I REMEMBER WHEN I WAS GROWING UP. HOW DIFFERENT IS IT FOR THEM?
By Vincent Lyn
Remembering when I was growing up was filled with nostalgia…. remembering what we did as kids….to maybe compare with today… this can be about politics, if that is what you remember fondly….or about any thing you did while growing up, community groups, parades, neighborhoods, eating places, it’s pretty much an open book to talk about what brings you fond memories….but….this is not a chapter for fighting about politics. So, what I remember most about my childhood is how free we were at a very young age. I remember being 5 but being so much more mature than kids today. Growing up in England when I was in school, I walked several blocks to kindergarten, by myself or with my friends and brother when he was old enough to attend school. Later on I rode my bike over to the swimming/wading pool in the park…which was again, a few miles away. I started traveling by myself and also with my brother who’s five years younger at the age of 12 years old. But when I mean traveling I mean getting on a plane and crossing the Atlantic. Sometimes flying as far as San Francisco or Trinidad & Tobago. Sometimes my brother and I would stay out till dark kicking the soccer ball around in the neighborhood. I wish our kids today could experience that….and also, growing up, I remember a pureness of heart, an innocence, we loved adults, our teachers, and the Police. We respected the police and adults…
We all sat down at the table together…and we had to ask if we could be excused, and when we were, we each took our plates, utensils and glass and rinsed them out and put them at the sink to be washed. We so laughed around the table, that was family time. Oh and Saturday nights, I sometimes would bake a cake with my mother and watch TV together as a family. It wasn’t as if there was a plethora of shows to watch as we only had two channels and at midnight if we were allowed to stay up that late TV would end with the national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’. At very young ages my brother and I had chores to do, that had to be done, each of us, picked up our own clothes, helped with the laundry, ironing, cleaning….we didn’t have a cell phone, or a TV in our room, there was one family TV…we played games in the winter, built tents inside, and played cards and other games. I was about fourteen when I got my first record player for my birthday and then a year later an amazing racing bicycle. There was nothing wrong with a child learning to be independent and doing for themselves, I really do believe we were so much more mature for our age then kids are today…everything is given to them and done for them….it’s sad, I saw a parent on FB ask how she could end her daughter’s temper tantrums, and one woman replied, “Take away her American doll?” By God we never threw temper tantrums…ever, we knew better, and if we got a spanking we deserved it. Otherwise you knew the leather strap was coming out. Also attending school in England corporal punishment was handed out on a regular basis. I lost count how many times I received six-of-the-best. That was the maximum amount of cracks with the cane on your ass were allowed. Now sure who came up with that rule. I remember sometimes we’d get a choice. The cane, a fifteen-size-sneaker or a canoe paddle.
I’m sure kids reading this would be shocked or simply curse and say “No f….way!” But looking back as much being young kids we were petrified we learnt discipline and respect and a moral code of ethics. Nobody ever lashed out at the teachers or cursed. I never heard anyone curse when I attended school maybe between mates but at a teacher. Absolutely unheard of and when I did attend the last few years of high school in America it was such a culture shock. No school uniforms, unruly behavior, it was like being at a circus rally.
But, honestly, it was an awesome childhood….
Every generation of teens is shaped by the social, political, and economic events of the day. Today’s teenagers are no different — and they’re the first generation whose lives are saturated by mobile technology and social media. The generation born between 1995 and 2012, Gen Z’s or “iGens” for their ubiquitous use of the iPhone. Their valuing of individualism, their economic context of income inequality, their inclusiveness, and more.
iGens grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet. They spend five to six hours a day texting, chatting, gaming, web surfing, streaming and sharing videos, and hanging out online. While other observers have equivocated about the impact, many psychologists make it clear: More than two hours a day raises the risk for serious mental health problems.
It’s quite easy to make these conclusions as the national rise in teen mental health problems mirrors the market penetration of iPhones — both take an upswing around 2012. This is correlational data, but competing explanations like rising academic pressure or the Great Recession don’t seem to explain teens’ mental health issues. And experimental studies suggest that when teens give up Facebook for a period or spend time in nature without their phones, for example, they become happier.
The mental health consequences are especially acute for younger teens. This makes sense developmentally, since the onset of puberty triggers a cascade of changes in the brain that make teens more emotional and more sensitive to their social world.
Social media use, means teens are spending less time with their friends in person. At the same time, online content creates unrealistic expectations (about happiness, body image, and more) and more opportunities for feeling left out — which scientists now know has similar effects as physical pain. Girls may be especially vulnerable, since they use social media more, report feeling left out more often than boys, and report twice the rate of cyberbullying as boys do. Social media is creating an “epidemic of anguish.”
Gen Z’s grow up more slowly. They also appear more reluctant to grow up. They are more likely than previous generations to hang out with their parents, postpone sex, and decline driver’s licenses.
Life history theory argues that how fast teens grow up depends on their perceptions of their environment: When the environment is perceived as hostile and competitive, teens take a “fast life strategy,” growing up quickly, making larger families earlier, and focusing on survival. A “slow life strategy,” in contrast, occurs in safer environments and allows a greater investment in fewer children — more time for preschool soccer and kindergarten piano lessons.
“Youths of every racial group, region, and class are growing up more slowly.” However, employers and college administrators have complained about today’s teens’ lack of preparation for adulthood. Students entering college have been over-parented and as a result are timid about exploration, afraid to make mistakes, and unable to advocate for themselves. Today’s teens are legitimately closer to their parents than previous generations, but their life course has also been shaped by income inequality that demoralizes their hopes for the future. Compared to previous generations, Gen Z’s believe they have less control over how their lives turn out. Instead, they think that the system is already rigged against them — a dispiriting finding about a segment of the lifespan that is designed for creatively reimagining the future.
The future of teen well-being
Social scientists will of course be discussing this for a long time to come and the life history theory is a useful macro explanation for teens’ slow growth, but I wonder how income inequality or rising rates of insecure attachments among teens and their parents are contributing to this phenomenon. And the claims that childhood has lengthened, but that runs counter to data showing earlier onset of puberty.
The implicit lesson for parents is that we need more nuanced parenting. We can be close to our children and still foster self-reliance. We can allow some screen time for our teens and make sure the priority is still on in-person relationships. We can teach empathy and respect but also how to engage in hard discussions with people who disagree with us. We should not shirk from teaching skills for adulthood, or we risk raising unprepared children. And we can — and must — teach teens that marketing of new media is always to the benefit of the seller, not necessarily the buyer.
Yet it’s not all about parenting. The cross-generational analysis offers is an important reminder that lives are shaped by historical shifts in culture, economy, and technology. Therefore, if we as a society truly care about human outcomes, we must carefully nurture the conditions in which the next generation can flourish.
We can’t market technologies that capture dopamine, hijack attention, and tether people to a screen, and then wonder why they are lonely and hurting. We can’t promote social movements that improve empathy, respect, and kindness toward others and then become frustrated that our kids are so sensitive. We can’t vote for politicians who stall upward mobility and then wonder why teens are not motivated. Society challenges teens and parents to improve; but can society take on the tough responsibility of making decisions with teens’ well-being in mind?
The good news is that Gen Z’s are less entitled, narcissistic, and over-confident than earlier generations, and they are ready to work hard. They are inclusive and concerned about social justice. And they are increasingly more diverse and less partisan, which means they may eventually insist on more cooperative, more just, and more egalitarian systems. Social media will likely play a role in that revolution — if it doesn’t sink our kids with anxiety and depression first.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts