Teenage addictions #1: technology

Posted: June 1, 2011 in Pedagogy & Education, Personal Whining

My recent two weeks of travel found me in the constant company of teenagers.  The first week was a Grade 7/8 trip to Quebec and the second week was at the York Region Arts Camp with 250 12 to 18 year olds.

One night at Arts Camp I was woken at 3 a.m. by a clamor from the boys’ cabins close to my own room.  Thinking it was some prank or raid going on I turned over an waited for any follow up noise or the intervention of the night security which was on duty.  A few minutes later I heard cries for help coming from the cabin area, so I figured it was time to investigate.  I got dressed, grabbed my flashlight and set out to check it out.

The cries for help were coming from the boys’ bathroom, where I found two of the younger boys terrified that there was a bear or wolf outside.  They’d heard noises and had spooked themselves.  After checking the area and reassuring them, their counselor showed up having been awakened by the other boys and together we got them back to their cabin and to bed.

But, while dealing with them in the washroom, I realized that one of the boys was on his cell phone, having called his parents in distress saying he was trapped by a wild animal, …at 3 a.m. in the morning.  I would not want to be on the receiving end of that call.  I spoke to the father, who fortunately had a sense of humour and ended up laughing over the incident.

What I never understood is why the boy had the cell phone with him in the washroom at 3 a.m.  Was he texting while he was standing at the urinal?  It wouldn’t surprise me.

I’ve noticed this complete obsession with their phones among many teenagers.  They can’t do anything without texting, tweeting or sending an e-mail.  Last night I had to ask one boy to stop texting during a smudge ceremony.  I can just imagine two teenagers, embraced in their first passionate experience, stopping mid way to text or tweet.

At home, one can be in the middle of doing something important and we tend to drop it when the phone rings.  It has priority with most people.  In a store, I’m always annoyed when a salesperson interrupts their service to me to answer the phone.  It seems that the non-vocal capabilities of cell phones have inherited the same priority.  No matter what the activity, there seems to be a compulsion to interrupt it in order to respond to a phone message.  And with teenagers this has reached epidemic proportions because there are lots of phone messages!  You see it in the cell phones and you see it in the video games.

I have a great group of boys that I work with in my youth group.  Several of them don’t have cell phones or don’t use them this way.  The ones that do can be seen texting or checking their phones a dozen times an hour.  Why is this a problem?  I think that it promotes false ideas about priorities and about instant gratification.  Many of the activities that we teach the boys involve a sense of commitment and practice.  Why practice commando skills when you can earn the points to automatically receive them when playing a video game.  One would hope that real life experiences can trump video game experiences, but when effort, practice and a focused attitude are required in order to be successful, the video games end up being much easier and comfortable.  Gain without pain, which is not the way in real life.  But then, who needs real life when you have instant access to the virtual one?  Who needs to make an effort for real human interaction, when texting is so much easier?

And, I want to stress that I’m not just some grumpy old man complaining about “the kids today”.  I enjoy playing video games.  I have an I-phone and use it to check my e-mail several times a day.  I understand the convenience of instant communication.  But I suppose that my perspective and sense of balance is different from that of the kids.  I don’t blame it on the kids, either.  Access is everything.  Like my subject in tomorrow’s post about teenage self medication, access to instant gratification, video games, power drinks, whatever, is totally in the face of today’s youth.  The best of humans don’t handle temptation well.  It takes a strong teenager to take the tough road.  They tend to take the easy road, and today’s society has lots of those.  The problem is that teenagers, lacking the experience gained through time, are easily enticed.  Recent brain research showed that in a teenager’s brain, the part dealing with short term rewards is highly developed, while the part dealing with long term rewards and consequences is still poorly developed.  That explains a lot.

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