Tag Archives: teenagers

Learning to Be Lonely

“Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.”  ― Joss Whedon

A colleague recently sent me an article about cities of the future and how human loneliness is now a serious design factor. Jessica Brown, the author, reminds us that;

  • humans are social animals
  • the current loneliness epidemic is now being called a public health crisis

Her first point is a little more complicated than first glance. Humans must have other humans in order to physically survive. You can’t leave a baby in the woods and hope he will just turn out okay. Sorry Tarzan. Parents and family are essential for human survival.

But it’s even more important than that. Not only are we dependent upon others to help us survive, during infancy and childhood, we need adults to teach us how to survive. Imagine all of the skills that you were taught in order to head off to first grade:

  • Asking for help
  • Going to the bathroom on your own
  • Obeying authority figures
  • Finding your way home
  • Making new friends (and enemies)

Have you read the recent research about children, social skills and time in front of a screen? Children and teenagers are spending so much time on their electronic devices – they are missing out on critical time with real people, learning real social skills, developing real relationships that could prepare them for adulthood. Instead, it seems that more and more young adults are not prepared for casual and even more developed relationships that protect them from loneliness.

Being on your phone busy with work, surfing through posts online, watching the latest media doesn’t replace social contact with real people. As children are learning to make their way in the world, they need to practice social skills like understanding non-verbal communication and environmental cues. These are difficult to attain when a majority of time is spent online.

When I walk into college classrooms these days they are filled with students and silent. There is rarely any talking, sharing or laughing. Everyone is sitting alone, attention locked on their cell phones. The zombie apocalypse has arrived.

Jessica Brown’s article reminds us that it’s often easier for us to rebuild the world we live in than take deep and difficult looks at our own selves and the ways we are raising the next generation.

 

Why Are We Addicted to Our Cell Phones?

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“Computers are useless, they can only give you answers” – Pablo Picasso

I’m teaching classes and I can’t seem to understand why college students can’t get off their phones for an hour. They put them on their desks, hunch over them, stare at the little screens, click away and seem addicted to this little device. I call them out, make fun, a little shaming, all to no avail. The “addiction” is too strong.

Maybe these findings from a recent Pew study can shed some light on the phenomenon.

  • The largest category of people who use their cell phone as their primary means of internet access are 18-29 year olds
  • Overwhelmingly, people are using their cell phones as a tool for tasks like getting directions
  • Mostly, using a cell phone makes people feel productive and happy.

The cell phone technology seemed to appear overnight. We still haven’t caught up with it. Social norms are lagging behind when it comes how to use this technology and still fit in during social interactions.

I sat in a hospital waiting room the other day and had to listen to a grandpa’s out loud detailed business conversation he was having on his cell phone. He never seemed to think he should get up and leave the room – sparing all of us the embarrassment of being forced to eavesdrop on his life.

Families are responsible for what we call primary socialization – helping children learn how to navigate the world (yes sir, look both ways, sharing, etc.). Cell phone norms seem like something we are all going to have to develop and teach as we grow up with this rapidly advancing technology.

Based on these findings from the Pew research;

  1. I need to help my students by providing them with some specific norms in my classes.
  2. I should find ways that students can use their phones in class to search for information and help us all to learn (a technique one of my colleagues already uses).
  3. There are sure to be ways that I can piggy back important lessons in sociology to their strong desire to remain socially connected during class. Their desires to be productive on their phones can be used to also be productive in learning content in the course. I think. I’m going to work on this.

It’s a relief to see in this Time Magazine survey report that the U.S. is BEHIND other countries in our cell phone addiction!

Where Did “Dating” Come From?

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“None of us marry perfection; we marry potential.”  – Robert D. Hales

As I ask my classes of college students each semester, it seems that the numbers of students who go on “dates” is declining.  Current research tends to support the growing trend among young people – dating has gone out of style.

Where did “dating” come from in the first place?

Courtship here in America started out with much more close contact than you might realize. Ellen Rothman writes that in the late 1700’s as many as 30% of brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage. Even though unwed pregnancy was rare, people who were engaged often began sexual intercourse before their marriage. The patterns of living enabled people to spend much more time with one another as they were courting.

As the Industrial Revolution began to reshape American society, courtship rituals also had to be adjusted to fit all the new ways of working and living. As people began to live in larger cities, work and home became two separate spheres. Interaction circles grew wider as people came into contact with more and more people and often with people of different habits.

