Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Optimism about Teenagers

Life clears out the old to make way for the new.
                                                          Steve Jobs

Many middle-aged and older people consider young people and teen-agers very self-absorbed. They seem to have little interest in family, local, or world events. How will they solve the seemingly insoluble problems that keep emerging everywhere in the world with startling rapidity? (1)

In a couple of decades, most of the older folk will have died off and the world must continue with those who are young now, but will inevitably emerge to “inherit the earth”.  How will they solve the difficulties they must eventually face? Let’s examine the different generations and how they might approach the seemingly insurmountable problems.

Naming the Generations
In Western culture, the generation names are based on major cultural, political, and economic influences. The following is a summary from a fairly detailed listing of characteristics. (2) (3)

  • Lost Generation – Broadly refers to a generation that has ‘lost’ its values or morals, etc. Directionless, aimless young adults after the First World War.
  • GI generation (1901-1926) – self-named: the greatest generation
  • Silent generation (1927-1945) – Went through their formative years during an era of conformity
  • Baby-boomers (1946-1964) – save-the-world revolutionaries, and the career climbers. Now in their ‘50’s and ‘70’s.
  • Beat generation (1950-1960) – Rejected conventional society and favored Zen Buddhism, modern jazz, free sexuality, and recreational drugs. 
  • Generation X (1965-1980) – Latch-key kids grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents
  • Generation Y/ Millennial (1981-2000) – Nurtured by omnipresent parents, optimistic, focused, respect authority
  • Generation Z (2001-2015) – Two age groups – tweens and teens. The term “iGeneration” acknowledges the crucial difference for this age group – that they never knew a world without the Internet.
Other countries in the world have different names for the generations, but all refer to the differences between the age groups. Each carries the values and experiences of the life stages and everyone agrees on the timeframes that mark the generations.

World’s Greatest Country

With elections in the air, politicians keep claiming that America is #1, the greatest country that's ever existed. All the Presidential candidates are in the age groups 45-75 and they repeat that mantra; Donald Trump’s slogan is, “Make America Great Again”.

To progressives, that’s a challenge to fulfill our commitments to our children, etc.  To conservatives, it's often a license for passivity. Yet, our education system is wildly dysfunctional and confused, and our health care system isn't much of a system at all. But still, somehow, underneath it all, most Americans like to cling to the idea of world leadership. Politicians, all Baby Boomers, perpetuate the phrase. Bernie Sanders uses the slogan, Future to Believe In.

Millennial Generation

The millennial generation was the most educated in American history, but that education came at a price. Average debt for graduates of public universities doubled between 1996 and 2006. Students chose to take on the obligation because they expected to find a job that paid it off; instead, they found themselves stranded in the worst economy in 80 years. 

Young people who skipped college altogether have faced something worse: depressed wages in a global economy that finds it easier than ever to replace jobs with technology or to move them to low-cost countries overseas. The only alternatives are unskilled jobs with no educational requirements and relatively low wages. (4)

Paradoxically, some studies find millennials, young adults now between 18 and 33, to be inexplicably positive despite facing higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than any other generation in the modern era. But other surveys present a somewhat depressing portrait: just 19% of milennials believe that “most people can be trusted,” compared to 40 % of Baby Boomers and 31 % of Generation X.

Most millennials are strongly connected to online communities and friends.  The average millennial has 250 Facebook friends.  Strong Internet connections may lead to closed social networks and wariness to put too much trust in people who are not part of the network.

Gen Z

With troubles everywhere and popular culture disrupted beyond recognition, the world is looking for a new generation to rebuild it. Enter Gen Z, the generation born after millennials, and now emerging as the next big thing for cultural observers and trend forecasters. The oldest members of this group, the teens and tweens of today are primed to become the dominant youth influencers of tomorrow.

It’s clear that teens in 2015 really do inhabit a substantially different world than one of 2005. Millennials were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s, only to see their sunny world dashed by the Sept. 11 attacks and two economic crashes, in 2000 and 2008. Generation Z, by contrast, has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the war on terror and the Great Recession. (6)

Gen Z kids are “pragmatists” who will navigate a tougher world defined by 9/11, the financial crisis, and gender fluidity. Previous generations had to worry about getting into college and finding a job. These “kids” are tasked with cleaning up their mess, though they don’t yet realize it.

