Guest Blogger: Letter to Millennials

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Rose’s Letter to Millennials fits well with that mission. I have been working with millennials my entire professional career; they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Rose is no exception: Her letter is insightful, powerful, and a must read.

millennials

Dear Millennials,

I would like to start by saying that I’m sorry for the bum rap our generation has, but it’s not entirely our fault we have been deemed lazy.

During this age of technology and smart phones, I will admit that we have become a sluggish bunch. The youth of today seem less involved in what is actually going on in the world, and more focused on what is happening in the cyber world. The constant yearning for likes and thumbs up have caused us to be a generation that craves approval and is therefore further let down by those around us when we don’t receive any. I must admit that social media is a huge contributor to the negative self-esteem experienced by today’s youth. Think back to when you were young and the world seemed full of backyards to explore and swings to jump from. Life was so much simpler when the only way to know what people really thought of you was to ask them on the playground. Those were the times of a No Harm No Foul policy, and if you didn’t like what that kid had to say about you, all you had to do was walk away from them. Today the struggle becomes not only what that person has to say to your face, but also what they say online after you have turned your back and walked away.

It has become harder to escape the constant scrutiny that follows every one of us around, so we can’t be blamed for feeling sad and wanting to avoid what is waiting for us outside the safe walls of our home. I will admit that human beings have become more hurtful with their words and actions, and empathy has all but disappeared. So I urge each of you to take the extra moment and think about how your words are affecting others, and together we can begin to end this cycle of nastiness. As stated in Psychology Today, “Millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical stress, anxiety, and depression than any other generation at the same age” (Angone). Believe it or not, we are all in this thing called “life” together, so it is time to start acting like it. It is time to practice unity among our fellow people.

Our generation, the millennials, is the largest at over 85-90 million people in the US (Angone).  So it’s no wonder that everything we do is under scrutiny: If one of us makes a mistake, then the whole generation is blamed for it. You as an individual can’t control the quantity of our generation, but you do have the power to change the quality. If you expect to be shown respect by others, then take the steps to earn it. And I don’t mean just when you want something, or only to certain people, but with every single person you encounter.

I understand that growing up in this world hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t feel fair for others to judge you because your parents took it easier on you than theirs did on them. But the world has become a lot more complex over the years, and the lines have been blurred between what is considered easy and hard. A huge complaint of many is that our generation is growing up entitled. One cause could be the participation trophies we have been given (by the previous generation that criticizes us, I might add) our entire lives. The common thought, and I have felt this way myself, is that “Millennials were given trophies for just existing” (Angone). Our elders created a double-edged sword—on one side, they had a desire to create equality among us, but on the other side they didn’t create a reason for us to deserve receiving something for nothing. As long as we showed up, we deserved to get a trophy, no matter how much or how little work we put in to earn it. The over sensitivity to equality appears to be both a blessing and a curse, but not in the way that people expected.

Participation medals, however, aren’t the only problem. Pair that with the dramatic change in what it means to win and be successful.

“When I look at the millennials, I don’t see a generation entitled to success, we are obsessed with it. And for good reasons. We don’t know how to fail. And when we do, we’re pretty sure we’ve actually won. We grew up in a competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Fighting for a spot on the team, in a school, at a job, for the win. We don’t want blue ribbons because we feel entitled to them; we want them because we’ve been in a cage match to win them our entire lives. Now, the stakes to win those blue ribbons are just slightly higher” (Angone).

Everything these days feels like a race to win, rather than racing towards a dream. We see this on the youth soccer fields and baseball diamonds when parents scream at coaches, officials, and players over bad calls and plays. It doesn’t matter what we are fighting for anymore because everybody just wants to come in first. That’s the way we grew up. It has been hardwired into our brains through example and experiences that the only ones who actually win are the ones who come in first. And in terms of morality, it doesn’t seem to matter how we won, as long as we did.

I would ask each of you to think about why, even though you have so much provided for you already, you still crave more. I think that there is a dual battle going on inside each of us. On the one hand, we know what it is like to already have the basic necessities provided for us, and on the other hand, we feel as if we still need the luxurious items that we realistically could live without. It is not enough to simply have a phone or a car, but now we feel as though we have to have the newest version of phones or the coolest looking cars. Why? Because to us, that is winning. Practicality is no longer important to us when we could have something better.

