COMMENTARY: Generation Z is not as bad as parents think
“Nine-year-olds should not have iPhones.” “Back in my day we’d talk to people, not screens.” “Kids are growing up too fast these days.” These comments represent just a few of the copious qualms people harbor about the upcoming generation and its addiction to technology. For the sake of context, the “upcoming generation” includes people who were born after 2003. I will refer to this group of young pre-teens and teens as “Generation Z.” Technological outlets, primarily social media, have unquestionably impacted the standards and perspectives that members of Generation Z live by in negative ways. Recent statistics highlight technology’s harrowing effects as cyber-bullying and cyber-presence-induced suicides have become very real concerns for every individual with access to the internet. Furthermore, many opponents to Generations Z’s technological dependence argue that children lack the social qualities their parents and grandparents were equipped with during their youth, as many are more comfortable texting than having a face-to-face conversation. Although these are sound concerns, the doors our technological founding fathers have opened for this generation are engendering a paradigm shift in the mentality and capacity they possess.
Today we see 16-year-olds starting their own businesses, kids building large online presences that have expanded their professional horizons and videos of online friends meeting each other for the first time despite the thousands of miles of distance between them. We are witnessing the growing participation of teens in modern society and politics as they express and debate their opinions to a whole community of internet users. Although sometimes to a fault, Generation Z has become very sensitive to topics regarding social justice and inequality, and many individuals now hold themselves and other people to a certain standard of tolerance: This acceptance and expressionism is not characteristic of previous generations who are significantly less open-minded and unconventional than today’s youth are. Moreover, the fact that members of Generation Z are experiencing their formative years through technology demonstrates a potential revolutionary age of innovators, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs. To be so accustomed to the e-world is not only extremely advantageous for Generation Z in a fast-paced and constantly-changing global arena, it is necessary for their social and professional survival among previous generations who have built their empires via technology, as well as the upcoming generations who will inherit and advance those empires. Today, individuals who are deprived of access to technology and social media are essentially isolated from an interactive community and are at a great academic and professional disadvantage compared to their peers. The reality is that a whole generation will not stop, or even regulate, their dependency on their devices despite the negative consequences. Therefore, it ultimately comes down to survival in social hierarchies and academic settings which is enabled by the constant and intelligent use of these devices.
It is important to note that Generation Z is not only enveloped by technological outlets in their personal lives: Their schools, which are their primary source of knowledge, are adopting high-tech channels through which students are receiving their education and interacting with the academic world. The fact that entire school systems and faculties are now required to incorporate technology into their classrooms in order to keep up with the pace of the upcoming generation demonstrates how formidable and advanced our future teachers, doctors, lawyers and leaders may be, because they are unintentionally shaking the grounds of traditional methods of education. Many educators who have been in the business long enough to see the generational gaps have begun to notice the difference in capacity of their young students compared to previous years. Valentine Hills Elementary school teacher, Marilyn Persuitti, notes, “What we used to teach in first grade we’re now teaching in kindergarten,” which she believes are due to greater access to educational activities and outlets via media. It is incontrovertible that kids today have a significant upper-hand in academics because they are being exposed to broader areas of information that are not limited by textbook pages and are being trained to use the internet in productive ways.
When people dwell over the fact that their children seem to be growing up too fast, they can actually just be lamenting that their children don’t need to rely on them for answers to their questions anymore. Instead, they now have access to millions of search engines, visual models, interactive games, apps that are catered to fostering their cognitive abilities, and even opportunities to network with people halfway across the world. And who knows? Maybe this new independence can encourage parents to spend more quality time with their kids.
Ultimately, instead of hampering the potential of Generation Z and assigning them degrading labels, we should encourage their cognitive, social and academic growth and accept that they are just adjusting to life differently from us. Although it’s important to recognize the reality of overuse and over dependence on technology (which can be regulated), it is equally as important to ensure that the upcoming generations are equipped with the necessary skills and qualities that only access to technological outlets can provide them. Today we can laugh at these awkward and cringe-worthy preteens all we want, but in just a few decades they might even be kicking us millennials off our pedestals.
Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year double majoring in psychology and philosophy.
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