32 years and I’ve learned a bit

I just finished up 32 years in the teaching profession. No, I’m not retiring yet. I only have 23 years or so in TRS (Illinois teacher retirement system) and you need A LOT more than that for full retirement. Anywho, retirement isn’t really what I wanted to write about.

I’ve learned a lot about kids over the last 32 years. Today, I hear so many people now complaining about the way kids are raised or how the schools are failing. Texting and social media are ruining this generation. They have no respect. They feel entitled. They are too easily offended. They are snowflakes. While a bit of this has some truth, I’m going to respectfully disagree.

A very long time ago when I was in high school, I distinctly remember one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Gibson, saying that this generation (us) was the “Me generation”. All we cared about was me, me, me. We didn’t care about the world general, that we were selfish, that all we cared about was money. We were rude. We felt entitled. We weren’t satisfied with simplicity. We wanted others to do our work for us.

She was right. She was also wrong.

Here’s my argument. It isn’t the generation that lacks the morals of previous generations, it’s simply the nature of teenagers to be selfish. AND THEY CAN BE!! This is how they learn. According to the stages of psychological development adolescence is a time of “storm and stress” where the teen learns how to deal with all kinds of stress factors. Some of those internal stresses can include puberty, sexuality, gender identiy, self discovery, decision making, boyfriend/girlfriend, religious beliefs and more. External stressers can include homework, understanding parents, friends, divorced parents, high stakes testing, choosing a college, sex, meeting challenges set by parents and teachers, jobs, homework, and so much more. Personally, I’m thankful NOT to be teenager!!

I just looked it up – the average age for a person to lose his/her virginity is 16.9.  Holy Cow!! That’s the average!! Back in the 1980s it was closer to 18 years old.  While one year may not seem like that big of a difference, it really is when we’re talking about maturity levels.

Expectations for teens have also changed over the years. Back in the 1980s, kids were expected to have good grades, decent ACT score (average was 18), maybe have a part time (15-20 hour a week) job, and be active in church or school events. We started looking at colleges when we were seniors. Some of us would need loans, which might take up to 10 years to pay back in order to afford college. We were also, generally, expected to be home for dinner most days. Now, kids are expected to have good grades, get an excellent grade on the ACT (average is now 21) or SAT, decide on a college or career by the beginning of senior year, navigate the turbulent waters of financial aid, know that if they take out a loan, it might take 20-30 years to pay it off, have a job, have a car, have a computer, navigate social media, fend for themselves for dinner, handle money and credit or debit cars, and so much more.

So, are kids today worse than they were 35 years ago? I really don’t think so. I think the real difference in all of this is social media and too much protection from natural consequences. I’m not saying this is bad, but it is tricky. Kids, by nature, are impulsive. They say and do things today that they regret tomorrow. When we did that, we could apologize and move on. Now, kids say and do things on SM and it’s THERE for the world to see. Kids today, just like us back in the day, don’t really understand consequences and we (teachers, parents, society) want to protect them from consequences. However, too much protection can insulate them from growing up. A major difference, though, is that our mistakes could be erased as time went on. Their mistakes are often put out there for the world to see.

Think for a minute about the body. If you want your body to become stronger, you exercise. This puts natural stress on the muscles which causes growth. Take that same scenario and apply it to the mind and maturity levels. Yes, kids today have  lot of stress, but if they are never allowed to feel that stress, deal with it (and with adult guidance at times), and grow from it, how will they ever gain maturity?

I know I’ve rambled, and I apologize. Bottom line. Kids today and not all that different from us. Each generation is convinced that the next generation is the worst ever. They aren’t. They just need guidance to help them learn how to cope with natural consequences, be allowed to screw up and learn from those screw ups, and to see just how far the influence of social media can go which is something they truly don’t understand.

Yes, I have concerns for teens of today, but I certainly do not think that they are the worst generation ever. What they are, are kids who need guidance and support, not quick fixes or cover ups, in order to become active, mature adults.



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