Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

The Smartphone Generation

August 11, 2017

If you have anything to do with people teen-aged or younger, you should read Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generationby Jean M. Twenge.

When I told my son Chase about it (he has two little boys), he asked whether it was another of those old-fogey articles about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

“Kinda,” I said. The thing is, it seems genuinely scholarly, full of cautionary statistics and studies. (I’d love to read a critique from other social scientists. Knowing The Atlantic, where it was published, I’m sure we’ll get one.)

Twenge says that she has studied generational change for decades, and usually the changes are subtle and gradual. In this case, she says the changes are mountainous and dramatic. She makes the point that the post-millennials are the first generation native to smartphones. They have never known anything else. Smartphones are not an addition to their reality, they are part of reality.

She offers a lot of detailed info, and I won’t try to summarize it. I will say that there is a very strong correlation between smartphone use and depression. The more kids use smartphones, the more likely they are to be unhappy. Of course, suicide goes with that. The post-millennials are also much more prone to rely on their parents, Twenge says (which may look very positive to those parents), but are slower to grow up and much less independent than previous generations. They have fewer friends, much less social interaction in person, and are often lonely. Rather than going to the mall or the skating rink like previous generations, they stay in their room with their phones.

Most young parents I know are trying to limit screen time for their kids. Alarm bells go off when they see how addictive devices are for kids at a very young age. Even if they’re not exactly sure what the harm is, it’s not hard to guess that this can’t be good. Twenge’s article will fill in the background, and make the matter much more urgent.

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How Much Drive is Enough? How Much Drive Is Too Much?

March 19, 2015

Last week I saw two excellent movies on back to back evenings: Whiplash, and McFarland, USA. They could not be more different. McFarland is a terrifically warm, feel-good movie, and you’re never in doubt that you’re headed for a happy ending. Whiplash makes you nervous from beginning to end, and you’re not sure of its direction even when it’s over. It’s the most intellectually stimulating movie I’ve seen in a long time, something nobody would say about McFarland.

Yet both movies probe the same question: how much motivation do you need to succeed in life, and is there a point where it’s self-destructive?

McFarland is about a small central valley picker town, and a group of Mexican kids dragged out of themselves by the semi-desperate leadership of a failed football coach who is reduced to cross-country. The kids aren’t sure there’s any future for them, apart from the same farm labor their parents do. Cross-country helps them find their competitive spirit. They are used to hard work, and when they are motivated toward a goal, great things are accomplished. They win the state title.

The message is: those kids need something to motivate them. A loser coach and a loser sport do the trick. Yeah, it’s a sports movie. I loved it. (It doesn’t hurt that all my kids ran cross-country.)

Incidentally, in my county some anonymous donors have been buying tickets for local kids, a nice gesture meant, I assume, to motivate them. (Maybe it’s a cross-country coach.)

Whiplash is about a middle-class kid with lots going for him. He has a loving father and a caring girlfriend, and he’s been admitted to the best music school in America. But he’s fiercely competitive—he practices drums until his hands bleed—and he’s eaten alive by an abusive teacher who’s trying to produce the next Charley Parker. The kid knows that Charley Parker died in drug-induced squalor, but he buys the program—he’ll happily die in his own snot if he reaches jazz nirvana and plays on that level. His teacher eggs him on, torments him, verbally and physically abuses him. Through much of the movie you feel sorry for the kid, and you hope the teacher gets what’s coming to him, but in the end you realize that the kid is drawn to the teacher like a moth to a flame. He wants success so much that he invites abuse—anything for motivation.

(Incidentally, when I asked my son the Olympic rower about the movie, he said that the teacher didn’t seem that bad to him. Which says something about Olympic training, I think.)

I think everybody would agree that we need motivation. Inspiring teachers and coaches and parents supply it. And abusive ones, too. How much is enough? How much is too much? This is a constant question in parenting—especially since, in the modern era, teachers and coaches have little opportunity for abuse. But parents? Lots of wiggle room. Will we be Tiger parents? Or will we be affirming parents? Will we raise ultra-successful neurotics? Or will we raise happy slackers?

I never had an abusive boss or teacher, my parents were of the hands-off, encouraging type who thought I did just fine, and I think I turned out okay. I’m not exactly a slacker. However, I’m not very driven, either, at least compared to some whom I know well. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have accomplished more with a more driven approach. It wasn’t naturally in me, but maybe it could have been pounded into me. Whiplash suggests that without somebody to pound it into you, you’ll never be the next Charley Parker. Maybe so. Do you want to be?