Today’s Teenagers

During my recent visit to St. Pete, Florida, I spent some time with my teenage grandson (14) and tweenage granddaughter (11) and their friends. I found them to be outgoing and gregarious. My experiences were indeed enlightening, some surprising. Indeed, they motivated me to write this blog.

Today’s teens only know a black president. The video games they play are much more powerful than the 8-bit consoles of the previous generation. They can’t remember a time before smartphones, Instagram and Snapchat. They are not on Facebook (it’s for old people) and don’t really care about today’s fads. They watch Netflix, Amazon, AppleTV – and play video games like Assassin's Creed. (They consider Nintendo games like Super Mario kid stuff.)  They buy most of what they need via Amazon, with no interest in “going shopping”. (6)

The vast majority of teenage screen time is on smartphones, laptops and tablets.  They don’t watch TV. Instead they watch Youtube. I wondered at my recent spike of Youtube video hits, which turned out to be my grandson’s friends watching me strumming a guitar and singing Sioux City Sue.

Parents and adults have lots of complaints: My kids are anti-social; always face down into their phones. They have no interest in others; have lost the art of conversation; are too self-absorbed.

At a gathering of friends during my visit to Florida, I sat awhile with the adults – they were engaged in small talk, mostly about other people, which didn’t interest me.

So, I spent an evening socializing with my grandchildren and their friends. Wow, what an awakening!  I did NOT find them inward looking – on the contrary! They were seemingly oblivious that there was an old grandpa sitting on in their midst and were happy to answer all my questions.

Why are you always on the phone – at dinner, or at gatherings? Answer: because the subjects and conversations are boring!  They’d rather choose where they want to be, and with who. They can listen to whatever music they want, whenever they want. With a smartphone, they can choose to be anywhere and with anyone they wish to. Example:  text from one teen to another during a family party:  Hey, this is boring. L Let’s get outta here….

Digital Lifestyle

Digital communication has produced more changes over the last 15 years than the printing press did in 1570. The standout early adopters are teenagers, whose brains appear to have an extraordinary capacity to adapt to the world around them.

Digital communication is not just prevalent, it IS teenagers' lives. TIME magazine suggests that it’s harder to be a teen now. That’s not in spite of the Internet and the iPhone – it’s because of it. (7) Says a teen, “People expect more from you because they know you have a cell phone and they can contact you any time”.

There’s anxiety of having their lives documented online for all to see. They know that mistakes can live forever on the Internet. That mentality helps explain why they’re adopting the new wave of anonymous and private communications platforms, such as Snapchat and GroupMe, sometimes via their PlayStations.

The digital lifestyle affects a teen’s real-life interactions. Teenagers don’t make phone calls anymore, unless it’s urgent. My grandson seldom checks his voicemail, unless I text to ask whether he did.

Youtube says that teenagers all over the world are watching the same clips and laughing at the same jokes, indicating that they are more much global minded than anyone previously. Sharing the same jokes could possibly go a long way to breaking down some of the prejudices out there.

In my own view, Gen Z teenagers will change the world – for the better. They’ll come up with resolutions to current problems that most of us consider unsolvable.

Let’s Engage

Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.

  1. Are you pessimistic about many different problems in today’s world?
  2. What is your age bracket? Are you a millennial reading this blog? A teen?
  3. Do you have a teenager in your family or household?
  4. What are your own views of millennials and teens? Please share.
  5. Do the millennials or teens you know seem aloof or standoffish?
  6. Have you talked with millennials and teens? What do you talk about?
  7. What kind of discussions do you enjoy? About people, politics or ideas?
  8. Please add your own comments (or send me an email).

  1. 10 greatest threats facing the world in 2014:
  2. Generational Differences Chart:
  3. What are the origins of generation names?
  4. The Six Living Generations In America:
  5. The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials?
  6. 16 Things You Should Know About Today’s Teens:
  7. TIME – The American Teenager in 2015:
  8. Social Media: The Death of Real World Interaction:
  9. Teenage brains in the digital world:
Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA. USA
27 January 2016


  1. 1. Are you pessimistic about many different problems in today’s world?

    Yes, but I find no way to verify or reject the accuracy of that pessimism.

    2. What is your age bracket? Are you a millennial reading this blog? A teen?

    I’m a geezer, age 82.

    3. Do you have a teenager in your family or household?

    Not since many years.

    4. What are your own views of millennials and teens? Please share.

    Sorry, but I have little experience with them.
    5. Do the millennials or teens you know seem aloof or standoffish?


