Pastoral Perspectives

Parenting – A Techy Generation

  Recently, I visited Challenger and noticed a young couple pushing a pram with a baby who was probably a few months. They passed the iPad station and without any second thoughts, the mother pulled off an iPad with security attached and showed it to her baby, teaching her, “See iPad! iPad!” It was an amusing sight.

          What’s more challenging is that birth of babies is no longer announced to the pastors through phone calls to the church office. You need to log into Facebook to be connected and informed. I’ve received announcements of weddings, birthdays and invitations of all kinds through Facebook. My guess is death and obituaries would someday be announced also on Facebook. A marriage counselor with 30 years experience asserts that well-meaning parents who broadcast their children’s achievements, photos and milestones online could be setting them on a path of self-absorption and failed relationships later in life. Studies have shown that 81% of the world’s children have an online presence before the age of two. That means that four out of five children have a projected ‘image’ before they have personally shaped an ‘identity’.

            What’s so harmful about that online image? It’s incomplete: It shows only the good parts of our kids. Once children become accustomed to being ‘featured’ within cyberspace, they develop a hunger for more. The Gen Techy kids will grow up with no qualms to post anything about the adults.

             I remember growing up focusing on one task at a time. Now, with a computer, our kids can access multiple web pages, e-mail accounts and documents simultaneously. But while they find e-mail a useful tool to stay in touch with friends, it also means more than one person can get in touch with them. Today the mode of communication is no longer picking up a phone to talk. Our kids preferred SMS than talking.

            Norton asserts that kids spend more than 1.6 hours a day online, 62% of whom have had a negative experience, but only a paltry 45% of parents are aware. Experts are still struggling to define rules of appropriate conduct and etiquette in a world of 24/7 streaming on-demand connectivity. Blame the speed at which technology advances. There’s barely time to discuss the rules of engagement through social media, before another innovater rewrites them with the debut of the latest apps.

            As a parent, we can’t shield our children from every harmful influence but the more we can be with them—in person or in cyberspace—the more we can help them develop the strength of character they need to face the world. Like a martial arts advocates, a better approach to battle is not to stop but rather redirect the force of an opponents’ attack. Instead of trying to build walls against the outside world, which can be easily skirted (or may crack under pressure), it’s better to provide healthy detours and a road map to more positive routes via informed insight and suggestions.

            Counselors advise parents to set time limits for screen time, provide rules regarding cell phone use, encourage physical activity, and to be role models for appropriate use of technology (don’t text and drive). The key is about finding the balance that will make them conscientious users of technology. Technology is revolutionizing the way children grow up. It is not uncommon to see toddlers gurgling to a touch screen that tiny fingers don’t find daunting. A friend of mine told me how a maid turned on the iPad to “Tom and Jerry” and placed it in front of the pram of a toddler while feeding the child. Looking among us, we wonder who are those in the techy generation? They are in their 20 to 40’s.

             This is what I’ve adapted from the experts: Gen Techy (Born Roughly 1977-2000). This generation is born with communications, media and digital technology. They are connected!  Tech-savvy is the very definition of this group. They run their lives technically and prefer to communicate via text or email rather than face to face. This is a big challenge for us post-WWII kids who still believe in relationship. The Gen Techy group watched their parents worked hard to support their family and obtained a higher standard of living than their post WWII folks, all the while sacrificing their family time and in some cases any resemblance of a quality of life. Their parents gave their lives to the corporate world and found out that the corporate world in return was not so loyal in the mergers and acquisition period of the 80s. The Gen Techy groups saw this and decided they are going to live their life on their own terms, so they have high expectations of their employers and are more apt to leave a company for other horizons in pursuit of their definition of success.  Corporate loyalty is not part of their playbook and they have a better understanding of work/life balance than previous generations.  How dare they want to live life first and work second? This can be perceived as the “narcissist or entitled” group, but they just believe in living their life on their terms.

             They are confident, achievement oriented and their ambition is apparent.  I believe we will see more entrepreneurs from this generation than any previous generations. Gen Techy is financially smart.  These kids have watched financial melt downs since the first dot-com bubble burst in the early 90s and they are very aware that they need to take control of their own financial future as much as possible. So, watch out, these kids move.  They are keen on developing skills and moving forward as quickly as possible. Change is not only embraced, but also expected.  The challenge today is how do we parent this Techy Generation?

1. You are going to have to go beyond the belly-to-belly traditional relationship model and integrate every tech communication method possible if your intent is to reach them.

2. This group is very sophisticated. They have had lots of exposure to “wow” which make this generation pretty hard to impress! They have seen it all, so traditional parenting models are not going to work with them.  You need to be as creative as possible to draw them in.

3. Attention spans are short now thanks to the availability of information on the web and this generation in particular would like all information to be presented as quickly as a text. Their attention span is miniscule so you need to be creative, clear and concise in your parenting.  Be brief, engaging and be memorable.

4. They will not look for you. You have to find them and the best place is on social network sites: Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube are their channels.  These are the means and avenues to bring you into their world.

5. Gen Techy are huge multi-taskers. They can and will text, check email etc while you are teaching or speaking with them and it doesn’t mean they are not listening or don’t value what you have to offer.  They may even be taking notes on their mobile devise so don’t be too quickly offended and peg them as rude.

Pastor Cheng Huat

April 1, 2012