By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
10th-grader Dawna Thornhill at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles.
Today’s generation may be tech-savvy, but they need more attention and compassion from educators than the previous generation, observes Peggy Cameron, a paraprofessional at Alice C. Stelle Middle School in Calabasas. According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive, 30 percent of students say they worry about family financial difficulties, and 36 percent say they worried more this year than last.
“The last few years and the poor economy have really been a reality check for a lot of them,” says Cameron. “Their parents may be out of work, there’s a war going on, and they are less optimistic about the future. They may feel that they’ve been shuffled around and that parents don’t have time for them. They may be prone to depression. They have much less of a sense of entitlement than generations that have already gone through here.”
But for all the struggles that today’s youngsters face, they are also the most technologically advanced generation yet — many of them headed for careers that don’t even exist today. They are well educated and very likely to benefit from the independence provided by cell phones, computers and whatever other technology awaits around the corner.
“It’s great being able to automatically know how to use technology — we don’t have to ask anybody for help,” says Dawna Thornhill, a 10th-grader at Dorsey High School, Los Angeles. “We already know what to do, so that saves time. I really love technology.”
Thornhill is a “Digital Native” and, like other members of Generation Z, seems to have been born wired to the Internet. Raised on video games, e-mail, and instant messaging, they see technology as their friend and grasp it much more quickly than previous generations. They are intimately familiar with the Internet, cell phones, MP3 players and all manner of digital media. They use technology for work, for play and to form relationships with people they have never met.
“The best thing about this generation is that they know where to get information to solve problems way faster than I do,” says Alec Mackenzie, a member of the Hillsborough Teachers Association. “They answer questions much more quickly; they are curious and they’re smart.”
“They are much more connected to the outside world than previous generations,” adds Mackenzie, an eighth-grade Spanish, language arts and film teacher at Crocker High School in Hillsborough. “They know what is hanging in the Louvre because they’ve seen it on the Internet. They know more about the world because they visit it on the computer.”
Technology has led students to expect instant results for all things, says Daniel Watts, a computer graphic arts teacher for at-risk youth at Elinor Lincoln Hickey Junior/Senior High School in Sacramento. “I gear my curriculum so students can experience success as quickly as possible. It’s motivation for them to want to learn more and take it to the next level.”
“They need constant feedback because of the immediacy technology has given them,” agrees Duane Mendoza, a technology resource teacher at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard. “Their attention span seems to be a bit less than their counterparts in previous years.”
Every generation, for better or for worse, has a set of characteristics that define them. For Gen Z, the dominant trait is that they are masters of multitasking and can talk, text, listen to music and look up information on the Web without missing a beat.
“I’ve seen them text, have conversations and be on the computer at the same time,” says Jennifer Kennedy of New Technology High School in Sacramento. “They don’t think about turning things off to engage in discussions. In their minds, they can do it all at the same time.”
Some mental health experts believe that a constant stream of electronic information is causing a form of technology-induced attention deficit disorder. John Raley, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, uses the term “acquired attention deficit disorder” and says that technology is rewiring the modern brain.
Elias Aboujaude, director of Stanford University’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, has expressed concern that young people are losing the ability to analyze complex information.
“The more we become used to just sound bites and tweets, the less patient we will be with more complex, more meaningful information,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “And I do think we might lose the ability to analyze things with any depth and nuance.”
A study by three Stanford University researchers concluded that people bombarded with several streams of electronic information don’t pay attention, control memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. The study was aimed at “high-tech jugglers keeping up several e-mail and instant message conversations at once, text messaging while watching television and jumping from one website to another while plowing through homework assignments.”
John Jabagchourian, assistant professor of child and adolescent development at San Jose State University, believes the study’s findings have been blown out of proportion, because the differences between heavy multitaskers and others were only a matter of milliseconds.
“I’m not worried about it,” says the California Faculty Association member. “Every generation thinks the next generation may be changing for the worse and then asks, ‘What are we going to do about it?’”
Computers have blurred the line between the workplace and home for adults, and the same is true for today’s students, says Mendoza, a member of the Hueneme Education Association. Via Web-based lessons, students in Mendoza’s yearbook class are able to work from anywhere.
“They work on computers, and some will potentially be able to work from their Internet-multimedia-enabled smart phones,” says Mendoza. “Many students have the latest technology. Sometimes their applications at home are newer than what the school has.”
But not all students have access to technology at home, and those who don’t are at a disadvantage. “To make things equal, we provide as many resources as we can at the school site along with lessons in how to use the technology,” says Mendoza. “We also guide them to local libraries where they will have access to computers during other times.”
Too much information
Some educators think that the majority of students who are fed a constant stream of electronic information are easily overwhelmed by TMI (too much information), which can be difficult for youngsters to filter — and make it difficult to make a decision.
“This generation is less independent than previous generations,” says MacKenzie. “They are more dependent on technology to do things for them. I may give them an assignment to do in class, and they will say ‘I don’t get it’ or ‘I need you to help me’ instead of trying to figure out how to get it done.”
“They need you to walk them through the process quite a few times,” says Watts, a member of the Sacramento County Office of Education Teachers Association. “You can’t just tell them to look at something, figure it out and expect them to complete the project.”
Because this generation has so much digital information at their fingertips, many tend to remain indoors connecting with one another digitally. With one-third of American children overweight and one-fifth obese, studies show that a lack of interest in the outdoors and physical activity leads to health problems in adulthood.
Kennedy recalls that she and fellow teachers were recently telling students about bones they broke as children while climbing and playing. None of the students could recall ever breaking a bone because, for the most part, they seldom engage in outdoor activity, says the Sacramento City Teachers Association member.
“They may be very hands-on with technology, but they have a sedentary lifestyle,” says Watts. “In many cases you can’t get these kids to play outside because they want to play video games, watch TV and be on computers.”
“To put it simply, these children have grown up in an environment where technology is everywhere and much of it is invisible,” says Larry Rosen, a professor at CSU Dominguez Hills who teaches a class called Global Impact of Technology. “Most children and adolescents have grown up with the largest storehouse of information in history — the Internet. They use it for a variety of purposes that are beyond the scope of anything imagined just a decade ago.”
Generation Z members are:
- Well educated and the most technologically advanced generation.
- Growing up in smaller households with older parents.
- Until recently, more materially endowed.
- Headed for careers that don’t even exist today.
- Likely to have at least five careers and more than 20 employers.
- Very concerned about the environment.
Source: Researcher Mark McCrindle
Gr8 communicators dialed into technology