When it comes to understanding and using the new media and technology, many parents are falling woefully behind their children. We've shifted from a generation gap to a generation lap - kids "lapping" adults on the technology track.
The implications are huge. Family members begin to respect each other for what their authorities actually are. This insight can be extended to social institutions, as well. For example, in Finland 5,000 N-Geners have been chosen to train the country's teachers in computers. For the first time ever, the students will be the teachers and the teachers will be the students.
Technology Is Like the Air
Kids look at computers the same way that boomers look at TV. We don't marvel at the technology or wonder how television transfers video and audio through thin air - we simply watch the screen. TV is a fact of life. So it is with kids and computers.
A personal experience made this clear for me. In early 1996 I spent an hour surfing the Web on a Canadian television program called Pamela Wallin Live. The point was to illustrate to viewers the wealth of material available on the Net.
When I returned home, my wife Ana told me she thought the show was good, but that our kids wouldn't watch the show. As my son Alex put it, "Doesn't everyone know how to surf the Net? And if they don't, then you don't have to teach them."
What About The Generation Gap?
Youth have always been criticized by their elders as being lazy or mischievous, but in the '60s the tone of this generational chiding got much tougher. A seemingly unbridgeable cultural chasm opened between baby boomers and their parents. Woodstock, protest movements, wacky clothes, and new sexual attitudes gave parents high anxiety.
We don't hear much about a generation gap today. For the most part kids think their parents are pretty cool. "Nearly half of all children think their parents are 'up to date' on the music they like," reports market research firm American Demographics, "The children surveyed also say their parents' opinions also matter most to them when it comes to drinking, spending money and questions about sex and AIDS." Further, there are a lot of organizations who care about young people and are working hard to transform the educational system to reflect the changing society.
Unfortunately, we are not in an era of transgenerational bliss. There is a definite "get-tough" mood growing in America.
Part of the unease by adults about kids is the fast growth of the Internet & other technologies. Many parents, teachers and other adults are extremely frightened by knowing that the powerful new tools of this digital age are in the hands of children.
This concern is valid, and sensible steps can be taken to minimize the likelihood of a child encountering inappropriate material, but rather then calling for a reasoned discussion on safe online practices, critics often go too far. They insist that children should be denied use of the Net.
Means of Reconciliation
These conflicts shouldn't be brought down to a point where we define human beings as either bad kids or mean adults. By accepting the Generation Lap, we can come closer to closing the Generation Lap. Children are authorities - let's live with it and learn with them.