Updated: Sep 7
Read Part 1 here
So how did exactly did this happen? How did we go from a society only 30 years ago where it was common social courtesy to never talk about who you voted for to a world where we wear clothes, wave flags, and declare with bumper stickers how we feel about everything from politics to the TV shows we watch. I believe two main things have happened over the last few decades.
#1 A narcissistic epidemic
There was a change in parenting around the time that "gen xers" began to have kids. This was about the time that we moved from instilling a value of hard work to focusing on a child's personal happiness, individualism and self worth. This type of parenting has its worth. It has created a generation of more social and mental health conscious kids who I think could change the world if we give them the right tools. But it has also caused a generation that feels entitled to everything without having put too much effort into attaining it. Many people have bemoaned the participation trophy over the years.
I know I myself have rolled my eyes (in my mind of course) at the competition where my kid clearly won, but was not given any recognition over others because they were all "special." I'm all about enjoying the game whether win or lose but not allowing kids to see how they excel in areas compared to their peers is failing them as individuals. We also fail in creating tremendous teaching moments for the so called "losers" such as:
how to learn from those who are better than them
how to recognize failure as steps to success
Partly because of this, a lot of people more concerned with what makes them happy in the moment rather than being able to see the larger picture in sacrificing now. This "me" centered society has allowed people to live inside their own bubbles, with their limited perceptions of the world because they haven't had to put in any work to get where they are. They were told what to believe, told what to learn, and not allowed to feel the harsh sting of failure that drives people to do more, do better, learn from others without being told, and that causes change. They have no ability to see things from a different perspective other than their own.
The narcissistic, "look at me" society has also been compounded by the fact that most of us live at
least parts of our lives on social media. Students today, are not socializing in the real world, nearly as much as they were from even just 8 years ago. In 2018, Common Sense Media administered a poll to students ages 13-17 and discovered that 42% of teens believed that social media took away from the time they could actually be spending with friends. This was up from 34% in 2012. 54% also said that it took away from giving attention to the people they were physically with. This was also up nearly 10% from 2012. The reason this is important is because it points out that students are spending a lot more of their time online and need to learn how to communicate better with others online. It also shows that they are spending a good majority of their time in a place that asks you to continuously say "look at me", "judge me", and "love me." Much of today's youth are socializing online in a way that spends more time asking them to create the perfect picture of themselves rather than have genuine interactions with other flesh and blood human beings. This can often create less empathy with others, and the inability to see another person's perspective.
NOTE: Genuine human interactions CAN be had in various online settings...just not in the ways that many social media platforms are designed. And definitely not in the way that it is being taught in many classrooms across the country.
#2 Lack of empathy and Social Skills
Just as social media is creating a more narcissistic population, it is also leading to an entire society with less social emotional skills. Social emotional skills are:
how we regulate our emotions to be with others
how we think about ourselves
how we communicate with others
how we understand others
how we understand ourselves
All of these things are important to building compassion, empathy, and ultimately perspective.
ANOTHER NOTE: There are many positives to social media and its ability to make communication and sharing of ideas so seamless and infinite, but like anything good, it comes with unforeseen consequences that need to be examined and tailored to better suit our students' needs.
Many people know how addicting sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Tik Tok, Snapchat, Twitter, Flickr, Reddit, Vimeo, etc, etc, etc are. People are even adding apps to their phones to track how much time they are spending on their phones because we know that spending too much time looking at a screen can be harmful to our health, vision, and sleep. We know that we should limit children's screen time because it is having effects on their cognitive development. We know these things because an entire generation grew up using screens as a way to keep them occupied. I am a mom who is guilty of doing this with my children when they were younger. I can easily paint you a picture of an exhausted mom of a spirited child and a newborn and needing a rest and feeling only a little remorse for sitting her in front of the TV/tablet so I could get things done, AKA nap. So many of us have done it, and I would probably do it again, given the amount of sleep I was getting at the time.
Unfortunately, I am watching the consequences of using electronics as a babysitter in my children as they have gotten older. I am seeing the way that they seem less able to entertain themselves because they need "electronics" to do it for them. I see the way my pre-teen daughter always wants to take a selfie or record what we are doing!! I see it in the way my son is unable to regulate his emotions when he spends too much time with a screen. I saw it in the way I started to add "should I post this" to far too many thoughts I had and pictures I took. I see it in the way my middle school students are so distracted by what is happening on social media that they cannot focus on anything else. And I see it in the way that too many people think that their opinion is right because they can post it for the whole world to see.
These are all examples of social emotional skills that we are lacking and many of them are caused because people are spending too much time connected to electronics and/or social media.
This lack of empathy and social emotional skills, is also caused partly by a very polarizing government. While I do not want to make this a political post, I believe that whatever the reason, the way that politics have changed in this country, people have stopped being able to get along if they are on different sides of the fence, and far too many issues have become "political" issues that should not be. We continuously throw blame and put each other in boxes labeled "democrat", "republican", "liberal", "conservative" and various other titles.
When someone steps outside of that box or someone tries to suggest an idea that doesn't quite fit inside the box, then everything is immediately rejected, including the person who suggested the idea. No one can disagree kindly. When people do this, they shut off any new learning or the ability to see something from a different point of view. This polarizing attitude is just one more thing that has lead us to the predicament we are in...and its been going on for a while. Thanks Obama.
To be continued...
Part three on how to teach perspective is coming on September 10, 2020.