What we now call “dating” became a custom later, after the Victorian era, when sexual norms became more restrictive. Sexual regulation became more important in families. Working class families searched for ways to better oversee their children’s social lives. When it came to courting, all sorts of obstacles prevented parental oversight. There wasn’t any privacy in their homes for young couples to socialize. There weren’t enough regular social occasions around which families could invite courting couples to participate. Who could afford it? Interaction needed to be formalized in some way.

What evolved were arranged dates and times during which a male suitor could take his female acquaintance out of her home and spend time together in another location. Her father, of course, was the one to set the day and start/stop time for this “date.”

Once “dating” became the norm, it soon spread to the other social classes. When the 20th Century arrived, romantic love and adolescent experiences became dynamic components in the development of the distinctive identity we now know as “the teenager.” Youth spent more years in school, worked outside the home and began to consume the new mass culture (television, radio and Elvis). They were developing an independent identity earlier than ever before. Dating was a central role of this new identity.

By the time most of us started, dating had also become a way for men and women to conspicuously consume – to demonstrate their social status by spending money and looking beautiful. There were very specific gender roles. The male was always the initiator and took responsibility for pleasing his date. The female, while not being the damsel in distress, was expected to follow along. Even though her role was more like that of a special guest, she had all the right to provide her opinion about the plans for the evening. As the relationship developed, they would collaborate more on choices and familiar patterns.

I am indebted to Gene H. Starbuck for this lesson

Today, things have changed. Single’s aren’t dating very much.

Most young singles in America do not describe themselves as actively looking for romantic partners. Even those who are seeking relationships are not dating frequently. About half (49%) had been on no more than one date in the previous three months. (Mary Madden and Lee Rainie, Romance in America)

When we talk about the fragmented family, it’s important to not just look at how families fall apart and come to an end but to also examine how people learn to fall in love and decide to create a family in the first place. If dating has come to the end of its usefulness, what new social practice will we use to help people create the most important bonds in their lives?

Looking for Love at the Movies

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People have been complaining about the movies ever since they were invented. Our culture is organized around many values that are economically oriented.  Sex doesn’t really sell, it just gets our attention.

Don’t you think that the book and now film Fifty Shades of Grey have gotten a lot of attention? I wonder what they’re selling?

Dr. Miriam Grossman, a medical doctor with training in pediatrics and in the specialty of child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry recently posted what I thought was a very much needed response to the popular culture craze over Valentine’s Day related to the film Fifty Shades of Grey.

Please take a minute read her post here.

The film is very popular and making a lot of money on it’s opening weekend release. I think it’s difficult to teach and demonstrate healthy sexual relationships in this culture we have built. It’s even more of a challenge when mom is reading the book at soccer practice.

I don’t usually go to the movies in the evenings. Out here in the suburbs the experience had become more akin to the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes as the teens took over the mall and the neighboring multiplex theater. Of course the theater itself was being operated by teenagers…

Over the weekend teenagers stormed a movie theater in what reminds me of a scene from any number of current apocalyptic horror films. A witness at the end of the CNN interview hopes that the kids will be punished by their parents. That’s wishful thinking. Ever try to get a cat back in a bag? I’m afraid these kids don’t have parents. They’ve got one parent (who’s trying to be their friend), parents who are working all the time, or a family so fractured that it no longer works.

I did go to the movies during the evening over the Valentine’s weekend. It was eye opening. Love was everywhere and appropriate dress was optional. I kept wondering who’s dad let you out of the house like that and does he know where you are at this hour (and what you’re doing in public?).

While mothers create our civilization, I think it is the duty of fathers to protect it. When things start to fall apart – and everyone agrees that the American family is in free-fall – we look for someone to blame, but really someone to be responsible and solve the problem. We need some everyday heroes.

Fatherlessness in American produces moral chaos like we witness in an oversexualized media. Increasing teenage deviance, behaving like packs of wild animals, happens because there is no literal or figurative presence of a dominant, just and good father figure in the home and community.  These teenagers all lined up to get into the mall night club that night had such empty looks on their faces. I was probably over-diagnosing the whole situation but it made me wonder about what might be missing from their lives. Most didn’t look happy or excited to be out having fun. It was an empty stare.

So much that we worry about with our teens is really a deep longing  to just belong.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot