Every generation, we adults seem to swing between fear of young people and fear for them. Of course now, with the advent of social media, it’s really justified, right? Actually, no, even less so. More on that in a second. In a commentary at Forbes.com, parent and tech policy analyst Adam Thierer at George Mason University asks a very good question: “Why Do We Always Sell the Next Generation Short?” [Of course, rightfully, every generation also has smart adults asking why we do this, but you’d think we’d learn something after a generation or two or ten!] Thierer points to a wonderful talk by David Finkelhor that I’ve blogged about too, a talk with a new term he coined, “juvenoia,” in the title. Dr. Finkelhor – who, as director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, you might think would be a person least likely to challenge our paranoia about youth safety – cites the view, expressed around 400 BC, of Aristophanes that “the children now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority … and love chatter in place of exercise” (wow, he foresaw Facebook, Skype, and Google+ chat!) and the view of medieval monk Peter the Hermit that “the young people” of his day “think of nothing but themselves” and “are impatient of all restraint,” which conjures images of book titles about today’s “narcissism epidemic.”
Thierer suggests that one answer to his very good question is the closing of our “adventure window” – “the willingness of humans to try new things and experiment with new forms of culture” – at a certain point in one’s life, like maybe around age 35. This answer, though it makes sense in terms of developmental psychology, I guess, is not just a generally sad statement about adults (but awareness is half the battle, I hope), it’s also a real road block as we all – young, old, and in between – move into, and support our children’s success in, a highly participatory, digitally informed, networked world (e.g., see this from Canadian professor Don Tapscott about “citizen regulators” in the Huffington Post). To be effective parents, educators, healthcare practitioners, policymakers, we can’t really afford to let that window close this time around. Doing so is not only dismissive of the new media and technology that are catalyzing so much social change (regardless of what we think of the outcomes), it’s dismissive of our children, the media and tech tools they love, and their use of them. That use needs to be respectfully guided and supported, not dismissed or shut down – for our kids’ personal, social, and professional wellbeing right now and down the road. Call it a new, more creative kind of maturity for adults. If we could only keep our “adventure window” open a little – even just enough to observe our children’s adventures with open hearts and minds (they would probably be happy to help us) – we’ll accomplish what they want and what we want for them (no generation gap here!): their safe, competent, inspired exploitation of today’s power tools.