The Kids Are Alright

With apologies to The Who, the AP Stylebook preaches that the proper use is “all right,” never “alright,” but I’m not writing AP copy today.

Today I’m addressing all the hand-wringing about “kids these days” who have no social skills, who spend all their waking hours (and even sleeping hours) with their noses buried in their cellphones or tablets texting and whatnot, oblivious to the world around them. The same with video games. These kids, the pundits and worriers say, don’t know how to relate to others face-to-face. I’m here to say that ain’t necessarily so.

2201cover_bestClive Thompson (clive (at) clivethompson.net) recently wrote in Wired magazine that teenagers actually crave personal contact with their peers and tend to resort to social media, texting, etc., mainly when they don’t have ready access to personal contact. Basing my opinion largely on anecdotal evidence, I agree.

While it’s true you can see lots of (mostly) young people seeming to spend all their free time flipping through touch-screen images and texts, Thompson argues and I second the argument that they go there in large part because their access to in-person contact is limited and a virtual contact is better than none at all.

My son, Matt, tells me he mainly uses texting to make arrangements to meet friends in person. He’s lucky, in a way, though. He has a car (which he mostly paid for himself), which affords him a great deal of freedom not available to all teenagers. He has earned that freedom. He has a cool job (especially for teenagers) at LaserQuest, gets good grades and doesn’t get into trouble.  He has several circles of friends through school, work and sport. He has an XBox 360 and a balky laptop.

My daughter, Lindsey, is a little more into the digital thing, although she also maintains healthy “real” friendships. Though more dependent on mom and dad (or friends’ moms and dads) for transportation, she seeks opportunities to hang with friends whenever possible. She wants a car of her own as soon as she’s old enough and can afford one. She has an iPad that all the students at her school use.

While Mrs. AkronDave and I do have to rein them in on occasion, for the most part they don’t overdo the digital stuff.

Thompson says fearful, overprotective “helicopter” parents are as much to blame for the digitally driven “disconnect” as the availability of digital technology. Kids’ lives have become soooo structured (soccer, piano lessons, swim team, dance, etc., etc.) that these kids feel trapped. They go to football games not so much to watch the game as to get a little free time to hang with friends without constant supervision. That much has not changed since prehistoric times when I was in high school.

Again, I think there’s a lot of truth to Thompson’s point, although as the ad industry likes to use as a disclaimer, “results may vary.” Kids sometimes overuse the texting, such as at the dinner table, particularly during holidays. In my family, Grandma banned cellphones at Thanksgiving because even the adults were spending more time looking down at their mobile devices than up at the people in the room.

The bottom line is, like everything else, use in moderation and you’ll probably be just fine.

Hold on a sec, I gotta check this msg … BRB

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