|Wednesday, November 24th, 2010||| CWK Producer|
“If you want something that's going to work in the long term, you focus on values, you focus on character, you focus on finding something you're passionate about.”
– W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., and head of the Psychology Department at UGA
Test scores. Competitive team sports. And even technology, where from the outside looking in... it all seems perfect: smiling faces. Pretty clothes. Friends, fame and fun. It's a virtual party, 24/7. How can we help kids navigate today's competitive world? Experts say media – from reality TV to social networks – paint anything but reality for today's teens.
"What these new social networking websites, for example. It's like sort of very micro-level fame and micro-level celebrity for every kid. It's just a very different world," says W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., and head of the Psychology Department at the University of Georgia.
"Different." An existence that's more competitive and more crowded. And technology can change a young person's perceptions about what is real... and what's true.
"It's like reality TV, I mean, we watch it and think it's silly. A 14-year-old watches it and goes, "that's how the world is and that's how I want it to be." So the age makes a big difference in these things," adds Campbell.
Teens don't have the life experience; the emotional and social skills that adults have. They learn how to navigate life. From us.
What do adults need to convey? Perhaps a focus on more traditional values that truly builds resisilience.
"If you want something that's going to work in the long term, you focus on values, you focus on character, you focus on finding something you're passionate about, finding something that you're passionate about that helps society that makes the world a little better, that might not get them into Harvard though, so you're, you're taking a risk when you do that," says Campbell.
He says for parents and teachers ... that's the challenge: to find a balance between external rewards, like grades and S.A.T. scores, and internal values... like character, resilience, curiosity, and a passion for learning.
Overall, teens have come to embrace social network sites, particularly Facebook and MySpace. In recent years, the percentage of teens who use social network sites has steadily risen to 73%.
According to research conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, cell-phone texting has become the preferred channel of basic communication between teens and their friends, and cell calling is a close second. Fully 72% of all teens – or 88% of teen cell phone users — are text-messagers. More than half of teens (54%) are daily texters.
While technology is an important part of everyday existence, teens especially need to learn to manage their time and activity online. While it is extremely useful and important to their education and their lives, the Internet poses very real risks, from exposure to inappropriate and offensive material, and harassment and bullying to even legal and financial ramifications from posting inappropriate photographs or sharing too much data.
Schools need to teach and enforce a code of responsible technology use to cover the areas of respect for privacy, property, ownership, others and the law. Parents need to teach their children online ethics and responsibility, and students themselves must learn how to protect their own privacy online.
Refocusing goals from today's "race for reward" to more intrinsic values like integrity, compassion, perseverance and responsibility requires parental and community support. Chandler DeWitt, a teen author reflecting upon her high school experiences, and wrote a book with short stories about the stress, anxiety, competition, cruelty, the need to please, and all of the day-to-day tension. "While I was in high school, sometimes I felt like I was living for someone else. Rather than trying to figure out who I was, I was trying to be the person someone else wanted me to be. I knew many of my friends felt that way too, but no one should live life that way," she says. "If everybody is honest, a lot of the pressure to perform comes from our parents, teachers and other adults."
The documentary film, The Race To Nowhere, suggests these strategies for families to reset and reevaluate their goals and lifestyle: