This feature is based upon my presentation to senior citizens gathered in a private home in Lincoln, CA last Friday morning.
I am a mom of two grown sons, trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, who left a career in technology circa 2004 when mobile connectivity landed in the hands of youth. I wanted to understand what it means to grow up in a cyber-powered world and the new demands on parents. After a decade of fieldwork and research, and publishing books and regular trend updates called,“Banana Moments: Help For Parenting in the Social Network”, I founded Core Connectivity, as an education center devoted to help parents and families strengthen relations so that our youth can be secure in a cyber-powered world that hypes emotion. We offer high impact trainings on family culture to teach parents about their inherent authority to govern the home and educate the child according to the spiritual wisdom of their chosen faith about the role of God in their life (be it Christian, Judaism, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist) and build trust to strengthen family relationships.
I consider myself to be an American with a heart for Jesus Christ, and this is my choosing. I was raised in the Catholic Church, in Oakland, California. I chose to embrace the spiritual wisdom of my parents – who created an interfaith culture that respects, as God does, the intellect and will of every family member. My mom was raised according to the Methodist faith by her mom, and her dad was agnostic. My dad was raised in the Catholic faith, and they chose to raise their children in the Catholic faith. My parents taught me two things that serve me today and inform my research, family culture training and hope for our future: 1) something is only true if you allow it in your own mind; and 2) faith, i.e., what you choose to believe about the role of God in your life, is deeply personal and cannot be micro-managed. (Check out Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P. who was raised by atheists). So while I know that I cannot make my children love Jesus, I can do my best to make my faith in Christ look really good by continually seeking to become a better version of myself as their mother according to my own faith. I hope my perspectives and opinions about life never stop growing in love and casting out fear.
So my faith informs me that God grants wisdom generously to any human being, regardless of creed, who lacks it and seeks it (James 1:5), and in that sense we are all learning executives – learning how to become better versions of ourselves in a world troubled with fear-based paradigms. To that end, our core curriculum is called, Fresh Start Family Culture Builder for Household Executives.
Today I am going to share with you:
- My thesis about the threat and opportunity of an internet-powered world
- The challenges of growing up in the network culture
- The characteristics of the “digital native”
- Insights for responding to trends impacting inter-generational relations
My thesis about the power crisis of an internet-powered world
Perception, reality and truth. My thesis: The advent of the internet and mobile connectivity fundamentally transforms human relations by changing the perception of authority (i.e. what we choose to believe about power and control centers in the world) to be less a matter of formal title, social construct (bureaucracy) or role and more a relational experience across the generations, political and social classes, creeds and social backgrounds.
It is a power crisis that impacts families and institutions across the globe and presents a threat and an opportunity.
The threat of this power crisis is that we and our children are exposed to adult issues (i.e. anxiety, bullying and terrorism, addictions and human exploitation) with greater intensity than pre-internet generations and at earlier ages, as the world moves in close through devices and apps introducing audacious opportunities to fearlessly collaborate as well as risky traps.
By the same token, this crisis is an opportunity to create an executive movement within our hearts and minds to defend the liberty that already belongs to the soul of very individual regardless of the risks and consequences of what is trending in the world.
In our Fresh Start Family Culture training, this executive movement is anchored in the one mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible in the first place: that every individual has God-given intelligent life and free will which is power over their own thoughts and actions that can never be taken but is easily surrendered to many forms of tyranny, such as:
- A monarchy (as with the founding of the United States deposing the tyranny of a monarchy across the Atlantic)
- A terrorist threat
- Oppressive dictatorships
- Abuse of religion
- Cyberbully dynamics
- Human exploitation
Now more than ever, our perception shapes our reality and we are all vulnerable to believe things that are not true, and focus on things that don’t matter. This is especially true for our children, and while I believe much of the concern about the impact of social media on youth must aimed at the cyber habits of adults, the emphasis of my talk today is on how the cyber social realms of youth shape their perception of family life and liberty.
Challenges of growing up in the social network
While technology is used for many good things like individualized education, connecting families across long distances, and builds in efficiencies and collaboration for various projects and businesses – it is also true that there is a lot of fear and fakery in the social network.
Never before has a generation of parents had so little understanding and control over their child’s childhood and teenagehood experiences. There is no way to stay on top of what apps a child may be using or is exposed to. Parental controls help and are important to deploy, but they are of limited value as kids learn quickly how to disable or get around them.
In 2004, my son in the eighth grade had purchased his own pay as you go mobile phone with money he had earned from his paper-route, and something called “texting” emerged. And by 2006 Facebook was emerging to displace MySpace, and many more social media apps were on the horizon, unknown to most adults, but well understood by the children who received the smart phone as an indispensable appendage.
