Editorial: Raised By The Internet: Or How I Learned To Stop Caring and Let My Kid Be A Shitty Person

The term “Millennial” has really been thrown around in the past few years. I myself have been known to use the term as a negative descriptor, despite technically falling into this generational category. I don’t personally take offense to it, as it’s become one of those words whose definition has changed over time. What once simply described a group of people born within a specific period of time has become synonymous with a specific type of personality.

When someone complains about Millennials, they are generally referring to a young person, often in their 20’s, who has an extreme aversion to any kind of discomfort, lacks assertiveness in the social and work realms, invents or exaggerates issues with which to become outraged on a daily basis, and generally feels that they are OWED something from the world. It’s the person with a chip on their shoulder the size of Texas… and complains that such a metaphor is a microaggression. They wake up in the morning and immediately ask themselves, “what can I get angry about and siphon attention from today?”

While this term probably isn’t going anywhere soon, and I generally obhore generalizing labels, I have had some interesting thoughts on how it could be better explained in terms of birth relative to technological advances versus generic chosen years.

When it comes to this “Millennial” presentation, my thoughts immediately go to the birth of the modern internet and social media. While I was born within the timeline for this generation, I find a vast divide between people I know who were born pre and post internet culture. I was alive and kicking for at least a good decade before home internet even existed. Furthermore, I didn’t grow up having a tablet or any touch screen technology, and I didn’t own a smartphone until I went onto my Masters program in college.

To me, this is the deciding factor. There is plenty of research out there on the impact of screen interfacing on social development. We used to dedicate these articles to video games, but now it’s all about Facebook and Twitter. Anecdotally, I have known 5 year olds who already have an iPhone with full internet access. I could go into my crotchety old man mode and talk about how awful I think that is, but I’m just going to stick to a mixture of common sense and psychological science (#triggered).

When a child is born, there is a rapid amount of brain growth that happens in the first 3 years of life. Much of who you are regarding attachment, emotional response, and reaction to stress develops during this time. Key factors that have been associated with positive growth in these areas are things like eye contact, positive touch from caregivers, and general face-to-face interactions that involve play and exploration.

When you replace a good chunk of these with screen-based interactions, problems naturally emerge. You don’t develop a tolerance for, and ability to manage, anxiety. You don’t learn basic social skills necessary to interact with others properly. Instead you become frustrated and resentful. And thanks to social media’s lovely algorithms, you wind up in a bubble with other people just like yourself: an echo chamber compounding the angst and normalizing the idea of “they should fix it for me.”

I’ve already gone on long enough, but let me just state the obvious: the world is not always a nice place, and it doesn’t owe you anything. I’m not saying you shouldn’t advocate for yourself and large social change where it is necessary, but to walk through life with an attitude of complete passivity is no life at all. Everything worth having in this world takes hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity. Is it fair that some have to work harder than others? No. But if that’s the hand you’ve been dealt, it’s still up to you to find the best way to play those cards.

In closing, take care of your kids. Hug them, talk to them, play with them. Turn off the TV now and then, and limit early screen time. Don’t buy into the message that telling someone to work hard is taboo. I’ll close with a quote from Dan Siegel: “A meaningful life is a stressful life.”

– FlightOfIcarus

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