Adults must recognize our own changes too

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I must be getting old.

It’s the only explanation for the growing urge to shake my finger at the children around me and say, “Listen here young ’un, you just don’t know how good you’ve got it.”

What they’ve got, that they can’t possibly understand, is the ease of life surrounded by technology.

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In fact, technology is not even exciting to children these days. They’ve already got it all.

The adults at our Wednesday night children’s program at church announced to the third through sixth graders recently that if they learned enough Bible verses and behaved appropriately they could be rewarded with an iPod.

The response?

“I’ve already got an iPod; I don’t want that.”

“Yeah, me too, I’ve got an iPod.”

“Is it an iPod touch? Because I already have an iPod.”

My initial reaction was disgust at a generation of spoiled, thankless children.

But it’s not their fault.

And honestly, if they didn’t have access to that technology, they’d be falling behind.

The rise in personal technology — cell phones, iPods, laptops — since I graduated from high school 11 years ago is astonishing. But to an 8-year-old, it’s not astonishing. It is just life.

And thus, perhaps, the generation gap has grown even wider than it’s always been.

Educators — experts in the field of children as far as I’m concerned — will tell you there is nothing innately different about children today compared to 20 years ago.

But the whirlwind of change around these children has significantly altered their behavior from that of previous generations.

Technology is a given. More exposure to concepts such as terrorism, global war and natural disasters means our children have to be more grown up than we were.

And with the advent of 24-hour news stations that flip from one story to the next, cell phones that send instant messages and a library of information at our fingertips, came shorter attention spans.

Teachers deal with these changes daily. They’ve incorporated more movement, hands-on activities and verbal games into their lessons.

It’s the rest of us who may be unable to accept or cope with what today’s children really need.

At church, we’ve experienced waning interest in doing what we ask, I think, because we no longer know what motivates this generation.

The obvious answer for adults these days is that kids want cool technology.

An iPod, right?

Wrong, we learned.

So how do we get a squirming 8-year-old to behave and learn when he already has everything we can think of to give him?

That question is easier asked than answered, I’m sure. But, for parents, teachers and the rest of us who care about children, I’m guessing the answer may not be about change at all.

Those experts, remember, said that children really haven’t changed at all. Children today still want and need the most important things in life — love, safety and security.

But, because they are living in a changed world, it’s likely that they don’t receive love like we did. Or maybe they don’t know how to receive it.

That technology that changed the world for children has changed it for parents as well.

Laptops and cell phones come home now, making it easier to spend time with those you love, some say, but maybe they’ve made it difficult as well. Many children these days rarely receive the 100 percent, totally devoted, undistracted attention of adults.

I had a beeping cell phone in my pocket and laptop in the car that needed my undivided attention, I thought, on the night of the iPod discussion, after all.

And when we do pull away from the distractions and focus on the children, well, they don’t know how to handle something with which they haven’t become accustomed.

Children don’t know any better. But as adults, we do, and we must be able to step away from the situation, analyze the changes and react appropriately.

Our children are depending on us.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or