I know there are many people from older generations who are so quick to refer to our generation as lazy and spoiled. But a funny thing happens when you grow up: You have a biased view on what you were like growing up. It is so easy for older generations to call us the lazy ones, but they don’t remember that they used to be just the same when they were our age: “So it’s not that Millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it’s that young people are lazy and narcissistic, and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves” (Burkus). The older generations don’t remember as clearly as we do all the pressures we have right now to find a good paying job, and how daunting it is to have your whole life ahead of you with seemingly no time at all to figure out what you want to do with it.

Not surprisingly, this generation is the most educated (Angone), but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Getting a college degree isn’t enough to get us in the door for a job, and to some it feels like the equivalent of a high school diploma. It seems that the college education we indebted ourselves to is just another way to try to win, to come out on top—not something we go into because we have a dream job waiting for us on the other side of it. It was always a goal of mine to go to school and graduate from college, though I didn’t know what for—only that I had to do it. I know that there are others who feel the same. But this is what we think it takes to make the proper transition from childhood into adulthood. But what if that transition has nothing to do with school and more to do with who we are?

The problem that previous generations have with ours is that it is taking us longer to get through this transition step, which makes us look lazy, but the world is a different place now than it was back then, and there are many other options besides school. A diploma no longer gives you a big one-up from other job candidates. I would agree that this generation may not be as motivated as the ones before, but there is so much provided for us that we don’t feel the need to go and get it ourselves. When parents, teachers, and bosses over provided for us, there isn’t as much drive to run towards the next step. When we don’t know where that next step will lead us, where we are is good enough. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls it “emerging adulthood.” He says, “as young adults today, [we] aren’t stepping full-force into adulthood, we’re backing into it….It’s just taking a lot longer than we ever could’ve planned” (Angone).

So how do we battle the unknown world ahead of us having grown up the way we did? I don’t have the perfect answer for any of you because to each of us, where we hope to end up will look different. I do know that it is hard to have the courage to do what we really want when we constantly worry what others will think of us if we do go for it. Here is the truth that we are too inexperienced to realize and the previous generation seems to have forgotten: This phase you are in right now is not your final phase. If you know you have long term goals, don’t push them aside for the short-term factors. As hard as it is for us to let go of what’s happening right now, it is truly the only thing we can do in order to move forward and reach those long-term goals.

My friends, accepting change and looking inside of ourselves to find out why we must do so are the only things we really can do to provide ourselves with a fulfilling life. Once you take those first steps, the rest will fall into place. The profitable thing you do that makes you happy (commonly known as a job), the kindness you show to others (such as letting others have a turn to win), and pursuing your true dreams (A.K.A. putting in the work) are the most important factors to having a successful life. If we as a generation all took these steps together, we would reflect a better light, and instead of looking down upon us, the ones who criticize would rejoice in the fact that we have become a generation to be proud of.

In closing, I would suggest to not let what our elders have to say about us dictate the legacy we will leave behind. We should not be giving in to the pressure of their hasty assumptions; rather, we should be making a new name for ourselves that we would be proud to embrace. It starts today with each of you. Don’t do what they expect of you, but do what you would expect of yourself. Do not settle into the title of “lazy millennials,” but go out and show them that you are better than that. Yes, presently we do not have the greatest reputation, but with a little change from each and every one of us, someday we will.

Sincerely,

Rose Doucette

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: January

Software

What lessons can teachers offer to designers of software for the classroom?

Software designers need to know these eight things if they are going to create a program for the classroom:

