Six Traits That Shape Students in Our Society

My children are both young adults, in their twenties. They have grown up in a world almost altogether different than the one I grew up in—fifty years ago. We were talking recently about the “norms” for their peers in society today. My conclusion? We are moving from the “information age” to the “intelligence age” where our appliances and devices may be smarter than we are.

I wonder if we are ready for it.

Noting how contemporary society was shaping our young in both positive and negative ways, anthropologist Margaret Mead began to travel to places like Samoa and New Guinea. She visited different cultures on a search: “I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?”

One Huge Discovery

photo credit: francisco_osorio University Life 269 via photopin (license)

photo credit: francisco_osorio University Life 269 via photopin (license)

Interestingly, Mead discovered one significant difference within developing nations.

“With the exception of a few cases, adolescence represented no period of crisis or stress, but was instead an orderly developing of a set of slowly maturing interests and activities. The girls’ minds were perplexed by no conflicts, troubled by no philosophical queries, beset by no remote ambitions.”

Wait. Did she say she didn’t see any stress in those teens’ lives?

Yep. That’s what she said. Now, obviously, we might argue that because teens in Samoa or New Guinea are not exposed to a broader world, they’ve not seen anything that could expand them further. Perhaps they would like our high tech, high speed, high volume world if they were only exposed to it.

That is my point precisely. The exposure our students gain is both good news and bad news. Exposure to “more” is broadening to them, but it’s also a source of stress. Mead writes, “A society which is clamoring for choice, which is filled with many articulate groups, each urging its own brand of salvation, its own variety of economic philosophy, will give each new generation no peace until all have chosen or gone under, unable to bear the conditions of choice.”

Six Traits in Our Society and What They Produce

Below, I’ve ventured to list the pros and cons of six traits of our post-modern culture. Let me recommend you use these lists as a discussion starter on your campus:

Societal Trait Pros Cons
Pluralism Tolerance. Since kids are exposed to a variety of world views they are more open minded. Too often, kids fail to develop critical thinking skills to evaluate their own working philosophy or worldview.
Multiculturalism  Exposure to others who are different, as our country is more diverse than ever before. Racism, in a growing world full of people unlike them, some can withdraw and develop fears about diverse ethnicities.
Materialism Higher standards of living, as products and services are accessible to more people. Entitlement among all age groups as people feel they deserve only the best products and services available.
Relativism Less dogmatism about issues that are not black and white. We recognize many areas are “gray.” Inability to see that some issues and values are black and white. Morality can become “elastic” based on opinion or convenience.
Progressivism Savvy mindsets. Youth are comfortable and familiar with adapting to new technology. Frequently, students can develop addictions to their portable devices and require new iterations of technology to be satisfied.
Pragmatism They are much more practical and realistic than Millennials were at their age. Few are idealists anymore. They’ve witnessed a sour economy and live in a day of uncertainty, complexity, and skepticism. Innocence dies fast.


Here’s a thought. What if you discussed this list of “pros” and “cons” with your colleagues or even your students? Do they see them too? What would they add to the list? Then, what if you talked about what could be done to address the negative consequences of these traits?

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Six Traits That Shape Students in Our Society