Thoughts On A YouTube Generation

    April 10, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

A little over ten years ago, my father retired from 30 years of teaching middle school world history and geography, and my mother kicked herself upstairs to the countywide administrative level after 25 years of teaching law and justice and geography. (Yeah, I know my social studies, right?) Before their departures from the classroom, though they have agreed on little else since I’ve known them, they agreed on this: Kids are different these days.

Mom said that about the changing attitudes of children not too long after a student—a classmate of mine—dropped a little chalkboard cleaner in her coffee when she wasn’t looking. Local politics kept the boy out of trouble (his dad was sheriff), but not out of the path of my clenched teenage fists.

If camera phones and YouTube were around then, I imagine you would have seen it online or on the news already. You may have seen on the news, just a couple of years before the chalkboard cleaner incident, that a student shot a teacher and a janitor in the neighboring county. Instances like these were rare enough then that you may not have heard about them on the scale that you would later hear about Columbine or Paducah, again in my home state.

I thought still that those were just isolated incidents of temporary insanity, that my parents were provoked into their viewpoint that kids were different by age and by unfortunate pranks. (More than once the car had to be taken in to remedy the bumper-to-bumper key-scratch down the side of it after sitting in the high school parking lot. Teenagers were just punks, I concluded, even if I was one.)

It’s hard not take their viewpoint that kids are different, though, when you discover an assault on a Baltimore teacher was posted on MySpace, and a cheerleader ambush posted on YouTube not even a week earlier. It’s hard not to remember and appreciate my parents’ warnings when I told them, at the uber-idealistic age of 18, that I wanted to teach high school and make a real impact on the youth where I could.

I don’t know whether to be comforted or disturbed that it happens in other countries and not just in the States. This report of ten year-olds in Britain posing as online pedophiles to bully the other kids is most certainly disturbing and not comforting.

I can’t answer the question definitively of whether kids are really different, these days, or whether we just have more exposure to it. It’s possible that kids having their very own media to use both encourages behavior and provides a new, wider, and multi-angled lens from which to view it. The effect of seeing it more often, as we would discuss in a mass media class in college, is that it appears it happens more often.

But we did have bullies when I grew up and they were vicious. I think it’s harder to watch as an adult. When we were kids it never occurred to us we might do permanent damage to someone. And usually we didn’t.

In the 9th grade, in gym class on a mat, I perfectly executed a pile driver I had seen the Hulkster do. It was perfectly executed because I didn’t break the kid’s neck. We were both lucky.

Point is: Monkey see, monkey do. You have to wonder if kids are different these days because they see more than they used to. YouTube’s good for that. I see those videos and have to protect myself from the thought that 2 percent of being human means awesome technological developments and endless possibilities, and 98 percent of being human is being a chimp.   

Maybe you’ve seen online or on TV how chimps treat each other, especially outsider-type others.

I’m not going to blame the Internet, or video games or TV. These are positive human developments. Besides, I played Mortal Combat and never finished anyone. I’m not going to blame a loss of moral fabric in society, either; a century ago we packed a picnic and the kids along to public hangings. Before that, there were worse things people did.

I look at my 14-year-old stepson who loves his Xbox 360 shoot-em-up games and his YouTube and his Gaia and his WOW and wonder if I should be somehow afraid. But then I see a lot of myself in him, even if he’s someone else’s son, and note that he is a kind and gentle and bright soul without any violent tendencies. He’s a lot like I was, actually, generally a peacemaker in a world of bullies.

Unless it involved my mother, obviously.

Point is: He’s not so different, and that makes me feel better.

Who do I blame? Parents are easy scapegoats and I sure had good ones to keep me in line (and teachers to pull out scary, holey paddles). But that’s hard to say definitively. Most parents I know are doing the best they can and aren’t near the level of some abusive jerks I knew growing up in the previous generation. Then, just like now, there were good parents and bad parents. Then, just like now, there are good kids and bad kids. I don’t blame parents. I blame chimp-ness.

What should we do about it? I don’t know, but we can’t go censoring the Internet. Seems that could have worse consequences. Perhaps instead of thinking kids are different now, just like every generation in human history has thought of the generation that came after them, we should show them as much love as we can and try to find shreds of ourselves in them.

Then they won’t seem so different.