The Electronic Teenager

April 23, 2013


Has anyone noticed that (most of) the 21st Century teenagers are people of very few words? Is it just me as a teacher and an aunt who has discovered this startling phenomenon? What happened to those teens who used to know everything by the time they were 18? Who used to argue to the death? Those teens who were changing the social and cultural order of the world? Where are they?

After observing my teenage nieces, nephews, and friends’ kids between Thanksgiving (2011) and Christmas (2012) I am wondering what happened to their social skills. In that thirteen month period we met socially ten times. After greetings we automatically divided ourselves into two groups. The older people’s group was talking, talking, talking – politics, world affairs, religion, family affairs – and the teenagers’ group was sitting quietly, deep in concentration, tiny little things in their hands – click, click, click, busy, busy, busy.

The teenagers rarely made eye contact, spoke only when spoken to, and answered in one word replies as follows:
How are you? Good.
Would you like something to drink? Aha.
Would you like something to eat? No. Yes.
Some more of this or that dish? Yes. No.
How’s school? Good.
How’s college? Good.
You have a major in mind? What?

They generally ignored the company around them. Is this the new social order?

A lot of parents used to complain that their teenage kids argued, grumbled and complained much too much. I did! This was in the mid-70s to mid-80s. I’m not sure about the 90s. My three sons not only argued, grumbled and complained about chores around the house, they argued about their clothes, grumbled about the home cooked food, and complained bitterly about having to go to bed (with a book) at 9:00 p.m. on school days.

The two things they did not complain about were junk food on Fridays, and a trip to the book store. At the dinner table we talked about all sorts of things including world affairs and those boys could talk – or argue.

As a high school teacher I have spoken to many parents who have complained about the opposite behavior. When and how did teenagers’ behavior change so drastically?

Many, many parents with whom I had contact did not know what time their kids went o bed or if they did their homework. They gave their kids money to buy their own clothes. It seems as if parents these days have very little say in their children’s lives and even less control on their activities. One question many parents used to ask me was how to wean their kids off the computer and other electronic gadgets. I told them to stop buying them, to buy books instead.

Some months ago I read in the New York Times that parents in Silicone Valley did not allow their kids to use electronic gadgets until a certain age. Wow!

Recently new kinds of schools have been opening up. For example, (1) school for etiquette, (2) school for job interview skills, and (3) school for social inter-action skills. Wow!

These schools are good for business, but they are a sad commentary on the social order of our society. It seems to me that the more ways we have to communicate with each other, the less we have to say to each other. I love a good conversation or argument, face to face or via phone.

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