If you ever feel that your children’s sibling rivalry or constant quarreling has gotten out of control, simply give them a cause that will unite them. The most expedient and foolproof method of bringing them back together as one happy litter is to inspire them to join forces against their parents.
One night over dinner, our three children, who were all in high school and middle school at the time, had finally heard enough from their mother and father. They were tired of hearing about the latest article implying that their generation, due to social media, would have attention spans equal to a mere fraction of their forebears’ concentration. They were tired of hearing how their communication through written and spoken word had been reduced to characters in a text, and they didn’t want to hear that they were less likely, than previous generations, to stick with a problem until it was solved. They almost rose out of their seats and tossed the table on its side when they had finally reached their saturation points.
Unknowingly, their father and I had pushed and nudged them with our well-meaning descriptions of the way it used to be when we were growing up. Things were simpler, we had opined, when only the kitchen phone was on the wall and a clearly defined need for spoken words when communicating with a friend. We meant well, I’m sure. Our intention was to carry the torch to the next generation so that our children would always connect in person rather than through on-line chats, and write in paragraphs rather than tweets. My son hit his limit first, and I have never seen his two sisters stand by him with such solidarity as they did that night. “Stop telling us that! We can’t help when we were born! We are doing the best we can, and this is the world you brought us into!” Stunned to learn that they were not only listening, but taking these messages to heart, I realized that we sometimes forget to point out all of the things that are actually better today than they were when we were teens. Not everything has gone to pot.
The children of this generation are so much more aware of the global world around them. They know people from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions, and they are intrigued by them, not fearful or disdainful of them. In 2015, it is not okay to tell a joke at the expense of someone else, and especially not at the expense of an entire group of people. Middle school and high school students can still be unkind to other students, but it is not tolerated in the way it used to be. We no longer look the other way. Our children are more aware of the environment and their generation’s responsibility to protect it. Yes, there is still risky teenage behavior out there, but parents are not so oblivious to it. We are more likely to talk to our children about our expectations, and more likely to do it in an informed way.
This generation does not always gather, process, and articulate their information in the same way we did, but it seems to work. As far as I can tell, the students with whom I have the privilege of working are sensitive, caring, and thoughtful. They still connect with their teachers and with each other. They know how to question an invalid argument, and they know how to fight for a cause, when it is the right one. Most heartening may be that their capacity for empathy has not been diminished, even without the kitchen phone on the wall with that long curly cord.