Many parents fret that they’re not having the same conversations with their children that they did with their parents when they were kids.
Teachers fret that engaging students in the classroom is tougher today because they compete against YouTube, Netflix, and Tik Tok.
Coaches and youth workers fret that keeping a student athlete’s attention is tough because they’re up against Madden NFL or Fortnite video games.
The fact is parenting, teaching, and coaching is different today, not because kids are different but because the culture is different. We are raising them in a society where Siri and Alexa offer quick answers, creating eight-second attention spans and expectations that solutions should be instantaneous and that life should be entertaining.
It’s not our kids’ fault, but it is our kids’ reality.
The Choice in Front of Us
It seems to me we are at a fork in the road. We can either choose to compete with today’s on-demand, instant access entertainment or we can choose to offer what the digital world cannot. We must adapt to the world they’re growing up in, but we don’t have to adopt every new trend that surfaces along the way. Adapting simply means we recognize what kids gain from this new world and we complement it. Let me offer an example.
Kids today experience a Google reflex.
Kids are asking Google questions they used to ask mom and dad. What we must recognize is kids don’t lack information. They don’t need us for that; Alexa actually knows more than I do most of the time. They need me for interpretation. All the sources of content they access can offer information, but not a worldview with which to interpret that information. Young people are drowning in information but starving for wisdom.
When I was a kid, I remember hearing: TGIF. It was a reminder that Friday afforded me a chance for some margin to unwind and enjoy a weekend. My friend, Len Sweet says that today’s kids have a new TGIF:
T – Twitter
G – Google
I – Instagram
F – Facebook
There is no downtime. They’re screenagers, always on and always online. They spend more time reacting to content than reflecting on content. And because there are so many posts, it leaves a little margin to invest time in any one issue. A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. So, our responsibility is not to compete against this but to compliment it by offering what they still lack. Our goal should not be to compete but to complete.
Doing What Google Cannot Do
When I ponder all that their TGIF world offers today, it is clear they still lack some timeless input that only we can offer. The list below may sound over-simplified, but I submit it to you as a starter to ponder what your young people need, even with all the benefits their smartphones afford. Take a look and make a mental list of how you fulfill each of these rare ingredients:
1. Form an authentic and transparent relationship.
Hollywood can’t do this. Ask them questions, banter, and forge a genuine connection.
2. Host an interactive learning experience.
Most of their interactions are about entertainment. Yours can transform their hopes and plans.
3. Listen to them and empathize with them.
Listening to a student is almost equal to feeling love for them. Empathy precedes trust.
4. Introduce them to significant people.
Bridge building and door opening are essential for students. Invite them into your network.
5. Travel to someplace they’ve not been.
Trips to different cultures are like memorable college classes. The new and novel are golden.
6. Guide their growth with questions.
By adolescence, the best instruction occurs through discovery, fostered by questions.
7. Give them autonomy in the goals they set.
Teens today lack the autonomy to enjoy metacognition—to choose how and what they study.
Never forget you play a unique role in those kids’ lives. Don’t imitate media or social media. Play the card that’s in your hand and trust the process. You can do something no one else can.