    6. Have you talked with millennials and teens? What do you talk about?


    7. What kind of discussions do you enjoy? About people, politics or ideas?

    Presumably you mean with millennials or teens.

    7. Please add your own comments (or send me an email).

    In every age, I suspect, those outgoing from life see those incoming and think the world doomed. Somehow we survive.

    --Jack Grenard, Geezer-elect (but wait until Iowa)

    1. Jack:

      I'm an "old geezer" like you. I'm trying hard to keep track of how other people are thinking.


  2. 1. Are you pessimistic about many different problems in today’s world?

    No, as they say: This too shall pass. However, that said, I am concerned about the failures of our (previously) most trusted institutions, organizations and establishments, as outlined in the new book by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes titled: “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy” in which he describes how many of the leading authorities and role models that have sustained us for decades prior have failed us in the past decade, now being called the Failed Decade. Examples include Financial Institutions (think Lehman Brothers and Arthur Andersen), Sports Institutions (think Hank Aron, Lance Armstrong and the Olympics), the Catholic Church, and of course, Congress — and the list goes on…

    2. What is your age bracket? 65+
    Are you a millennial reading this blog? No
    A teen? No

    3. Do you have a teenager in your family or household?

    4. What are your own views of millennials and teens? Please share.

    IMO, it’s still too early to know if Millennials will rise to the occasion of the challenges they face today and will face in the future. On the negative side, they are not very motivated to do much of anything in a lot of cases. They have been overwhelmingly coddled and often believe that no matter what the problem is, there’s an app for that!

    (BTW, I disagree with your statement that teens fully comprehend the infinite persistence of the Internet. I feel they need to be told how harmful “forever” can actually be!)

    5. Do the millennials or teens you know seem aloof or standoffish?

    Well, sometimes, I suppose, but not that much. I’ve learned that they are often not only paying attention to what is being said and/or done but are actually paying VERY close attention and formulating informed opinions — even (especially?)when we think they are not!

    6. Have you talked with millennials and teens? What do you talk about?

    All the time — everything!

    7. What kind of discussions do you enjoy? About people, politics or ideas?

    I enjoy engaging with intelligent, inromed, open-minded people of any age and on any topic, provided that the conversation is 100% devoid of dogma. I’m an engineer, so I question EVERYTHING — not to be difficult or stubborn, but I don’t (can’t) accept most things just because someone said so.

  3. • Are you pessimistic about many different problems in today’s world?

    There are always problems. Some we can deal with. Some we can avoid. Some continue to linger. I’m always concerned about the problems my kids will face, but they’ll deal with them as I dealt with those of my generation. I'm concerned; but like you, I'm optimistic.

    • What is your age bracket? Are you a millennial reading this blog? A teen?

    Nope. I’m a middle-aged father of three.

    • Do you have a teenager in your family or household?

    Yeah, you can tell just by looking at our grocery expenses. :-)

    • What are your own views of millennials and teens? Please share.

    I have two children on the millennial side of the boundary and one Gen Z. As far as I'm concerned, these are just labels to assist demographers. I am close enough to the problem that I see these children as individuals rather than as a generation. So my perspective is somewhat limited.

    I see my children taking a bigger interest in various arts. My son is interested in music, my oldest daughter does video productions and yo-yo instruction. My youngest daughter is very interested in cosmetics (to the extent that she makes her own). The common thread here is that they are interested in something that can not easily be usurped by a robot. I think they know this intuitively.

    • Do the millennials or teens you know seem aloof or standoffish?


    • Have you talked with millennials and teens? What do you talk about?

    Being their father, I discuss pretty much everything one would think about.

    One big difference in their generation versus past generations is this: Kids are still engaging in sex but they are serious about birth control because everyone realizes that there is no way a boy could ever hope to run away from a baby he helped to conceive. DNA testing is pretty conclusive.

    Thanks to the laws in this state, girls have a lot more say about the outcome of a pregnancy than the boys would. As a result many more boys are backing off from dating and sex because they consider it to be too dangerous for their future. Conversely, girls are starting to realize their standing. Of the relationships I know of (and that's a small sampling), it common for girls to take the initiative of asking boys out.

    Although it may just be a side effect of the upper middle class crowd that we live in, I am noticing fewer and fewer teens dating or in relationships. Some of this is selfishness; some of this is concern over their future; and a lot of it is a realization that relationships cost a lot of money.

