Six Crippling Realities We Must Address in Today’s Kids: Part 2
By Tim Elmore
This is part two of a three-part series that breaks down the six realities that kids today are facing. To read part one of the series, click here.
It’s funny how many unhealthy practices were once considered healthy and helpful by medical authorities. Products and drugs we now know to be destructive were once considered good:
- Cigarettes, for instance, were once recommended by doctors for our health.
- Heroin cough syrup was developed by Bayer Laboratories in 1898 as a cure.
- Long before drug cartels and crack wars, cocaine was promoted as a wonder drug.
We now know better. These substances have been shown to be addictive and terribly unhealthy. Similarly, we have some new habit-forming realities that kids experience today that we’re now discovering are not helpful at all. In part one of this series, I described two:
- Exposure is up. Experience is down.
- Stimulation is up. Critical thinking is down.
Each of these alone would not necessarily be troublesome. But when combined, they create handicaps fostering unhealthy maturation in our kids. Let’s review three others.
3. Connections are up. Community is down.
No one would argue with these statements, but they’re paradoxical when placed together. People today are more connected through technology than ever before. A teen recently told me he met a girl online, dated her online and later broke up online, never once having met her in person. Significantly, 81 percent of households have at least one device connected to the internet constantly. Kaspersky Senior Security Researcher, David Jacoby, says: “Our homes are becoming more connected than ever before, as we use more and more new technologies to make our lives much more convenient.” Tech enables us to stay connected despite our circumstances, even from a distance. And it’s the distance that’s troublesome.
While social media connects us like never before, it can also increase feelings of being left out, anxiety, depression, and social isolation—sometimes greatly exacerbating feelings of disconnection from each other and the “real world.” According to a 2020 NPR article, social media use was associated with loneliness. The mirage of connection disincentivizes us from experiencing authentic community. Today, more people live alone, travel alone and dine alone than past generations. Fewer people belong to a civic club or church. Alarming numbers of people are lonely. A nationwide study by Ruan® reports a startling 61 percent of young people (ages 18-25) feel miserable degrees of loneliness. How ironic since people are all around us. We say we long for authenticity, but we’re more superficial, artificial, and cosmetic than ever before.
What should we do? I recommend a self-imposed boundary on devices. The data shows teens who are on social media less than two hours a day are measurably less vulnerable to depression and anxiety. In place of those extra hours, find a person or two you’ll meet with in person and go deep. By this, I mean swap stories; be transparent, even vulnerable; and learn to communicate. Find someone you trust and respect and who can keep your input confidential.
Next, I suggest you find a small group of peers and agree upon a regular time to meet to enjoy community. My wife and I found a group like this; all of us are parents of kids who perform (on stage, on a field, or in a concert). We even gave ourselves a cheesy name: POPs (Parents Of Performers).
4. Opportunity is up. Risk taking is down.
When I look around our society today, I see boundless opportunity. The internet makes our options and ideas limitless. As a result, seven of ten high school students in America want to be an entrepreneur. We commonly hear stories of a young adult who created an app or became a YouTube influencer before they graduated. This reality is exciting. Unfortunately, young adults today have proven to be the most risk-averse population in modern history. Generation Z faces an unprecedented behavioral health crisis, according to a study by McKinsey. Generation Z reported the least positive outlook and the highest prevalence of mental illness of any generation.
The reason is a perfect storm of elements in 21st-century culture, not the least of which is that parents have risked too little, rescued too quickly, and raved too easily. While each of these patterns are well intended, they serve to lessen young people’s readiness for adulthood and leadership. Not having taken age-appropriate risks as children, they can be ambushed when it’s time for them to do so as adults. Over time, they learn that a stimulus is not benign through personal experience. Implicitly, a fear of a particular stimulus can develop, resulting in risk-averse behavior. My concern, of course, is that they won’t seize opportunities as they should.
What should we do? As kids mature, we must help them see and seize opportunities that suit them. We can guide them to find prospects that fit their gifts or passions and even talk to them about how to calculate a wise risk vs. an unwise one. I am not lobbying for recklessness but for intelligent decisions where they take a chance and bet on themselves.
Tell them you’ll be there to help them pick up the pieces if they fail, but that failure is worth it and is a marvelous teacher. Remind them of chances you took and how you learned from them. When my son was sixteen, he and my wife moved to Burbank, CA, to provide opportunities to audition for acting jobs. It was his choice, and he paid for some of the expenses. He learned the value of opportunity and risk.
In next week’s post, I will finish this list of crippling realities and what to do about them.