  1. Teachers and students must be able to access the program within the school, so designers need to understand the various filters and how they operate. If students can’t access the program in school, it’s unlikely that they will use it at home, which means teachers won’t invest their time or the school’s money in it. An added bonus will be if the program has a way to keep the learning environment safe for students–with or without the filter.
  2. The program needs to be simple and use similar key strokes as other programs. There’s definitely a place for creativity, but creative commands and key strokes in a program that’s supposed to simplify a process or improve education just creates frustration.
  3. The program needs to be compatible with other programs. Remember when Apple first came out with their innovative computers and programs? None of us could use them because everything in our school was PC. If my students had a Mac, they couldn’t submit their essays electronically because our school’s program was not compatible with the Mac. Thankfully, both systems are more compatible with each other now, but designers should learn from that debacle. Unless the designer is another Steve Jobs (or has a boss like Steve Jobs), it is unlikely that the computer world will change everything for the new program. Besides, an educational tool needs to be tried and true before it gets to the classroom. The proper venue for true innovation is not the school system.
  4. Students are savvier than most teachers are, so the program should be easy to start and teach, but it should have depth so that students can explore the program and stay engaged with it. Also, if the program isn’t fluid enough to allow students to express their own creativity, they will get bored with it.
  5. Students are not impressed with cheesy gimmicks or things that try to imitate what they like but in an “educational” way. They are sophisticated consumers and should be treated as such (especially high school students).
  6. If the program is confusing, doesn’t work most of the time (or has too many glitches), and students can’t use other established programs with it, teachers and the school will stop using it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a great educational tool.
  7. Programs need to make use of the internet, music, videos, and pictures. Students want to show their teachers and classmates who they are with their projects and presentations. If students can only use inferior simulations of their favorite music, videos, and pictures, they will hate it instantly.
  8. Students learn at different rates, so a program that adjusts to different levels easily is helpful. My son used a math program that increased the complexity of the math problems as he improved. Until he showed mastery of addition, he didn’t move on to subtraction or multiplication. The program created an individual learning plan (ILP) for every student. Now that’s a program that’s worth investing in.

More educational discussions…

Friday Writing Challenge: Five Problems with Social Media

typing-on-keyboardWriting is my exhale. I’ve realized I’ve been holding my breath for far too long. At least once a week I will exhale, which I hope leads to a healthier breathing pattern. I encourage you to join me, either share your writing on my blog through the comments or in your own forum, whatever that may be. I’ll post the prompt first and then add my response later in the day. Here’s to breathing!

Writing Prompt # 1: Five Problems with Social Media

Did anyone else accept the challenge? Feel free to comment or post links to your forums. Here is my response:

Like all things in life, social media has its positive and negative uses. Only the user can determine which side he or she will fall on.

