It’s Still About the Eighties

Dialogue Night this year had parents and students participate in an intergenerational discussion about the differences between being a middle level student now as compared with the 1980’s when many of their own parents were coming of age. So, in an attempt to capture some of the poignant perceptions, I decided to summarize and share what was said about three of the topics – school, friends, and happiness – and, I hope, attempt to put them into some meaningful perspective.

When it comes to school, the 80’s preadolescent claimed there was less homework and more freedom. This freedom, accompanied by far less technology in homes and in the hands of children, meant kids were apt to be more physically active and less stressed. The contemporary middle schooler claims technology makes everything better, such as communication, including posting homework, and more individualized learning.

Regarding the topic of friends, and being consistent with having more freedom, the 80’s crowd contends that there was more face-to-face interaction with others, including kids around the neighborhood and playing with children of all ages. There was more time to play outdoors. Also, parents got to know friends better. Without technology there was no cyberbullying and more privacy. Today’s middle school crowd contends technology allows them to “stay connected” and it is easier to communicate with their friends. Maybe that is important because they also feel “overbooked” with less free time and greater seriousness about sports and other extracurricular activities.

I admit I was personally interested in seeing  how the generations described happiness. Parents described their middle school growing up experience as slower-paced and less stressful, including less pressure to be invited to peer events. They had less “things” and more fun together, including more family time. Our students consider themselves more self-confident with a greater awareness of the influence of media and bullying. They think that they face a lot of assessment, but they also experience more (of everything) with technology. In addition, they have learned that it’s “not all about you” and the importance of giving back.

Technology is the great transformer of our time, and it has certainly changed the way our kids communicate, research, and create. To be, or stay, in touch with this generation, we will have to keep up with the changing “platforms” and change right along with them.

It seems to be that there are other challenges for us parents as well. Our kids spend a lot of time in front of screens, so we have to establish some balance to foster their social, interpersonal, and recreational pursuits. We also see more students dealing with anxiety issues and have to be aware of the causes of stress in our children’s lives, including parent and school expectations and the number of time-consuming activities in which they are involved. Unfortunately, there has been a trend at the national and state levels for students to be able to handle more complex learning at younger and younger ages without any regard for their developmental readiness.

And we have to keep the dialogue going…preferably in a face-to-face verbal exchange instead of a text, tweet, email or post.

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