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February 10, 2010 > Counseling Corner: Parenting or working with the Net Generation:

Counseling Corner: Parenting or working with the Net Generation:

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

If you're a supervisor working with someone born 1980 and after, or you're a parent of a post-1980 child, take the following fun quiz. Better yet, have your child or supervisee take it with you.

* Did you type your high school or college papers on a typewriter rather than a computer?
* Do you remember a time when the Net referred primarily to fishing?
* Have you ever owned a telephone that didn't have voicemail?
* Do you check the spelling of words by actually using a dictionary?
* Have you ever met a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman?
* Do you still use apostrophes when writing "don't" and "won't?"
* Can you live without Facebook or Myspace?
* Do you watch TV with a television set?

If you answered "Yes" to most of the above questions, you were likely born before Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, cell phones, and the internet changed the world. On the other hand, people who were born after 1980 (called "the Net generation" or the "Millennials") would answer "No" to most of these questions.

What does this quick quiz tell us about those born before the spread of technology versus those born after? Turns out there are plenty of differences, including the ways each generation uses technology, communicate, socialize, work, and even learn:

Preferences in use of communication:
The Net generation prefers texting far more so than talking on the cell phone. According to a 2009 Nielsen Mobile national survey, U.S. teens use their cell phones for texting more than talking. Apparently, they average about an average of 2,899 text messages a month vs. making or receiving 191 cell phone calls. In contrast, most adults use their phones for calling much more than texting.

Expectations when communicating:
Technology now enables people to respond almost instantly, regardless of location or time zones. Youth are accustomed to getting a response quickly. Communicating effectively with them means having an understanding of what they expect in terms of response time.

Yes, indeed, we've always been multi-taskers. But the youth of today are multi-tasking at a level, frequency, and speed that simply could not happen five years ago. Young people are likely to do their homework with their iPods, while simultaneously texting their friends, emailing, watching TV on their computers... and more. Most youth feel comfortable only when they are multi-tasking - a stark contrast to previous generations' valuing of focused attention and quiet time.

Before Facebook and MySpace, we had friends whom we actually saw, hung out with, and saw in person. Today's technology enables us to meet people online and make friends without ever laying eyes on them or even talking to them. As a result, the definition of who is a friend has changed drastically. Even the ways we spend time with friends have altered. Parents and supervisors might scratch their heads, wondering why youth spend hours and hours online interacting with people they hardly know.

Technology has created a cultural shift between generations like never before. Each generation now values certain forms of communication and has specific expectations for how people relate to each other. It is no wonder that many parents and supervisors are throwing their hands up in the air, puzzled by the behavior of young people.

So what is a supervisor or a parent to do in the face of this massive cultural shift? Here are some suggestions to interact effectively with the Net Generation:

¥Understand the role of technology in the lives of youth. I hate to break it to you, but technology is here to stay. So instead of adopting an "us" vs. "them" attitude, I'd highly recommend that you take the time to understand technology from a young person's perspective. Only then can you truly understand where they are coming from and communicate effectively with them.

¥Discuss technology use and behavior. Talk to your children or supervisees about their technology use. Try to understand what they value and recognize what they are good at. During your discussion, be sure to talk about what are appropriate limits about tech use. It's more ideal to set limits and rules collaboratively before problems start setting in.

¥Learn about technology from young people. Ask for help in setting up a web page, using FaceBook, or creating a YouTube video. Young people are happy to help, so learn from them.

¥Try using their technology. You simply have to know what you are up against, so it's a good idea to try the things your children or supervisees are passionate about, whether it's MySpace or an IPad.

¥Model appropriate behavior. If you want someone to act appropriately, you'll have to model appropriate behavior. So if your teenager's cell phone use drives you crazy, be sure to assess your own behavior first. Are you texting while driving? Taking a cell phone call in the middle of dinner? Remember, even in the age of technology, young people take their cues from adults.

Technology has changed the landscape of our lives. This change is here to stay. You can bemoan the changes and try to hide. But there's another way to approach this issue - if you can't beat them, then join them. And while you're at it, have fun with what technology offers!

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people feel satisfied and fulfilled in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is

(c) Anne Chan, 2010

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