  1. Immediate access: One of the biggest problems with social media is that people have immediate and constant access to others, giving abusers anonymity and protection from retaliation because they can hide behind a computer screen. We know the nightmare stories about children being tormented by other children. Not only do the tormentors feel protected, but they also don’t have the “benefit” of seeing how their words hurt another person. For most people, seeing the pain we have caused someone is enough to make us think before we torment again. However, that doesn’t happen with social media. If each of us could imagine what our comments may do to the person they are aimed at, we may choose our words more carefully. And for those who are not naturally empathetic, they should think how they would feel if someone made those very comments to them. On the other side of this issue, immediate access to all kinds of people around the world is exactly what has given people the ability to grow their businesses or get acknowledged for their creativity and talent. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogging are the main forums I work with, and they have given me access to the world: I have dialogued with people in Australia and China; people in the UK and Hawaii have purchased my book. The key with immediate access is to use it for good not evil.
  2. Sharing opinions: Social media has brought out the inner critic in everyone. Some opinions are so brutal that they go well beyond freedom of speech rights, but it happens so frequently that not much can be done about it. It’s also difficult to defend yourself against someone’s opinion; he or she has a right to have that opinion no matter how wrong or brutal that opinion is. (By the way, it’s easy to spot the people who are just using hate speech or covering up an uneducated opinion because their comments are filled with logical fallacies.) The best solution is to get tougher skin and let it go or to establish boundaries with people that don’t know they’ve crossed them. I’ve had to set people straight a number of times (and they don’t like it much), but I’ve also realized that someone else’s opinion of me doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what I think about myself. Those thoughts have shaped me into the woman I am. Additionally, my opinions are a reflection of the woman I am. That’s why I try not to share my opinions in negative ways–I don’t want to be a negative person. I refrain from giving an opinion on a subject I know little about–I may have an opinion, but it won’t be an educated one. Being able to share my opinion is also a beautiful thing because it encourages me to become more knowledgeable. My eyes have been opened to some truths in the world because I have dared to look at and investigate an opposite opinion. I don’t agree with every opinion I read, but I’m also not threatened by people who don’t see the world the same way I do. I just look at those comments as a way to strengthen my own convictions.
  3. Getting noticed: Social media has brought some unlikely people into the spotlight, which is a blessing and a curse for anyone who has experienced it. I was able to get a book contract because of the media attention I received after my resignation letter went viral. I knowingly posted my letter to my blog, but I had no idea how big it would get. I wasn’t ready for that kind of media attention or the horrible things some people said to me and about me on the various internet websites. The other unfortunate consequence of getting noticed is that some people will do anything for attention, including lying about who they are and what they’ve done. That’s why it’s so important to be truthful on social media. The only thing worse than getting thrown into the spotlight without any prior training is to get that attention for being a liar or manipulator.
  4. Wasting time: Social media can destroy productivity. Constantly checking statuses, likes, and comments can eat away an hour (or two) without even trying. Staying connected with family and friends in different parts of the globe is a blessing, but looking for acceptance and validation of worth through these connections is not. The key to this is balance and moderation.
  5. Finding out what’s wrong with our society: The horrible crimes we are privy to because of social media has been blamed for our society’s helicopter parenting phenomenon. We read on a daily basis about missing or abused children, bullying, drug abuse, shootings, etc., forcing parents to become overprotective of their children. It’s difficult to raise independent and successful children when parents feel they have to micromanage every detail of their children’s lives in order to protect them from the “dangers” in the world. I’m not saying the dangers aren’t real, but they aren’t new either, and many times these events are sensationalized in order to generate traffic to those sites. I won’t read those articles. It’s not that I want to remain ignorant, but I don’t want to fill my mind with horrifying images. I can’t stay hopeful if I’m constantly afraid. I can’t raise a healthy son if I pass on those fears to him. The other side of this issue, though, is that we have our finger on the pulse of what’s wrong with this world. We have to know what’s broken in order to fix it. For those who care to make a positive impact in our world, all we have to do is read the headlines to know where we are needed most.

 

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: October

Can social media have a role to play in managing a successful classroom?

Social media can be used in certain classrooms successfully. If teachers need to send out announcements, Facebook and Twitter meet students where they spend much of their time. There is no better application available to send out last-minute reminders or changes of plans.

The biggest fear in a school setting seems to be that teachers and students would become friends on social media, and that friendship would cross professional boundaries. Although I am aware of the problems that issue has caused, I don’t believe in punishing everyone for the bad judgment of a few individuals. I would rather see social media decisions made on a case-by-case basis, bringing dignity, respect, and trust back to the profession.

Along those lines, there is a way to create social groups without teachers and students becoming “friends” on Facebook. A teacher could post a notification to a group, and all the students in that group could read the notification without being able to see the teacher’s personal page and posts.

It doesn’t come as a big surprise that teachers have to bear the brunt of the burden for monitoring students’ online behaviors when social media becomes part of the classroom. Unfortunately, it seems that teachers are expected to have the bigger “parenting” role in a child’s life than the actual parents. It has never been a good idea to let children (up to 18 years old) have free reign on the internet. Because of parents’ lack of guidance and involvement with their own children, schools have had to make blanket rules to protect themselves from lawsuits.

Even though I’m in favor of using Facebook and Twitter in certain situations, I also believe that social media, smart phones, and texting erode necessary social skills. People, in general, have forgotten how to talk to each other; eye contact is at an all-time low for those who primarily communicate with hand-held devices. Social media has also damaged students’ abilities to check their email regularly, to write respectful, intelligent emails to their teachers, and to use school websites to locate information.

A possible solution to some of these issues could be for schools to create classes on how to use social media responsibly and appropriately. Students need to be aware of the ramifications of misuse but also of the benefits of worldwide tools. Schools could also offer night classes for parents so that they can learn more about social media and monitoring their children’s behaviors.

Now, to contradict everything I just said, I don’t believe in making students’ lives easier than they already are. Becoming responsible adults means that they have to move out of their comfort zones. Just because they are on social media all the time, doesn’t mean that the world needs to revolve around them. Making students work for their information is one way the current adults are going to help the current “entitled” generation break free of this debilitating mindset.