I had learned about MySpace a few years earlier when my son was in the fifth grade through conducting a “Control H” to review the browser history on his computer. There I found an URL for another older teenager’s MySpace account on his computer that as it turned out was a friend of an older friend. This MySpace featured a profile of a 17-year-old straight, white male and underneath it were several URLs for porn sites serving up content for “a straight white male”. Once I learned that the profile did not belong to my son or his neighborhood friend, we removed the URLs and installed filters, and he retained his computer privileges. This was alarming to me for two main reasons: 1) how efficient the pornography programs are at working with user profiles and URLs to push content into the user’s heart and mind; and 2) none of the other parents in our community had heard of MySpace, and the media were not reporting about it. Many months later, the FBI reports warning to parents about MySpace started to surface in the news media.
My point here is that the kids knew about MySpace long before parents. And as they are being exposed to inappropriate content, the chances are great they will keep it secret unless there is a family culture of trust and open communication. And so it goes today…the children will always know more than their parents about the apps surfacing in their cyber social realm. Today the social media app environment is dynamic and the innovation is ongoing. Below is a chart of 2015 most popular social media apps and where the children go after Facebook.
Today Facebook is pretty-much the standard social media platform for families and the children will gravitate to other apps which can be accessed outside the purview of parents through friends and other devices. So I advise parents not to chase rabbit holes to try to identify the next threatening app. While it is important to get educated about the technology (you can create google news alerts for this), it is more strategic to focus on your relationship with your child who can keep you current on what they know from experience and what they witness, and what apps they are interested in and why.
The big risk for youth is that without open communication at home about what they are experiencing, their cyber-social realms can become a single point of reference for life. So the first challenge is that kids can be easily overwhelmed and believe things that are not true. Through fieldwork and personal experience I learned that the children struggle with images, thoughts and peer pressures that torment their souls, as described below.
Some of the lies that youth experience in the social network include:
- I cannot be an acceptable love interest unless I send a nude photo.
- I am invisible unless I have a profile on snapchat, Facebook, Instagram or the social media of the new day.
- The number of likes and connections in my social network validates me.
- The voice behind the stranger’s photo really cares about me.
- Drugs and alcohol are the only way to fit in or stop the pain of feeling like an outcast.
- My parents cannot understand my experiences and will reject me if they knew what I am going through.
- I cannot survive the isolation. There is no hope for the future and no point to my life. Youth suicide is a very real concern today.
By the same token, parents are experiencing fear-based thoughts that reinforce kids’ perception that their parents cannot accept them because of what they are experiencing.
- “I worry because I care.” Worrying is not the same thing as caring. It is negative goal setting, and sends the signal to your child that it is not safe to share bad news or discuss personal issues and they will keep secret the issues that are tormenting and troubling them.
- “In order to discipline, my children must experience punishment.” Discipline and punishment are not the same thing – consequences can be punishing; but discipline involves teaching your child self-control and good habits and how to stand corrected after experiencing consequences of their life choices and experience. When you deliver consequences with anger that is what is punishing and teaches kids that the crime is to get caught.
- “My opinion is wisdom”. Your opinion is limited human understanding of a situation or a circumstance at any season in life. Hopefully our opinions are continually informed through wisdom and life experience. Wisdom, however, is the eternal truth that brings about peace and empowers others.
So there is a digital chasm of fear-based thinking that can create a powerful barrier to open communication between parents and youth, and open communication is essential to impart wisdom so desperately needed to confront the cyber-social experiences.
The big takeaway from the challenges of growing up in a cyber powered world is this: whomever has the device, needs to learn how to think and act like the quarterback. Cyber safety and personal security requires every individual to engage in responsible, trustworthy behavior and habits.
And here is the really interesting part: executive function is being selected for in this networked environment, and yet brain science tells us that the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for executive function is that last part of the brain to be fully developed in late teens and early twenties.
So what are we to do?
Train your child, as an emerging executive, who has God-given intelligent life and free will, to think and act like the quarterback of their own life. This is what Fresh Start Family Culture teaches people. How to build a culture of trust and establish open communication to train your child to be in control of the device, not the other way around. It is a fearless collaboration. To that end, one of the features of this book is Cyber Rites of Passage that offers parents a guideline to help set age-appropriate expectations and standards for access and autonomy in the use of apps and devices.
Below is the video trailer for the 10-minute Quick Start to a Fresh Start video that walks you through the mental gymnastics of creating a more peaceful version of family and build trust in a world that hypes fear. You can access your copy here.