    All of my teens have done child care with younger kids. I think they realize the responsibilities they have to face. The consequences for getting things wrong are not just social, but legal. Never mind animals and pets, children are responsibilities they do not want. I hope that someday they change their minds because I would like to see them raise families. But for now, I can't complain about this outlook.

    Continued below......

  4. Continued from previous ....

    • What kind of discussions do you enjoy? About people, politics or ideas?

    All of my kids are in to shooting sports. They pay attention to stories about hunting, firearm accidents, and the politics around the various proposed laws. They are starting to notice how people without even a basic understanding of the technology nevertheless feel obligated to pass judgment over things they refuse to understand. This has spilled over in to other realms such as care of the environment (my son likes the outdoors and likes to hunt). I give the best guidance I can about care of the habitat for the animals. I have talked about some of the concerns I have learned from working at a water utility, such as intersexed frogs and fish and why it may be a big deal.

    I think this generation cares about the world around them, and they are learning to convey the concerns they have and also where they might find common ground among groups that you would not think would work together so well.

    They also are aware of the politics behind my hobbies (neither of which I can afford the time or the money to pursue much anymore): ham radio, and aviation.

    We like to laugh. Our internet usage is social. We share even within our own household. We often see news events on the Internet about the weird and the odd things and we share with each other. My son also likes to look up funny videos of things one might not even discover on cable TV. Just last night he shared a video with my wife and me of two guys tasting some less common cheeses. They had to try and guess which names applied to which cheeses. The reactions of these guys to the various names, flavors and smells of these cheeses was hilarious.

    Another example: I like to share some of the less difficult to comprehend notions from the likes of Numberphile on YouTube. After an entire childhood and early adulthood of truly awful math teachers, terrible mathematics programs, and classes that appear to have been designed by the dullest people on the planet, I discovered that I actually like mathematics. I really enjoy some of the concepts and beauty of how it fits together. I am trying to convey that interest to my kids because their math classes are no better than the ones I had.

    Yes, my son does spend a lot of time playing on the X-Box. But he also practices on the trombone two and sometimes three times a day.

    My oldest daughter gets interests and then flits around. She was very interested in our chickens. She researched them, helped to select them, and raise them as chicks until they started laying. She's starting to lose interest though. Unfortunately, we have ONE rooster in the flock of 9 birds. Though he looks like a model from a corn flakes box, he attacks everyone, including our dog and even me. My daughter is about to learn about the other side of managing chickens: getting rid of the bad ones. She's not so enthusiastic about this any more.

    And in the middle of all this my wife and I try to instill a work ethic. The latter is not easy. Most kids do not have the employment opportunities that my wife and I had. There are many more laws and regulations about employment and it is starting to squelch a lot of work experience that kids in our neighborhood have. One thing it does not squelch, however, is entrepreneurship. They are beginning to realize that nobody will look out for them, so they have to look out for themselves. They are just not too sure of what they should do yet because the laws of what is possible and practical are so full of traps and pitfalls.

    Continued below...

  5. Continued from previous ...

    • Please add your own comments.

    Every generation has things that they do well, issues they can’t deal with, or concepts that they are simply blind to. I think the entitlement and political correctness pendulum has swung as far out to one side as it is likely to go. I see my kids and their friends as wanting to make actual change. They are disgusted with the sophistries they see in the news media. I think they’re going to learn a work ethic at a later age than most of my generation learned it. However, I also think they have a better sense of entrepreneurship than I ever did.

    1. Jake:

      Thank you for your comments. I respect and admire your involvement with your kids!

      Sadly, when I was in my 40s and 50s, I was "too busy" with working - that was a different time, different "work ethic". Now I am enjoying my kids and their kids!

      Thanks for taking the time to share your insightful comments!

  6. I feel your pain about adult (non)conversations and chatting with younger people. Almost always more invigorating. Even if they're only 6.

    My generation was supposed to change the world--for the better. Most of them forgot. We either say that about the next generation or that they are all going to hell.

    Remember that the terms you use were devised by marketers so that they could target message. How well has that worked? It did to the Boomers. Many are narcissist easily manipulated with pictures of an easier, better life.

    But not all. I'm pretty much a Millennial in a Boomer body. And I know many like that.

