Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District
Last week we took a look at characteristics of the current generation occupying our schools (known as iGen). Much in that letter was based on the work of professor, researcher and author, Jean Twenge. We learned that involvement in typically “adult” behaviors has declined among this generation and has been replaced with a slower entry into adulthood (if at all) and a significant uptick in depression and suicide.
Sadly, here in the General McLane School District, we have seen the uptick in mental health issues. Within the first month of school, we were looking for mental health placements for ten students from throughout the district. Currently, we have 27 students in some type of mental health treatment whether hospitalization or day treatment facilities. This is a significant number but also significant because we have many services on-site to support students with emotional needs. Having to go to places with more intensive intervention demonstrates the seriousness of which we are dealing.
Twenge traces the reason for this delay of adulthood and uptick in mental health needs back to 2012 when she “noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states.” She has researched these trends back to the 1930s and has never seen anything like it. What happened in 2012? It was “exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans owning a smart phone exceeded 50 percent.” But it is not just the existence of the smartphone – it is the concomitant rise of social media. “The twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever.”
When those of us from more “mature generations” were teenagers, we couldn’t wait to get away from our parents and chart our own course. We wanted to hang out with our friends at the mall, the skating rink, the park, the beach – anywhere we were unfettered by adults. But now, “socialization” for kids is done mostly online. Teens are content to stay in their room, on their phone, contacting everyone they know through Instagram, texting, and whatever other app is the rage of the age.
“Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them.” (Twenge) Indeed, what we see in the schools is a growing number of children clearly bereft of social skills. It creates immense problems for us. But that’s not the worst part of what is happening with the “stay in my room on my phone phenomena.”
Adolescence is that time when we want to fit in – we don’t want to be left out. Before social media, we may not have even known we were not invited to a social gathering but now, with the tweeting, Snapchat and Instagram, a child sits alone in a room knowing he or she has been left out. Then there is the cattiness and cruelty which comes with the age and there is no escaping it. It follows a teenager 24/7 and they have not developed the fortitude to save themselves by turning off the phone. You used to be able to go home from school on Friday, upset with your peers, and have it all forgotten by Monday. But now, whatever happened Friday continues right through the weekend. This is large part of why teen suicide has dramatically increased.
A survey by the Barna group in 2012 noted that younger generations, particularly Milennials (some of the parents of current students), were disconnected and did not associate with any core identity. There was a 50 point drop from the older generation in identifying as an American. The top factor Millennials claimed to be central to their identity was family (62%) with the second area being personal interests (48%). Other areas surveyed were career (31%), friends (37%), and faith (37%). We no longer have anything we all corporately identify with. It brings to mind the saying, “If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.” Perhaps this is also part of the issue.
As another example of a loss of common identity for teens, a book titled, Real Teens (2001), made an interesting discovery and point about popular music based on Barna’s ongoing survey of teens. Some of us remember when the music on the radio, the “top 40,” was all we listened to. It created a corporate identify for teens as the radio was basically our only source to hear new music. Every teenager knew the popular artists and songs and bonded over them. The Barna survey noted that with the invention of the iPod, teens left the top 40 standard and the percentage of teens tuned into the top 40 dwindled. Musical preferences were all over the board. This once common bond is now lost. (Incidentally, before the iPod, a pop music group would remain popular an average of 5 years – that dropped to 18 months.)
Mobile computing devices are the greatest learning tool I’ve seen in my career. I hope you use one of these devices to search for the authors and information I’ve presented in this series and educate yourself; but, these devices also present a serious challenge. These great learning tools are also portals to serious problems for our children. As I like to say, technology and money are neither inherently good nor evil. It is how you use them.
So what are we to do? You’ll have to tune in next week when we finish this series.
The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of EdinboroOnline.com or our sponsors.