Youth experience boundary violations by adults and feel abandoned
Compounding the cyber-powered peer pressure of lies that inspire anxiety, millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) and modern teens who were born after 2000 (GenZ) are responding to a culture of abandonment and isolation as documented by Dr. Chap Clark, in his ethnographic portrait of the modern teenager, HURT 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. His findings note that modern institutions that should be dedicated to helping youth develop and grow (i.e. marriage and family, education, sports, etc.) are more concerned with meeting the needs and concerns of adults. This has contributed to a culture of abandonment for youth feeling isolated and stressed in their journey into adulthood. Below are some of the highlights that I gleaned from reading his work and from my own fieldwork, research and observations as a parent of two millennials:
- Divorce and unsettled family life (distracted living). The adult issues and concerns in families are distracting many parents from investing in the mentoring and attention needs of youth to learn how to become more secure in the world they are navigating. And while there are many single parent homes and blended families that do a marvelous job with their children, the busy lifestyle, and the obsession with self-centered pursuits can preclude giving proper attention necessary to nurture youth to develop their own trustworthy character, and explore their own sense of purpose and talents. I have observed and experienced that we are losing sight of our family relationships in our pursuit of busy-ness, chasing objectives established by a commercial and celebrity culture.
- Adults hi-jacking kids’ activities. Over the past 15 – 20 years, youth sports have become a way for adults (parents and coaches) to live vicariously through the children’s activities. The extreme example of how parents are veering out of the parenting lane is noted as early as 2003 when the hockey dad, Thomas Junta in Massachusetts, killed a coach in a rage over how the team was being managed. Most parents who have enrolled their children into organized sports will probably recall anecdotes of how the adult interests take precedent over the experiences of the children. Winning, for example, is the most important priority for many in organized youth sports – and the emotional fall out of this drive at times is unacceptable. In raising millennials, I have witnessed and objected to adult behavior that was so egregious towards the youth, it was actually child abuse.
- Burdensome education system. In the education system, there is an emphasis to teach to the test, and teacher careers are tied to bureaucratic requirements and measurements rather than to the student experience. For the most part, critics argue we have been processing youth to fit predetermined careers for a future that is more a representation of our past, than their future; and have not been educating youth with life skills, (beyond academic skills), to explore their passions and potential to make their own way in life and pursue good works. Moreover, I have observed through fieldwork and many conversations with educators and administrators that parents are insisting on children receiving good grades regardless of the child’s participation in the process or whether they have earned them. For more about a well-articulated reaction to the centralized system of education, go to Race to Nowhere.
In this trend of American culture becoming more “adult” self-centered and de-emphasizing the personal development needs of youth, Clark observes that the youth’s sense of abandonment is experienced as pressure to perform for people and processes that don’t really care about them. His ethnography and my own fieldwork reveal that many youth perceive their only value is based upon how well they perform for the “system”, and they are living according to other people’s hopes and expectations (as far as careers, education goals, etc.). Clark further points out that the youth have created their own underground social system, that does not engage adult guidance or mentoring. They are in essence raising themselves, hidden in plain sight – seeking authenticity that feels so elusive in an emotionally charged, bully climate. My own conversations with youth over the past decade indicate that there is a belief that parents “only care about my grades” and “my parents don’t care about me”. The other phenomenon I observed is parents seeking to be friends with their children which left some youth feeling insecure, not having someone at home to set a standard and help them confront peer pressures. And while this perception that parents do not care or are glorified “friends” is not necessarily true, the reality is that, without open dialogue at home regarding experiences, feelings and perceptions about what is happening in their world, this anxiety can become contagious.
So it appears on many levels that the millennials and today’s teens can easily perceive that the older generations do not care about them. If adolescents and young adults seem indifferent, aloof or even hostile, let us consider that they are reflecting back what their childhood and teenagehood has taught them in an environment shaped by adults as well as peers.
How many of us believe that youth today are relating to the devices and cyber-communities, and rejecting people?
How many people subscribe to the belief that kids today are anti-social?
How many people are convinced of this by the headlines of school shootings, cyberbullying, youth suicides and other violent crimes by youth in the headlines?
What is required to change this dynamic?
More importantly, do we have the desire to change this dynamic?
The answer is simple and requires sacrifice. There is a demand for selfless attention to the younger generations. This means that our children must perceive that our interest in spending time with them, communicating with them, and investing in them is not about expecting something in return. And this is attention, an expression of divine love that cannot be faked. It is agape, or selfless love as I understand it by my faith, which empowers individuals to cast out hostility in the boundary of their relationships. This means we must be prepared to give up desires to be in control of the future outcomes and put our trust into thoughts that bring about peace and empower others. This is what it means to impart wisdom – to grow in love and cast out fear. For we cannot build trust where there is fear.
Agape (Ancient Greek: ἀγάπη, agápē) is “love: the highest form of love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.” Not to be confused with “philēo” – brotherly love – agápē embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances.
Building trust with the “digital native”
Here is the good news! Digital natives are incredibly vulnerable and resilient and they value our trust more than anything. And they are wired for relationship.
Now I define digital natives as individuals who are born after 1990 and cannot imagine the world without the internet and mobile connectivity. Below is an archetype of the characteristics of a digital native, based upon research about how commercial interests and pedophiles can successfully engage them. I prepared this as a guide to help parents better understand how to capture and hold their child’s attention so as to impart wisdom.