    On the other hand, I'll probably always remember a response to a speaker at the 2014 Emerson Exchange. The speaker was a young woman engineer. She explained how she gets information--including looking up how-to videos on YouTube. An old guy says, "That's the problem with your generation. It's so shallow."

    I thought, Good God, man. She has a BS Chem E. She's probably better educated than you. And she was on the night shift and solved a problem and kept the plant up because of that how to fix it video on YouTube. That's fantastic.

    I wish we had a way to keep kids curious and motivated. A few educators are trying, but in many ways we have to blow up the system. But the best thing would be if more of us mentored young people. Maybe we can keep them from becoming as cynical as my generation.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Jim. I'm hoping for a San Diego trip in my near future.

  7. While reading this Jim and old Irish saying sprung to mind. "Mol an óige agus tiochfaidh siad!" (Literally - Praise the youth and they will come!). You article does this.

  8. Are you pessimistic about many different problems in today’s world? No.
    One Age is Ending, another beginning. The Age of Things is winding down. The Age of Spirit arising.

    What is your age bracket? Are you a millennial reading this blog? A teen?
    I am 77 and full of Life. Be nice.
    Do you have a teenager in your family or household? No. Four children. X gens. 8 Grands, age ten and under. 12 nephews and nieces, 8 Millennials 4 Z Gens.
    What are your own views of millennials and teens? Please share. Optimistic. They are witnessing the multiple divisions in our country. I am hoping they will focus on "promoting the general welfare".
    Do the millennials or teens you know seem aloof or standoffish?
    No. In homes with some discipline, phones have rules of engagement. The kids participate in sports and conversations at the table. If they are hugged enough, they will be wonderful.
    Have you talked with millennials and teens? What do you talk about?
    Some. Engage nephews and nieces mostly on sports and school. All work and save for college. No handouts. Mainly choosing caring professions so far. Am "friended" on their Facebook pages. See what they talk about

    What kind of discussions do you enjoy? About people, politics or ideas?

    Ideas primarily and how they impact all beings which goes beyond human beings. How we treat animals and the flora on our planet is a measure of who we are.

  9. The following are answers to your questions and some of my thoughts:

    1. Are you pessimistic about many different problems in today's world?

    A. Not really; I mostly feel detached (largely by choice). The news system isn't a reliable source IMO. Also, I have a view that "sufficient truth" is a lot more complicated than any article or "expert" can convey. At best, it's sampling with filters. With this backdrop, my attitude towards the world is one largely of "surrender"; in other words, I'm not giving up but rather skeptically accept it and go along. I'm excited about how the world has gotten "flatter".

    One perspective of this flattening is generational; in support of your observation with your grandkids and their friends' attitude towards the "old guy" in the room. I can relate to it but wasn't it like that in the past? - I have wonderful memories of my grandparents. Their joys and hopes for me just shone through; and yet in a much different setting (rural, farmers, basic needs in front of them most of the time: food, survival, family). I guess I want to say that the person you are is what shows up and the world mirrors back to you the evidence you need to continue to operate with confidence.

    2. What is your age bracket?

    A. According to the cohort labels you shared, I'm GenX (1971). I've been categorized as Baby Buster since it was during a slow population growth period in many places (ie: Canada).

    3. Do you have a teenager in your family?

    A. Yes, 16 year old daughter

    4. What are your own views of millennials and teens?

    A. In many aspects, no different than when I was their age: biologically, strong identification with same age group, discovery/curiosity, sponges for anything, etc. The conditions are VERY different (without going into much detail, not only the span of years when I was a teen but also where I grew up in during parts of it: Central America), and it helps create a very difficult environment to determine how these folks are coping with it and therefore how are they different than me and my cohort at such age. It comes to mind the french quote: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" or is this sage not so much anymore?

    5. Do the millennials or teens you know seem aloof or standoffish?

    A. The millennials and teens I know aren't that aloof or standoffish though it's difficult to bundle a significant number of them as one way or its opposite. A little voice in me is warning me that labeling them one way doesn't give them the chance to be something else; choosing one selection will likely make me want to stay integral with my view and look for supporting evidence. This statement may come across as a cop out of the question, but I can't help but see value in itself.

    Anyways, most of the folks I know in this age group are friends of my daughter and involved in activities in the community as well as their school. They're also navigating challenges I can identify with (either I experienced first hand or can see aspects of them around me): family issues, sex, drugs, fitting-in, school demands, family demands, societal demands, physical changes.

    Continued ...