Why do I keep puzzling over the way young people behave, and what can the 40-50somethings who raised them do to support teens?… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see
My daughters are teenagers so I meet a few of their friends – and my friends’ children. I’ve also taught applies studies classes with students at two universities. Currently I’m mostly coaching students at an arts university in London: a very creative place. My favourite exhibit in the current main atrium exhibition is a huge text work saying “Show us, don’t tell us”.
But my students have a serious problem turning up at class.
And yes, it could be because I’m a rubbish teacher. But let’s pretend I’m not.
The kids at school seem ok but the current batch of first years I’m working with seem frightened to learn or make mistakes. The third years were never great turner-uppers either, but considerably better than this batch of first years. However despite not always being consistent academic strivers they will turn up at a tutorial and say “I want to get an A, or a first for this class”. It’s a perfectly acceptable dream but it’s one you can only achieve if you can put the hours, effort, reading and brain power into it. Telling your tutor you want an A isn’t the most effective way to get a top grade!
I remember my uni years as distraction-central. By the end of three years I was confident in everything except getting a first in my degree subject (and not surprisingly I didn’t). At uni I remember being cold and broke and often happy. I don’t remember my spirit being broken. But that’s what seems to be an increasingly huge problem for the students I meet now.
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The mobile (like a pram in the hallway?)
The Year 1s – who are 18-19 years old as few have taken a gap year – are dependant on their phones. It is a huge strain for them to be parted from the pleasing ping of a new message. Quite a few operate two phones. Their focus is extremely limited, even if their ability to multi-task is pretty good (allegedly).
Perhaps what’s more striking about this new generation of students is the number who have mental health issues. These are very broad and can range from difficulty sleeping, via panic attacks and stress from being asked a question in class through to very serious problems. Not eating well is pretty much obligatory unless you are a student who super eats well, and instgrams it too.
Alcohol plays its dangerous part, though perhaps less for London students (it’s the price of a pint down south!).
It’s got to be instagram perfect
Everyone knows how to pose for a perfect selfie and has a whats app and insta account meaning news and reality are filtered. This may be fine, it may protect from a hard life at home or some kind of trauma but could it be part of the problem?
At Migrants Organise they tried running a poetry workshop for young people – creating a group of half refugees and half British residents. After one session in which the refugees talked about their journeys to the UK and their experience of homelessness the other half (the secure youngsters from the UK) simply didn’t come again. It’s hearsay but I’m told they found the experience of hearing about horrors of another kind of life totally traumatised them. They couldn’t bear to hear it. So they voted with their feet and stopped turning up.
No one had blamed them. But not knowing doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Are they a generation who value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality?
Or is the bizarre acceptance of brands as a positive thing part of the problem? No one is perfect – especially women who look at the advertising mirror of young gorgeous photoshopped women in new clothes and judge themselves harshly against this.
There seems to be an absence of a critical gene – except for the face in the mirror or when tagged maliciously on Facebook.
I came of age in the ’80s. We took pride in being cynical, enjoyed irony – liked our own creativity. And managed life without phones… Life was simpler and even if I graduated into a recession the buzz of living and independent adulthood was irresistible, even if I decided to downgrade my ambition when I figured out I couldn’t be head of the UN. 30 years on I still hope things will get better and my career will continue to be something I enjoy and stay good at.
But my anxious university students fret over the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of hope – often without making the effort to try and get these things. Worse I don’t know how to energise or console them. Something has gone wrong when a 19 year old can look around the empty classroom and say “we’re generation no hope”. This is not the way a non-ironic late teen or 20something should be thinking.
My generation raised these kids. We did something very wrong – it’s personal, and political. And I haven’t even mentioned the need for them – and us – to tackle climate change…
What is it we can do now to help? Do you have any ideas? Please share.