A peek-a boo into today’s Indian teen’s life
The recent hue and cry about a school’s decision to suspend a class XII boy and girl because they had hugged during an arts festival held in their school made me collect my thoughts and experience of having worked with teenagers and their parents for over a decade now.
Though I would not like to repeat the details of the incident which has been well published in media all over, but would definitely like to reflect on what happened, the school management and authorities felt the children were disrespectful towards them and their values by displaying their affection in public and there is nothing wrong in their perception because that’s how we were raised , that’s how our social, cultural and religious values have taught us and stereotyped us .
“Public Display of Affection is not allowed” is an unsaid rule not only in public but also among the close family members and friends so a PDA in a school is totally out of question and is against the norms and when this is topped by the attitude of our teenagers, their being rude and confidently defending for themselves definitely paves a way for a strict consequence which in this case came as a suspension.
I completely understand the intent, emotions, feelings of the management for having taken these steps and all those who support the school management’s act and those who are of strong opinion that today’s teens have become shameless and have no respect for elders. It might be true in lot of different aspects but I would like to urge you all to pause for a moment and take time to reflect on what it means to be a teenager in today’s world and how’s it different from the time you or me or our elders were teenagers. After all they are not living in an alien world created by themselves, they live in a world you and me have created for them, so its important for us to know how things have changed and how our children are adapting to change. Where should they be corrected? And where should they be understood.
Every generation of teens is shaped by the social, political, and economic events of the day. Today’s teenagers are no different—and they’re the first generation whose lives are saturated by mobile technology and social media. The generation born between 1995 and 2012 are named “iGens” for their ubiquitous use of the iPhone, their valuing of individualism, their economic context of income inequality, their inclusiveness, and more by experts and psychologists.
Now let’s understand how are these iGens tuned:
iGens, more than other generations, are respectful and inclusive of diversity of many kinds. Yet as a result, they reject offensive speech more than any earlier generation, and they are derided for their “fragility” and need for “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.” Hence they are labelled disrespectful.
iGens grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet. They spend five to six hours a day texting, chatting, gaming, web surfing, streaming and sharing videos, and hanging out online. While other observers have equivocated about the impact. More than two hours a day raises the risk for serious mental health problems.
Surveys and statistics show the national rise in teen mental health problems mirrors the market penetration of iPhones—both take an upswing around 2012. This is correlational data, but competing explanations like rising academic pressure or the Great Recession don’t seem to explain teens’ mental health issues. And experimental studies suggest that when teens give up Facebook for a period or spend time in nature without their phones, for example, they become happier.
iGens are a lot more expressive than their counterparts in previous generations, we know well, shaking hands or touching was not very common during the time of our parents or grandparents , from then it changed to shaking hands, a high five, a low five and now the iGens for whom a hug is just a way of greeting. In their world, there are different types of hugs , basic friend hug, bear hug, bear claw and to our surprise they know very well on how to differentiate between a good one and a bad one. Labelling these expressions as an act of disrespect or a display of sexual attraction, I feel would be unfair. Yes As adults we can make them aware of our culture, what is allowed and not allowed and about limitations but that should not lead to fierce consequences.
The good news is that iGens are less entitled, narcissistic, and over-confident than earlier generations, and they are ready to work hard. They are inclusive and concerned about social justice. And they are increasingly more diverse and less partisan, which means they may eventually insist on more cooperative, more just, and more egalitarian systems.
So what can we take away from all the above understanding ? The implicit lesson for parents is that we need more nuanced parenting. We can be close to our children and still foster self-reliance. We can allow some screen time for our teens and make sure the priority is still on in-person relationships. We can teach empathy and respect but also how to engage in hard discussions with people who disagree with us. We should not shirk from teaching skills for adulthood, or we risk raising unprepared children. And we can—and must—teach teens that marketing of new media is always to the benefit of the seller, not necessarily the buyer.
Yet it’s not all about parenting. The cross-generational analysis that experts offer is an important reminder that lives are shaped by historical shifts in culture, economy, and technology. Therefore, if we as a society truly care about human outcomes, we must carefully nurture the conditions in which the next generation can flourish. We can’t market technologies that capture dopamine, hijack attention, and tether people to a screen, and then wonder why they are lonely and hurting. We can’t promote social movements that improve empathy, respect, and kindness toward others and then become frustrated that our kids are so sensitive. We can’t vote for politicians who stall upward mobility and then wonder why teens are not motivated. Society challenges teens and parents to improve; but can society take on the tough responsibility of making decisions with teens’ well-being in mind?
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)