- They recognize authority as a relational experience (i.e., household executive to emerging executive). Kids today get a lot of fear and fakery in the social network, and they are also getting a lot of divided attention in the home and among their peers. So this relational model of authority that resonates for modern youth is the same as that of the republic of the United States – it is a respect for the intellect and will of the individual as God does. For me this model of genuine authority, this authentic discipline, is demonstrated by Jesus’ example: meet your child where they are at, no matter how hostile, elated or wrong, wrong, wrong; speak truth with mercy and hope; show the way; and then let your child choose to change their course. After a consequence has been administered, offer a clean slate with the confidence that your child can learn how to use their free will wisely.
- Their cyber-powered peer communities can become a single point of reference for life. Peer communities are vital to engage and pursue a social life, and so it is important to respect that fact and encourage them to share with you what is happening. There should be no privacy in their on-line communications. The parent must respect their privacy, but not grant it, and monitor on-line communications so as to help the child understand when to redirect gossip so that it does not become a cyberbully problem, and recognize and respond to hostile overtures from strangers or other peers.
- Texting is the main artery of communication. It is important to meet them in this mode of communication, and use it to engage them in face-to-face dialogue. So for coordinating details about schedules and status of the day, texting is fine. If there is an important, touchy subject that requires dialogue, then text your child to let them know you need to have a conversation about something important. And do not begin the dialogue until they are in your presence and have expressed interest understanding in what is on your mind.
- They are seeking authenticity. This means that parent desires to be in control or harboring condemning thoughts about what kids are experiencing will be perceived as hostile and unwelcome. The children will keep risky secrets to avoid judgment and punishing reactions. So how you correct a child and deliver a consequence (not with anger) is important and always offer a clean slate which signals to the child that you have confidence they can learn to do better and become a better version of themselves.
- They value trust more than anything. It is their currency. So clarify the difference between trust and faith is imperative. Trust among people is verifiable because people are prone to error, while faith is reserved for God who requires no proof. That is why you are interested in nurturing their trustworthy character, and learning aboutheir interests and what is happening in their life – so you can teach them how to build trust in relationships over time and be secure in their social life on and off-line.
To book a workshop on creating a Fresh Start family culture of trust and open communication, contact Joanna.
Thoughts on trends and inter-generational relations: The value of freedom
This past twelve years has taught me that the internet of everything and mobile connectivity features the value of freedom. And we cannot defend what we value without a belief system that governs how we react to what is happening that threatens what we hold dear.
One of my dear friends and colleagues, Dr. Jessica Rodriguez, CEO of Gateway Corporation and OnSite Strategies, is an addiction treatment specialist who works with family-centric solutions.She has shared with me that freedom can be understood through Choice Theory” by William Glasser – which explains how people create belief systems that imprison or liberate themselves and this is at the root of mental health issues that impact behavior and relationships. To me choice theory explains how the value of freedom cannot be defended without a core belief, a mustard seed of faith – this premise of a free society that declares liberty already belongs to the soul and it must be defended. It is like saying to your child, or your foster child, your adopted child, or your addicted, anxious, angry or distracted child, “You already have the ‘A’ and now I am training you how to defend it through discipline.”
It is an interfaith, ecumenical premise for all creeds, and social/ethnic backgrounds and across the generations. This core belief binds us together to defend the dignity our humanity. We can all relate to this eternal truth. Faith, i.e., what you choose to believe about the origin of your own power, is very personal choice – and it cannot be micromanaged or taken, but it can easily be surrendered.
So we see in our current state of human affairs, a demographic pattern emerging wherein the millennials (born 1980 to 2000) in our country will become bigger than the baby boom generation (born after WWII). And according to Pew research much of this demographic trend is the result of immigrant millennials. So the big question I ask is:
Are we free to love one another as God does? Fearlessly, holding one another accountable with a heart full of mercy and hope at home, in our classrooms and in our communities… Or are we judging and condemning?
Because this graying of America is forcing a circumstance of interdependence that transcends generations, race and creed, we will need to find a way to collaborate and share wisdom in finding solutions to our challenges.
Both my sons are millennials and my youngest I consider to be a digital native because he was born in 1990 and he cannot imagine the world without the internet. Just the other day he said to me, “Mom the way to care about others is to reflect back how you understand God treats you.” He reminded me of the lesson in Les Miserables which introduces Victor Hugo’s famous quote: “To love another person is to see the face of God”. For me, this is a choice to advocate for the freedom to love and it conveys an essential respect for humanity that transcends religious creed, and flawed thinking and behavior. Now more than ever this understanding of our freedom to care for one another must be defended as a liberty.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).
Joanna Jullien is an educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. Trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, she is a mother of two grown sons, an author of books on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.