Being a teenager is already an odd yet exciting point in a person’s life, where one is just uncovering and exploring the goods and evils of the world. But how does living in this age of digital devices and instantaneous information affect how we grow up?
I believe that right now, my generation is in the beginning stages of flourishing and just figuring out how to use technology to its fullest potential. We are the first generation to grow up with the world at our fingertips. We can access almost anything with a few clicks and swipes. We are spoiled rotten with all the information in the universe, and few of us appreciate it.
Over time, I have noticed that society’s opinions on technology have altered quite dramatically. As a young child, I was told how detrimental technology was, how the television would melt my brain, and I should avoid as much screen time as possible. This instilled guilt in my prepubescent self and embarrassment for not being part of the generation that grew up playing street hockey in their cul-de-sac with their neighbors.
When I reached high school, I watched the world around me mature and celebrate the use of technology and its educational advances. This is when it became much more normal to spend an entire day staring at an iPad screen because now it housed our digital textbooks. We were regularly partaking in screen time that was far less shameful simply because of our productivity.
At the ever-growing pinnacle of the digital age, our youth today is given so many privileges and opportunities that no other generation has seen. Information is instant and available at the click of a button or swipe of a screen and it has opened up communication with others to a whole new level. Although, these technological advantages do come with a price – stress, anxiety, and many other issues.
In a 2011 Slate Article by Taylor Clark entitled “The three real reasons why Americans are more anxious than ever before”, psychologist Robert Leahy points out: “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”
So what exactly is the reason for this shocking observational statistic? Consumerism is at its peak in human history, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Advertising is a pervasive influence on children and adolescents. Young people view more than 40,000 ads per year on television alone and are increasingly exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools. This exposure may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use.
Consumerism can be harmful, and especially at such an early age it is so much easier to accept distorted messages as the norm. This is just one example of how powerful technology is. But it isn’t all bad. Instead of regretfully listening to adults warning us about the dangers of technology, why don’t we focus on how powerful and useful it is, and utilize it to its fullest potential?
A few months ago, I was interviewing a grandmother, Linda Shoaff, for an article about grandparents day, and when I asked her what the biggest difference between her high school experience and high school in the modern day is, she immediately responded, “There [are] a lot more opportunities for students than my day. All the gadgets that you guys have…”
I’m sure many other young people close to my age know that if you ask any elderly person about the differences between our experience growing up and theirs, they will immediately bring up electronics.
On the other end of the spectrum, when I asked my 13-year-old sister if she remembered when there was no Internet, she seemed perplexed by my question, responded with a very confused, “What? When?” and laughed profusely. This is when it became clear to me that myself and anyone else born in the millennium before 2000 are the very last to remember the world before the dawn of the digital age.
So many adults have slandered us and told us that we are a lost cause, but I know that we hold so much potential. The scary yet exciting part of being a teenager is that we know that the future of our world lies in our hands. It’s up to us to make a difference. Let’s use technology together!
I asked some of my peers what growing up digital means to them and how they think it has influenced or altered their experience growing up so far, since, after all, we are the first generation to come of age surrounded by technology.
“I think that it means that we don’t need to grow up entirely. A lot of people are very dependent on technology for certain things because it’s been in our lives since the start.”
—Weston Gray, 17, Mater Dei High
“I think I’m a better person because of technology and social media; I’m not as racist or sexist and it’s allowed me to accept different views from my upbringing or probably what my parents would’ve taught me more easily or predominately. It’s also made me much more connected with people in both making and maintaining relationships. It’s crazy how we now have this thing where we have to always be connected and when we’re not, we feel weird.”
— Peter Swan, 17, Marina High
“I definitely think that it’s resulted in a reliance in technology for this generation, such as for navigating, dating, distractions, doing schoolwork. It’s interesting because it sets up a divide between this generation and the one before it, but I’m also very appreciative of the Internet and all that it can do. It also resulted in my teenage years being full of a lot more sedentary activities as opposed to going outside a lot and engaging more … Technology has made this world more connected but also more disconnected and it’s hard to truly know what my life would be like if I hadn’t grown up with it, I think it actually made things easier for me as I grew out of my teenage years. I know I’ve formed a reliance on it, but I’m also growing to find a balance between technological interactions and real life interactions and trying to not feel so bad about the amount of time I spend with technology.”
— Monique Yadira Ashwill, 19, Portland State University