Presently, we do not know them. They are being raised in a manner in which no one over the age of 25 can understand. Often they are living two lives, one with us on the planet and one within the vast cosmos of their phones. In a world that is increasingly unsafe and uncertain, the space inside their phone is completely within their control. With one swipe they can feel, happy, sad, angry, numb. With each year that technology expands, the children are increasingly losing emotional coping tools. It’s not just generational gaps any more, it’s yearly gaps.
Most have been raised with television/media not only in their home as we grew up with, but also in the car, walking down the street, in the forest, while hanging out with friends. And there aren’t even annoying commercials to sit through anymore. Our kids are not being offered the gift of boredom and annoyance, and by being able to call for help and receive help at any moment, our kids are not learning how to cope with fear. Why fear when you can look up the answer in your pocket or dial 911 from anywhere? Remember not linking up with your friends at concerts or festivals because they didn’t find the note you left at the port-potties when you said you were going to be late? Yeah, that doesn’t happen to teenagers anymore.
Because of the fast pace our children are now living, we must work harder than our parents did to understand us. We need to learn about sexual orientation, gender identity and fluidity, and preferred pronouns. We need to learn what micro-aggressions are, what “inherently racist” means, about privilege, white privilege, white supremacy, cultural appropriation, ableism and–how about this one–neuro-diversity. And, you should probably know what Snapchat, Instagram and Tumbler are, as well as what a filter is (beware: Snapchat filters are greatly enjoyable and you may find yourself wishing to live inside one of them). If you think I forgot Facebook, just ask a teenager how often they hang out on FB. If you don’t know what any of that is, you need to stop everything and look it up. When you feel safe enough to talk to a scary teenager, do it ASAP and ask them to please educate you and to have them bring their friends: the more racial, economic and gender diversity the better. (Note: you will not find all of these teens within your immediate sangha’ you’ll have to–gasp!–go to the public schools.)
Until we learn where our young adults, teenagers and children are at, we cannot begin to share our wisdom. We cannot teach them how to slow down until we know the pace at which they are running. We cannot introduce to them the preciousness of life as we see it, until we understand that in their fast-paced life, preciousness is a kitten video–and it’s a gif that’s only 2 seconds long.
Now I’m crying. Because that kitten thing was not a joke. This is real.
Despite the vastly different exposure to world issues compared to what you and I may have grown up with, increasing environmental disasters and the fact that we currently have a man who is anything but a positive role model as president of the United States, our factory style education system has not changed in any truly substantial way since the 1800’s. The telephone had not yet been invented when this model of education came onto the scene. Two hundred years later, 99% of what your child will learn in the average middle school and high school is available on their phone in their pocket. You know what they are hardly taught at all: 1. empathy; 2. techniques for helping with stress, anxiety and depression; 3. how to engage in healthy emotional conversation and active listening; 4. facts and contemplations about death and dying; 5. what various foods feel like while digesting in your body and how to make adjustments accordingly; 6. what pleasurable touch feels like and what unpleasurable touch feels like; 7. how to apologize on behalf of others, even if you yourself did not do it; 8. what to do with anger.
The path forward with our children, teens, and young adults is first to engage with like-minded individuals to discover personal inspiration and get focused. Then, it is to meet the kids where they are, and to do whatever is possible to fill in the gaps where our traditional education system and society are lacking. This is not an attack on schools or on teachers in general. They are symptomatic of a system of broken values that is prevalent throughout the human race at this time. This is a system that values grade point averages, efficiency, and productivity over human experience, curiosity, and kindness.
Grown ups, the next time you are sitting on your cushions, contemplate my favorite Dorje Kasung slogan: “Not afraid to be a fool.” Lean in to that so deeply that you might as well be wearing your rump on your head, and then go ask a group of teenagers to educate you. Listen to them, watch them. Some times they are as hard to find as leprechauns, and other times they come up close. Think of it like exploring newly-discovered Martians from outer space. What is their language? How do they communicate? How do they spawn? Oh, and you can usually bait them with food. Just get a ton of food and lay it out–you’ll see.