i have a new book releasing in december for parents, called Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. the book is a significant rewrite of some of my chapters from the book scott rubin and i co-authored a couple years ago, called Middle School Ministry. In this series, i’m excerpting portions of one of the chapters, called “White-Hot Temporary (Early Adolescent Culture)”.
A Culture of Information
We all live in a culture of information. So, in a sense, this isn’t unique to young teens. What is unique is that this reality is shaping them significantly during their early adolescent development and in ways that weren’t true prior to the last decade. What’s also unique is that today’s young teens have always lived in a culture of information.
Almost every bit of information needed (as well as excessive quantities of information that are not wanted or needed) is available with the click of a mouse and in ways that shape our worldviews. This is both about access to information and the onslaught of information. The access of information shapes middle schoolers’ culture of immediacy, their sense of entitlement, and their work ethic. On the other hand, the onslaught of information has a numbing effect. Since everything middle schoolers need to know is readily available and since they’re constantly bombarded with suggestions and data of every sort, they’re less attentive to the stuff that passes by.
A Culture of Immediacy
Think for a minute about the things you had to wait for as a middle schooler that today’s middle schoolers don’t. They can take a picture on their cameras or cell phones and see the results instantly. They hear a song on the radio, and they can instantly download it to their computers or cell phones. Want to buy something? They can jump online in seconds, browse a customized and instantly generated list of sites, get others’ input about an item via user comments, and then, if they want the item, make an instant purchase and wait a day or two at most for the item to arrive. If you’ve ever been “stuck” somewhere without your cell phone and tried to find a pay phone to make a call, then you’ve been reminded of this shift.
Sure, you and I also have access to all this immediacy. But most of us didn’t grow up with this being normative. Today’s young teens have never known a world without instant everything. Doesn’t it strike you as funny that their idea of “old time hominess” includes making bread in a computer-enabled machine that does all the work?
Here’s a great example of this shift: For us adults, email communication changed everything. We were able to send and receive written communication without writing it by hand and going through the “hassle” of using the postal system. Written communication became almost instantaneous. But no one predicted that teenagers would dispose of email as being too slow and clunky and then opt for the intensely more immediate communication pathway of text messaging. We adults saw text messaging as a utilitarian means of quick planning. Teenagers turned it into a social phenomenon.
Middle schoolers don’t have a willingness (or perhaps even the capacity) to wait for anything. Our culture has trained them to expect everything instantly. Patience is a rough one; “delayed gratification” is a foreign concept; and slowness can have a deeply profound impact on them, since it’s something they simply don’t experience in their everyday lives.
still to come: A Disposable Culture, A Culture of Consumerism, An Intense but Temporary Culture, A Networked Culture, and A Driven yet Sedentary Culture