Today’s kids and teens are different than any generation of young people that have gone before them, right? Some sort of generational Narcissism may accompany any age group, but it seems especially prevalent today. At least to older generations. On that note, many have documented the widening generation gaps, citing technology as the driving force. Behind their high-tech M.O.’s, however, the Millennials are much the same as generations that have gone before them.
Sure, the concept of online social networking was virtually foreign to previous generations of teens, but the impetus behind it wasn’t. Long gone may be the days of neighbors visiting on front porches over lemonade, but how many of us became “grounded from the phone” for tying up the land line for too long, or making expensive long-distance calls to friends who’d moved away? Well, today’s teens don’t have those kinds of limits. With unlimited calling and texting plans, we have no practical need to limit their online activity — so many of us don’t.
Even among our memories of hours spent “shooting the breeze” with neighbors or chatting on the phone about the latest who’s-with-whom, we can look cross-eyed at Millennials whose thumbs are going 240 mph about nothing in particular. However, when we remember that like us, they were created in God’s image as social beings, we can have empathy with them. Perhaps they are addicted or obsessed in their relationship to technology or the self-esteem they gain from “likes” on their “selfies” or texts agreeing with their case against authority. In that case, they also need some guidance.
Undoubtedly, teens need mature guidance regarding their online interactions. Once you show empathy with their motivations — for social interaction, affirmation, and more — you can begin to help them use the tools uniquely available to their generation of teens in responsible, productive ways. Regardless of technology’s part in the equation, it’s mainly a vehicle or outlet, expressing what’s already in your teenager’s heart. If she were born a decade or more earlier, her private thoughts may have been hidden away in a diary, under lock and key. Instead, they’re right out there on Facebook.
While she might need some guidance in reputation management and filtering, you can be thankful to see what flows from the abundance of her heart. If constant access means continual interaction with unedifying peers, perhaps you can make yourself available online, as well, and suggest wholesome websites and blogs to follow and online communities to join. You can also help your teen’s social development by imposing and encourage face-to-face times and technology-free activities to help your teen learn valuable social skills and the closer interactions that often come from them. But there’s an even more important need in the heart of your teen. We’ll discuss it in Part 2.