Teen Voices: What Is the biggest misconception about your generation?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“That we’re really self-centered; that may be what gets exposed the most, but it’s not true!”

“Many believe (and make is believe) that we are morally depraved due to the over sexuality and loss of traditional values in society. I believe we are more compassionate than any before us because we do have access to so much information.”

“Everyone perceives us as idiots who are slowly deteriorating, but I feel like we are the smartest generation yet.”

“That we are a generation of technology-obsessed apathetic people. Sure, we fully utilize all the new technology that has been given to us, but that’s the point. We are learning more and more about how to better society via technology, and having a generation that grew up during technological breakthroughs will lead to highly innovative minds.”

“That we are lazy. Some kids are, but a lot of teenagers are very hard working.”

“The biggest misconception is that our generation is comprised of lazy, technology-numbed, apathetic brats who only live off the success of previous generations and are not willing to work hard for anything.”

“That we are all disrespectful, ungrateful, lazy, and unable to enjoy nature because of technology. I go camping, fishing, hiking, and canoeing with my family and I love being outdoors and away from technology a bit.”

“That we’re disconnected from the ‘real world’.” People complain about us being glued to our phones and computers and shutting out the world. But people forget that there is another person on the screen. There are millions of them. Because of technology, we are the most connected generation. We can laugh and cry together even if we’re oceans apart. And I think there’s something valuable in that.”

“We are too narcissistic and shallow to care about the world and its future. Our generation has started countless nonprofits and has already begun trying to make the world better. Just because most of us have lost faith in the political system does not mean we are apathetic. That is your fault. Not ours.”

“Probably the biggest misconception about our generation is that we’re disconnected from life because of technology. I feel the exact opposite is true. Because of things like e-mail, texting, and social media we are in a constant state of communication with each other, and we’re always in touch. The news is at our fingertips, and so are our friends.”

My View

The biggest misconception about today’s teenagers is that they are selfish, that they do not care. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many of today’s teens are selfless and compassionate. They are troubled by the problems impacting the world and desire to make our communities and nation better. They are more technologically connected than any previous generation and will likely use this technology to reach beyond traditional institutions and platforms to solve problems and enhance society. We shouldn’t judge them for this. We should encourage them.

And to the extent that some teens are too self-absorbed? Too lazy? Too unwilling to look beyond their phones or Twitter accounts to empathize with or help others? Well, that’s primarily the fault of parents who have coddled and acquiesced to their child’s every whim rather than actually parent.

Here’s hoping the compassion and ingenuity of today’s teens can overcome that obstacle, too.

Tuesday: What One Book Should Every Person Read, and Why?

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