Bridging the Virtual Gap: The Challenge for 21st Century Teenagers
Are you challenged by modern day teens? OR are you a teen YOURSELF? In either case, you will probably recognize something of your experience in the following story:
Sixteen year-old Leah and her mother are sitting at the dinner table. Each is reading her emails on hand-held devices. Every time an email arrives it announces itself by pings and pops that punctuate the silence. The blue light from the screen lights up the whites of their eyes giving them an eerie glow as they fervently read scraps of gossip from the latest sender. The mother looks up. Her eyes squint into a frown as she blurts a question in a commanding tone, “Leah can you do the dishes? It’s your turn and you have missed the last three times.” No reply. Leah’s head is fixated on her iphone, her fingers furiously texting. Her earphones complete her isolation as they block out all sound under eight-five decibels. She is perfectly unreachable. Almost. Only physical contact can break the spell of her impermeable shield from reality. She's in a virtual empire where she reigns supreme. Her mother taps her on the shoulder to gain her attention. “Fuck, don’t molest me, you retard” Leah snaps at her mother. “Wait till I tell my therapist you hit me again!” Leah's mother’s mind races, fearing that her daughter will do something irrational. Inside of ten seconds Leah places her iphone in front of her mother’s face, snapping a photo and then uploading it to Facebook with the words “My mother sucks! She hit me again.” The mother’s photo has been instantly sent to 1500 “friends.” Her simple request has suddenly evaporated into an emotional maelstrom made public. Perplexed, the mother stares helplessly at this strange creature, her daughter, and sighs.
I am guessing that many of you who know or work with teenagers, or indeed are teenagers yourself, may recognize some of the familiar issues in this scenario. In my fifteen years working with teens as a High School Teacher and Life Coach I often encounter over one hundred students a day, many in various situations like Leah's. I have witnessed social changes that have required me to consider deeply the challenges teens face and where they are at.
Several key issues I've identified in trying to help teens include: a difficulty to communicate their needs non-violently; over-dependence on virtual relationships; poor health; and a confused morality which includes their inability to take responsibility. Teenagers today have been armed with a variety of reasons for their issues, from ADHD to obesity to anger management issues. These are often used as excuses for not having to take responsibility for their behaviors and actions. Not only that, but doctors, behaviorists and various professional studies point to quick fixes such as medication as convenient solutions over more painstaking, slow but real and effective routes to deal with complex social issues. Common sense is often belittled or even lost altogether.
As a Life Coach and a cutting-edge High School educator my mission is to empower and help teenagers tap their creative spirit to become healthy and robust leaders and pioneers of the twenty-first century. To do this I am bridging a gap between two worlds. The first world is the virtual one where teens (and now parents and teachers) are absorbed into electronic social connections and entertainment, often at the expense of deeper relationships with others. The second world is real where communication and relationship come first, and the consequences a teen’s actions have on themselves and those around them become apparent.
The results are powerful. I encourage teens to:
Reclaiming the real is the first step to a saner future, don't you think?
"Lawrence Carroll's workshop on personal stress management, which he conducted with my Columbia Grad School class
was a huge success."
Neal Pilson, Columbia University, Former President, CBS Sports