Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Do You Become An Adult?

If you regularly read my blog you know that I am an avid reader of Tim Elmore and his work on developing leadership in young people.  A while back I ran across an article of his that had some very interesting information about young people becoming adults that confirmed a number of thoughts and opinions that I have developed over the years.

In conversations I have had with a number of people I have stated my belief that young people today are significantly less mature than their peers of previous generations.  To put it another way, an 18-year old in 2016 is much less mature than an 18-year old in 1941, or an 18-year old in 1968, or even one in 1980.  This is not a unique view of the Millennial generation as a common belief is that they lack accountability and responsibility — among other things — because of the impact we baby-boomer and Gen X parents have had on them.  We have coddled and protected them so that they do not have to grow up!  So, let’s take a closer look at what is happening with our kids as they move into what we have considered adulthood for the past century.

In many respects we consider 18 to be the age that people become adults.  From a legal basis it is, but there is much more to becoming an adult than a date on the calendar.  Timemagazine reported that young people are overwhelmed with adulthood, seeing the next ten years or so as a time to experiment with different careers, trying things out until they find the one that is “just right.”  This isn’t necessarily bad because from their perspective there are many opportunities and options available to them, but there are also obstacles and opposition which many are not prepared to overcome.  Just think about how much more is out there for them.  However, this “more” isn’t there in all aspects of their life. has 800,000 jobs posted on their site and the U.S. Census Bureau reports that over 16 million college students are competing for those jobs.  Folks, that doesn’t line up!  Based on those numbers alone, there is no surprise that there is fear and legitimate concern for young people entering the work world.  So how are they reacting?

The quick answer is not too well.  Or at least not too well by traditional standards.  Rates of depression are very high for this generation of young people, and some are simply “paralyzed” by the uncertainty they face.  It is not uncommon at all for college graduates to move back home because they either do not have a job, or because they are simply not mentally or emotionally ready for life on their own.  On the subject of jobs, thousands of the recent college graduates are under-employed, at least based on the level of their degree.  Many of those who dreamed of salaried positions with benefits are punching a clock for an hourly wage.  That compounds the mental health for those who are already experiencing difficulties.  On the positive side, many of these young people are solid with who they are, and as referenced above, are comfortable moving from job to job looking for what’s right.  This is a lot different than my generation where once you graduated from college or trade school, you started with your career.  Careers for today’s young adults are down the road a ways.

So, the concept of becoming an adult starting when a person embarks on a career is not the same as it was for previous generations.  Whether it is because jobs are not available or the young person plans to “experiment” for a while, adulthood is being put off while they live at home or to not move forward into a career.

Another milepost that signifies become an adult — becoming a parent — has also changed.  Yes, teens are still having babies, some of them with the impression that all of a sudden they will be “grown up,” but not nearly at the rates they once did.  Most people are not having their first child until they are around 26 to 27 years of age.

It has become much more common for people in their twenties to still be living with, or move back into their parent’s home.  Some look at it as an opportunity to “test out” being an adult, but not being totally independent.  In fact, this new generation of young people (I still call them young adults!) defines adulthood based on monetary status.  Once they are financially independent then they consider themselves and adult.  When they can pay their own bills, cover their own rent, and stop hitting their parents up for financial assistance, they become an adult.  How times have changed!

From the perspective of a parent with a soon to be 23-year old and another about to turn twenty, I recognize the challenges that both of them face at this point in their lives.  Their mother and I have opted to take the same approach our parents did with us, with the initial approach of requiring the they leave the house and go off to college, with the invitation that they can spend summers here while they are attending school as long as they have full employment.  We do not expect they will spend more than a summer or two with us as they should be finding their own way and developing that ability to live on their own.  I believe my most important role as a parent is to prepare my kids to live their life without me or their mother.  That said, if something does not work out, we will provide support until they can make it on their own.  I believe the key is to get them out sooner rather than later, because it will only be harder the more they depend on us. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

How Much Is Too Much Time On Social Media?

Would you be shocked to know that the average teen today spends more hours in front of a screen than we adults spend at work?  Seriously, we commonly consider the average workday to be eight hours, and according to a report by Common Sense Media the average teen spends nine hours per day in front of a screen using media for their enjoyment!  And, that nine hours does not include time at school or doing homework.  That is staggering!  To add more context, nine hours a day is more the average teen sleeps every 24-hours and more time than they spend with their parents and teachers.

For the average teen, roughly six-and-a-half of those are spent on social media.  Kids from eight to twelve-years-old spend a bit over four hours a day consuming social media.  This is significant!  It is no wonder that Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that he would not want his nephew on social media, and prior to his death, Apple founder Steve Jobs stated that he didn’t want his own kids to own an iPad.  They saw the inherent danger these devices posed for young people.

There have been some studies that show some positive benefits of social media, in particular one conducted by UNICEF that stated “some time” on social media is actually good, and that there “may” be some benefit to the development of social relationships.  Students do connect with friends and stay up to speed on what is happening in the world.  That said, significant research points to the fact that too much time on a screen is detrimental to our mental health.  Dr. Adrian Ward from the University of Texas has concluded that the more dependent we are on our smartphone, the more our cognitive skills and abilities decline.  He also shares that in some sense we become delusional as to how smart we are because we cannot separate what we really know from what we can access from the device.

Jean Twenge, a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, started noticing a significant change in teenagers around 2012 to the extent that she an her colleagues started looking much closer at the mental health of 13- to 18-year-olds.  Over a five year period they recorded drastic jumps in diagnosed cases of depression (33% increase), suicide attempts (23% increase), and successful suicides (31% increase).  Their conclusion that teens today are much more likely to experience mental health issues than their predecessors comes at the same time as the rapid increase in the use of the smartphone and social media.  Other studies support this as well.

The Monitoring the Future study states that just two hours a day engaged with social media contributes to social anxiety and unhappiness among today’s teenagers.  If parents are looking for what is a reasonable amount of time to allow their child to use social media, it is most certainly less than 120 minutes per day.  It would make sense to limit it to an hour a day.  Doing that would force young people to communicate face-to-face with their friends and peers.  When parents have taken these steps, it has resulted in happier kids and better students.  In addition, it will help them develop stronger interpersonal and communication skills, which has suffered dramatically in this social media era we live in today.  It will also give kids back control over their own life.  Rather than being depending on that buzz or ping from the smartphone, they can focus on other things.  They can be more in control of what they do rather than reacting to whatever happens on their smartphone, or what is snapped or posted on Instagram.  They will be more focused on things that really do matter on their life, not distracted by their phone.

We need our kids to understand how this powerful device can serve them rather than enslave them.  As a parents it is your moral and legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for your child.  We all have taken numerous steps to provide a safe environment to protect them physically.  It is imperative we do the same for their mental and emotional safety as well.