May 20th, 2018

The ‘so what’ for our iGens

By Submitted Article on February 14, 2018.

In my last “Eye on Education” column, I wrote about the generation of youth that are in school today, the iGens. Some of the positive attributes research has uncovered regarding the iGens include being inclusive, wanting to do well and work hard, possessing high regard for safety, and having the capacity to be creative and innovative.

Some of the worrisome attributes that have been delineated in generalizations about the iGens include a significant decline of in-person social interaction and insecurity manifesting in record-breaking numbers of youth and children having mental health issues such as anxiety, loneliness and depression. With respect to social context, what is unique about the “growing up” of this generation is that they were born at a time when the use of cellphones and the internet were, and continue to be, modelled by the adults around them as part of everyday life.

If these generalizations ring true, then as caring adults who have the responsibility and privilege of framing experiences that build the attributes, skills and confidence necessary for realizing dreams, we need to think about the “so what.”

What can we do to support, educate and inspire iGens? I am a strong believer in beginning with strengths. The iGens should be recognized for their inclusive lens and provided opportunity to explore how this incredibly positive attribute has the potential to impact the spirit of humanity globally. Use technology to help them explore the world, recognize inhumanity and put them in the position of problem-solver – what can they do to make a difference?

This can start locally by having them see and consider contexts that further inequality or marginalize identifiable groups. They possess the fine attributes of creators and innovators, yet we have a tendency to put them in contexts where they are consumers. First, let them simply play, imagine and invent. Provide opportunity to create, think deeply, question what they see and consider possibilities. Place them in the role of creator of knowledge rather than consumer of knowledge. They want to be successful and are worried about their future. They need mentoring, guidance and support to gain the confidence and opportunity to work hard and be independent.

Building confidence, efficacy and resilience by building on strengths will contribute to an overall sense of well-being. At the same time, we must also think about how to support challenges. Imagine the stress of being turned on 24-7. Afraid to turn off technology for fear of missing out or being excluded is a lot of pressure. Promote person-to-person socialization. It is healthy to just “hang out” with friends in a social context that provides opportunity for interpersonal communication that is not driven by the sometimes confusing messaging received through social media. Encourage healthy activity – get them outside and help them grow up experiencing the freedom and joy that comes with simply being active in ways that are not directed and orchestrated entirely by adults.

Finally, spend time. The habit of locking oneself in the bedroom linking with others through phones or online can be lonely and stressful when all is not right and messaging is imbued with hostility or alienation from a group. It is a habit that is hard to break once firmly entrenched. Create different habits – in-person conversations about school, friends, aspirations, problems, activities – anything that engages them and deters them from being turned on 24-7.

Cheryl Gilmore is the Superintendent of Lethbridge School District No. 51.

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