this post to families, rather than accepting it at face value and doing nothing.

The problem with these types of articles is they often paint issues around social media and cell phone use as very a black & white issues, and blame social media use for just about every ill in society. It then becomes so easy to share articles and bemoan the state of the world, rather than use our use our critical thinking lens.

In my book, Social LEADia, I assert that what we call an addiction to social media, is more a dependence not on the device itself, but the friends to which they provide access. This is a main theme of the research and work of danah boyd, in It’s Complicated.

The addiction narrative is quite strong throughout the parent and educator circles of which I am a part, and I am not saying that there isn’t truth to it. What I am saying, is that articles and posts which provide extreme points of view do not help!  Look at the article which literally states in its headline: Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine, says top addiction expert.

The article, published by the Independent also includes the subtitle, “Harley Street clinic director Mandy Saligari says many of her patients are 13-year old girls who see sexting as normal.” and of course, Ms Saligari has an extreme opinion on the matter, she only sees problem cases. My daughters and I had a very frank conversation about this idea which is not at all a reality for them and their friends.

What is revealed in near the end of the article is this:

“If children are taught self-respect they are less likely to exploit themselves in that way,” said Ms Saligari. “It’s an issue of self-respect and it’s an issue of identity.”

The real issue! Sending inappropriate pictures isn’t caused by having a smartphone.

So how to do unpack some of the issues so as to shed light on what we can do differently?

Use social media as a springboard to teach persuasive writing & critical thinking

A lesson I often did when I was teaching persuasive writing in English over a decade ago, was that I showed the students a letter that had been written to Ann Landers bemoaning today’s generation. It called youth selfish, stupid, and lazy. It went on to list everything that was wrong with youth (well before smartphones). Their assignment was to write a rebuttal using a variety of persuasive techniques.  The students were so offended and so were extremely happy to write back. One thing is clear: every generation believes the current generation to be inferior to theirs.

Show students some of the headlines,show them the articles. Then have students write a response to the source. Today, it is so much easier to send their letters to a real & authentic audience than it was back when I did this.

Another great thing to do is have students deconstruct the logical fallacies an article.   Noah Geisel did a great job deconstructing the article, Facebook and Twitter “harm young people’s mental health” in his post, “Can adults with college degrees fall for fake news too?

Start Conversations about Attention and Balance

I see a whole generation of kids who have been navigating online spaces almost exclusively on their own because we have refused to go there in school. Our current narrative prevents us from having conversations; instead we lecture and instill fear and teens, especially those at risk, retreat farther and farther away. Or we ban devices to avoid the problem altogether. And clearly, it’s not working for many.

This article shared by Kathleen Currie Smith, What Social Media and today’s generation did for my teenage daughter really gets at assumptions.  In it, the author talks about her concern with her daughter’s selfie-use and her apathetic friends, only to realize that she may have been wrong when her daughter is home sick and her “Snapchat” friends support her and cheer her up in ways she wouldn’t have imagined. This part stands out for me:

These kids proved me wrong over and over all week long. It was a humbling experience to say the least. Maybe all this technology, Snapchat, texting and selfies aren’t making them all crazy, self-centered bullies. It’s giving them access to each other in ways that we didn’t have growing up and maybe that’s not always a bad thing. I know that sometimes social media is abused and used in hateful ways but I’ve learned this week that sometimes it’s used in the sweetest, most generous ways.

Nonetheless, we know that balance, when it comes to cell phone use and social media are extremely important.

I really like this rubric (please do not use this as an evaluation tool) as a springboard for conversations with students about what fair and reasonable expectations look like. I know at my house, we do not allow phones at the dinner table or in the bedroom. These rules have been in place for years because as a family we value dinner conversations and sleep is extremely important for healthy kids and adolescents. Everything else is an in-the-moment conversation as needed.  A classroom is like a family and expectations that are co-constructed are extremely important for developing a healthy awareness of students’ own media use.

Use Digital Leadership as a framework for teaching and learning using social media

What if we looked at the devices in kids hands as opportunities to make the lives and circumstances of others better (George Couros). I’ve written a whole book on my ideas for this one because I have met so many students who are exceptional leaders in person, and who leverage social media and technology to lead the way for us. When I look at Joshua Williams, Olivia Van Ledtje, Curran Dee, Hannah Alper, Braeden Mannering Quinn, Aidan Aird, and the many other students  (follow them here) I have had the opportunity to get to know and others whom I continue to meet, I recognize that focusing on what our kids can be doing on social media will go a long way.

Together we can help students (who don’t already) see that they can use social media to:

  • Learn and share learning
  • Stand up for causes that are important to them
  • Be a more positive influence in the lives of others.

Let’s model what it means to be a positive force for change.

Let’s not take complex issues and over-generalize.

Let’s listen closely, ask critical and clarifying questions, and give our kids the benefit of the doubt once in a while.

You may be very surprised by what you see and learn.

I am confident that this generation of kids is more than alright; but like every generation before them, some of them just need some guidance from adult mentors.

 

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