Have you noticed? High school and college students from Generation Z are approaching “dating”…uh…differently.
I just spoke to Sophia, a sophomore in high school. The last time she and I talked she was dating a guy named Conner. In our recent conversation I asked if they were still dating and Sophia replied, “I don’t think so.”
Wait. What? Why wouldn’t you know for sure? Either you are or aren’t, right?
Not in today’s world, thanks to “ghosting.” When a couple is dating, mostly on a screen, and the text conversation goes sideways, it’s not uncommon for one of the two parties to “ghost” the other. Instead of enduring the pain of a hard conversation where a couple breaks up, one of them can simply not show up for the conversation on their phones. Like a ghost, they’re invisible. Poor Sophia didn’t know if her boyfriend, Conner, had ghosted her or if he simply got his phone taken away by his parents. In either case, there is a lot of ambiguity.
But it’s easier than a tough interaction.
Such is our social world today. Welcome to Generation Z.
Dating Is Morphing
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Educators say the current generation in college is uniquely bad at romance. Online dating has created a (false) feeling of an endless buffet of romantic choices. And mobile technology—which this generation has never lived without—has been a security blanket of sorts that has kept them from developing solid in-person communication skills.”
We all began to see this phenomenon several years ago when teens began “phubbing” others socially. This term is a combination of phone-snubbing. It happens out in public when other people are around—those we once spoke with in social settings because it was socially wrong to snub someone who stood in an elevator 18 inches away from you. Today, however, we are all looking at our phones, pretending to be doing something important, when in reality we’re just socially lazy. As kids, Generation Z experienced a perfect storm of realities that led to this:
- They were sheltered and supervised by adults all the time.
- Portable devices became ubiquitous, allowing for easier interaction.
- Mental health issues were on the rise, leaving them feeling overwhelmed.
- They were alone more with their phones, causing social skills to atrophy.
Truth be told, Generation Z is far more private than Millennials were at their age. They actually learned to be private from the mistakes of those Millennials, who got caught offering personal information on-line to strangers or vendors. Early on, we all were intoxicated with the new world of social media as young adults. Yet, in their privacy, too many teens have lost the art of socializing and even dating someone.
One Idea to Make Progress: A Dating Assignment
This issue has been spotted in other industrialized countries too. In South Korea, college-level dating classes are proliferating. Kerry Cronin, an instructor at Boston College, offers a course called, Perspectives in Western Culture. One of her goals is to help students figure out how to interact well in society. One of her assignments is this: each student must ask a romantic interest out on a date. The criteria includes:
- It must be requested in person, not on a screen.
- It must be done within three days, to prevent undue anxiety.
- The time together must be 60-90 minutes.
- The other person must know it is a “date.”
- No group dates or “wingmen” are allowed.
- She suggests coming up with questions to talk about in advance.
As silly as this sounds, these are fundamentals of socializing that are rare in a world of “hookups” where someone can swipe a screen to find someone for a one night stand. Emotional transparency may never be learned. And too often, it isn’t. Students who’ve completed Kerry’s assignment quickly report:
- Going out on a date helps us get over our fear of failure.
- We are afraid of human interaction. We imagine the worst scenario. You want us to not overthink it.
- It makes us feel more vulnerable and that vulnerability helps us learn more about ourselves.
- Being a good listener is more important than being a good talker.
One Challenge I Gave Students
I worked with a group of college students who were struggling with the same anxiety and one of them gave me an idea. We decided to help the group break the ice with a social challenge. To overcome stigmas of asking someone on a date, then wondering what others assumed was happening, I suggested students pair up and get to know one another and not “date.”
A date may carry some baggage with it, like you’re immediately looking for commitment, or a sexual encounter or even a marriage partner.
Getting to know someone is simpler than a date. It is purely for social reasons; to learn more about them. It fosters friendship because expectations are different. This turned out to be a great “ice-breaker” for students. I recommend it highly.
What social and emotional learning can you foster with an assignment like this?
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