Diffusing the Generational Divide in the Digital Era

Diffusing the Generational Divide in the Digital Era

What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give younger siblings or friends (assuming they would listen to you)? (Coalition for College Access)

As a 20-year-old, I’m only a year removed from the culmination of my teenage years. Consequently, I feel as though I can adequately speak on the tumultuous challenges teenagers face now.

Is the hardest part peer pressure? Although peer pressure is a challenge that teenagers in the past, present, and future will be tasked with mitigating, it is not a challenge unique to 90’s babies (and some 2000’s babies, for that matter) simply due to the irreconcilable nature of this issue.

How about sexual activity? Unfortunately, the ushering in of the social media age has also ushered in an age centered on quickly diffusing [personal] information. Screaming headlines would make it appear that our generation is engaging in sexual acts at obscene rates in comparison to our parents’ generation. However, I’d challenge anyone reading this do to do their own investigative research and have honest conversations around sexual activity with the previous generations. I’m confident that the challenges faced in the past have many parallels with the present—so I'm hesitant to label this the "biggest" issue for today's teens.

Instead, I believe the hardest part of being a teenager now is the lack of empathy that older generations have for today’s youth. Just consider the rhetoric of the generations before us that’s become common: Today’s teens have no ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We’re seen as possessing a sense of entitlement. And then there’s my personal favorite: what many older people perceive to be our sensitivity to anything but political correctness.

These fallacies are rooted in epistemological violence, which occurs when social-science data are interpreted to suggest inferiority of the “other,” even when these interpretations aren’t completely factual. The results are misinformed judgments cast upon millennials and generation Z. This is a new age with an entirely new set of unique challenges. Social media and this generation’s deep immersion into the technological era has set us up for challenges unlike any experienced by our predecessors. That means that consistently comparing, say millennials and generation Z to baby boomers, is like comparing Facebook to Snapchat; although they’re both social media platforms, the contexts of their method of operation is different.

Instead, we must work together to understand where each generation’s thoughts and ideals are derived from and how they manifest or are manifested in each generation. Once this common understanding is achieved, we must develop solutions that recognize the multitude of facets that define today’s world.

The best part of being a teenager today is having access to media platforms that allow information to diffuse widely. One of the things frequently dispersed is culture, thus laying the framework for cross-cultural pollination. Whether we like it or not, globalization is a growing trend and the entire world is being rapidly connected right before our eyes. That means even if we are confined to growing up in the context of an American identity, we have opportunities to learn from each other’s culture and gain a broader sense of global understanding.

Even so, young people must be cautious about who they want to portray themselves as on social media. Sharing cultures is one of the biggest advantages of the digital age; too much sharing, however, can leave a teenager vulnerable to internalizing the judgment of others while still trying to develop a strong sense of self.

My mother always told me that strangers should never have complete access to your person. Although skeptical of her point at first, I find myself understanding, and ultimately aligning, with her rationale. I would encourage the upcoming generation to be vigilant about what they choose to share, and to ensure that their entire lives are not on display on social media. Complete and utter vulnerability is not the position you want to be in at an early age; especially since vulnerability paves the way for susceptibility in terms of allowing others’ judgment dictate one’s sense of self as opposed to authentically creating one’s own sense of self.

The digital age is upon us, quite frankly, and our generation will have many missteps as we try to find our way in this new technological era. However, displayed empathy from the generations before us is two-fold in its advantages. For one, a stronger sense of understanding and support from past generations will be positively correlated with our generation’s overall success. Secondly, our generation will reflect that empathy back on older generations in order help them find their way in the digital universe and ultimately mitigate another ongoing issue: generational divide.

Adrian Abrams is a student at Georgetown University

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