Published on Jul 14, 2013
Tips from American trainer on connecting today's tech-savvy children with the real world
By Jane Ng
A single mother whose sons wanted iPhones and iPads made them sit beside her while she paid the family's bills to show where their money went every month.
The boys eventually saw there were essentials to be paid for, and no way their mother could afford the gadgets.
American author and trainer Tim Elmore, 53, who coined the term and wrote the book Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet The Challenge Of Becoming Authentic Adults, gave this example to show how parents can make their children more aware of reality.
This is one way to help a generation overexposed to online information from an early age, yet woefully underexposed to real-life experiences.
Addressing 500 educators at Temasek Polytechnic's Seventh Character and Leadership Education Forum last Friday, Dr Elmore shared his research in the United States on the character traits of these "screenagers" - so-called because of their love for gadgets with a screen - and what parents can do if their children are having too much screen time.
Children who do not have enough real-life responsibilities could end up with a warped sense of reality or entitlement, with opinions formed by what they see on Facebook or YouTube, for instance, said Dr Elmore.
"This is the first generation of children that don't need adults to access information. But they do need adults to process the information, to help them interpret the data," he said.
One way is to give them more responsibilities and raise their awareness about the world around them.
He said parents should help children identify their strengths and match their talents with real-life work, so that the children can move beyond thinking they are "successful" online just because they have several hundred Facebook friends or win online games.
It also helps to get them interacting with other adults.
"Connecting face to face with people on a regular basis can deepen their emotional intelligence and empathy," he said, citing a University of Michigan study that showed that empathy levels among college students in America have dropped by 40 per cent in the last 10 years.
Encouraging young people to serve the community is worth trying too.
"Let them see there are others who need help. Give them community service opportunities to balance their self-service time," he said.
Recognising the traits of this generation will help alleviate the frustration many educators and employers face dealing with them, said Dr Elmore.
He suggested that teachers make some changes to the way they teach, so as to better engage this generation.
His suggestions: Use YouTube videos or visual images to hook them in, and explain why something is urgent or critical, before delivering the actual lesson content.
He recalled a maths teacher who found his students were not paying attention to his algebra lessons. The teacher decided to post videos of his lectures on YouTube and let students watch them at night, and used lesson time to help them with their homework.
Employers hiring the new generation need to change their mindsets too, said Dr Elmore.
Instead of mentoring schemes for new workers, consider "mutual mentoring" where older colleagues share their experience and younger ones are allowed to value-add with what they know.
Participants at the forum said they got a better idea of what made this generation tick.
Mr Damien Chiang, 36, who teaches mathematics at Anglo- Chinese School (International), said he has been using methods used by his own teachers and they may not be suitable for today's students.
"My teachers did not give me a lot of airtime but children today feel a greater need to be heard," he said.
"And even though they may appear aloof and withdrawn face to face, they open up when communicating via a screen, for example, through SMS. So I will make an effort to connect with them first before imparting knowledge to them."
Mr Sreedharan Denesh, 54, who conducts character and leadership lectures at Temasek Polytechnic, said even though Dr Elmore's research was based on children in the US, he found many of the survey findings to be true of young people in Singapore as well.
"It was a good reminder that even if the children appear confident and are savvy enough to learn things on their own, they still need a good role model or guidance from teachers. They may seem smart in the subjects but struggle with other soft skills," he said.