Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Path of Least Resistance



For the past few months I have again been working as a substitute teacher.  Last time I worked as a substitute was a few years ago and I spent most of my time substituting in elementary school classrooms. This time, while I can choose to work with any/all age groups, I have been choosing to spend most of my time substituting in the local high school.  Every day I deal with teenagers acting disrespectfully, using foul language, making sexual innuendos with each other, and generally choosing actions and attitudes that are the exact opposite of what I have asked of them.  Teenagers stay plugged in all. the. time.  They constantly have their headphones/earbuds on and their phones either playing music, playing games, or playing videos.  I worry about them.

There have been times in the past several months that I have asked the question: What have we done to our kids? 

Is it too late to set them on a new path?  If not, how do we go about changing that path?

These are complex questions with complex answers, which I really do not have, but maybe this will be the beginning of some discussions regarding possible answers.

How did these kids get here? What have we done to our children to make them this way? I believe that kids behave in this manner for a few reasons: 1) U.S society's insistence that all participants in an event (sports, clubs, etc.) be rewarded regardless of their effort or achievement,  2) Parents who give in to their child's every desire because it is easier to give in than to tell them no and follow through on that, and 3) Teenagers are allowed to be plugged in nearly 24/7.

As my children were growing up and participating in various sports: soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball.  At the end of the season they would hand out trophies. No matter how a team performed, everyone got a trophy. Even the team that came in last got trophies. Yay! Fourth place out of four teams! You deserve a trophy!

In my opinion this attitude promotes feelings of entitlement. These kids are growing up feeling that no matter their effort, they deserve to be rewarded. They show up to class, they may or may not do the work they have been assigned, and they don't understand why the teacher does not "give" them an A. They don't seem to understand the concept of working for things. It appears many of this generation expect to be rewarded for simply doing the least they can get away with.  High school athletes expect to be granted a college scholarship simply because they play. They don't even have to be the star athletes, if they are on the team they expect to get a scholarship.

Then there is the issue of parents who would rather take the path of least resistance than to stand up to their child and stick with a "no." Parents (I've been guilty of this at times, too) are able to rationalize giving in to their child with, "but it's only . . . (a piece of gum, a cheap toy, one evening with his/her friend,  a pair of shoes,  etc.) The problem here lies in the fact that if this is the parent's go-to for handling their child, it trains the child to believe he/she will always get what they want.  Parents then perpetuate this attitude in sports when they confront the coach about why their child did not get to play.  They perpetuate this in school when they confront the teacher about why their child did not get an A.  Not only do the students feel entitled, the parents often feel their child should be entitled.

Part of this entitlement is the fact that parents feel their child should always carry the most recently released smart phone available. These teenagers (including my own) spend nearly all of their waking hours plugged in. There is a constant barrage of noise flowing into their heads. 

Researcher, Jean Twenge, was recently interviewed on NPR.  According to NPR:  "Twenge researched the effect of screen-time on teenage depression and suicide.  Twenge's research found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. And that's regardless of the content consumed. Whether teens are watching cat videos or looking at something more serious, the amount of screen time — not the specific content — goes hand in hand with the higher instances of depression."

This is a scary statistic. I honestly know of few teens who spend less than five hours a day on their phones.  I am currently sitting in a classroom and took a quick, informal poll.  Out of 19 students in the class, 9 of them are wearing their headphones/earbuds. As a substitute teacher there is very little I am able to do to get students off their phones during the school day. I can ask them to remove their earbuds or headphones, and I can ask them to turn off their music, videos, and games, but if they decide not to there is little I am able to do about it.  As long as the school system allows students use of their phones in the school this is going to be a problem.  

In her book Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, author Manoush Zomorodi speaks of the importance of giving our brains time to be bored.  She states, "being bored gives us the space to ask 'what if.'" If our brains are constantly blasted with noise they have no down time to process the input and to be creative.  Our most creative moments stem from moments of boredom.

While our kids may not deserve that trophy or that A, they do deserve better than they have been receiving. They deserve to learn in a mutually respectful classroom. They deserve time away from their telephones. They deserve to feel the accomplishment that comes with earning. They deserve more than the everything they are being given.

If you have thoughts or ideas about how we can change the course these kids are traveling, please comment and let me know. I'd love to have a discussion about this!

Until next time.