Category Archives: Teenagers

Teenage weirdness

Study: Students Less Empathic Than 10 Years Ago (pause from news feed to feel surprise)

Hey, if you want some news that shouldn’t really surprise anyone, head over to Scientific American and download their 60-second podcast proving that today’s college students are less empathic than past generations.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone because today’s students — of any age — spend so much of their time online, at arm’s length, where it’s perilously easy to judge.

I’ve been pretty clear how I feel about anonymous comments: they bring out people’s inner stupid.  And meanness. But it’s become more than that.

There’s a reflexive judgment that occurs when you can view someone’s life from afar.   You have no context, you have no consequences; no intimacy or extenuating circumstances.  It’s sooo easy to judge: simplest thing ever.  What’s more, it’s forgotten in a second.  You’re on to the next post.  Your timeline/newsfeed has updated!

Living shallowly amongst many, with few consequences, will fundamentally change who you are.  Sometimes that can be fine; and sometimes not.

Take Formspring.  And I thought TruthBox was bad?  (Oh — and you’re right, is better).

At least Facebook is a “walled garden.”  Formspring  is more like the vacant lot that everybody cuts across.  Once you set up a profile, anyone can see it and ask you anything — anonymously if they so choose.  In theory, you must answer.

Here’s how open it is:  when I was trying to explain it to my colleagues, I told them they could look up my son — though they’re not friends with him in any social media sense.  They were incredulous:  “We can really look up some teenage kid we hardly know?”

Creepers.  But I replied, “oh, yes.  That is the Formspring way.”

As it happened, that day some idjit chose to inquire about my son’s anatomy.  Well, about one part.  That‘s what my colleagues read.  And, that‘s why their eyebrows were somewhere up beyond their hairlines.  Thankfully he had thus far declined any specifics.

(Note, I did suggest to son that since it’s well-nigh university visit time, he might want to delete those sorts of questions, otherwise he’d never really know what the admissions counselor was thinking during that all-important interview…)

You wonder why he sticks with it?  Because he also gets the “I think you’re cute/hot/funny” genre of posts.

But beyond the idiotic, it can get serious.  Stories are accumulating about cyberbullying, to the point of two suicides with alleged ties to Formspring in recent months.  It’s something to have on your radar.  And I can attest that this is not just media hype.    There are even business models springing up around this — ReputationDefender will monitor your online presence and clean up nasty postings and photos for a nominal fee.

True, there are other reasons to lose empathy.  We are more divided than we’ve ever been — you don’t even have to share news with people you don’t like; you can only listen to/read/watch sources you already agree with.  So there’s no uniting around one human cause, forget that.  Well not much.

And in America at least, though the recession has gutted many lives and lifestyles, we are still more comfortable and self-obsessed than in many places where teamwork is required to thrive.

Back to empathy.  Do you agree that digital communications and social media are contributing to this lack of empathy?  Why or why not?


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Filed under Ethics, Science, Social Media, Teenagers, Uncategorized, Web 2.0

Be Who You Are… if not now, when?

A few of you know I’m writing (when I have *&@! time) a book about the unexpected gifts of cancer.  More on that another time.

A few of you also know I’ve lost more than my share of people to that ridiculous disease.  And I have my own little condition to deal with, too.

Couple that with a few near misses with my own kids, and I’ve been ruminating on the temporal nature of our little lives (that would be, “how frickin’ short our lives are”  for those who prefer words under$5) more than usual.

Originally this post was going to be about staying true to your own voice in social media, and not getting lost trying to fit in with some neo-cool Tribe.

I had attended the Chicks Who Click conference in Denver, and three of the speakers — Erika Napoletano, Shelly Kramer, and Tara Anderson— all came back to more or less the same point:  beeeeee yourself.  It reminded me that though I initially created this blog related to my work, without my voice, it’s just a bunch of links.  I needed to be brave and show more of who I am; and if you don’t want to work with me because of that, well… that’s probably for the best.

(You don’t like Disney references?  Sorry; when my kids were little I saw this movie at least 200 times.  Ask me about the deep revelations in Lion King sometime.)

But things change.  Over the Winter I lost another friend to cancer — this would be like, the 27th or something; and I came across a video where half the people were alive just a bit ago.  And well, you should still stay true to your own voice in social media.  But now this post is about something more than that.

So, that video?  It’s Pink Floyd and The Beatles.   Together.  (It’s probably pretend/digital magic, since I’m pretty sure The Wall was made after the Fab Four broke up, but hey — it works).

Three of those guys aren’t here anymore.  John Lennon w as sharing really wonderful parts of life just before he died, and George Harrison and Richard Wright spent more time writing and singing about what was important to them than they did the cancer that would eventually kill them.  Which is fine — the video in a way is more a musing about what might have been.

But I was really struck by how they seemed to be enjoying themselves.  We’ve all heard about the drama with both those bands.  But those moments on the stage looked like power and looked like comfort, and pleasure, all at once.   I like that as much as the wacky mashup.

They found a way to express themselves.   It sounds cliche, but it’s powerful.  That’s why people blog, right?  Or find themselves sharing weird little thoughts on Twitter and Facebook?

They reached both back to themselves and out to us.

What will ultimately express who you are? Do you know?  Can you take a shot?

Hey, I’m not saying that you should go around blurting anything that comes to mind, unfiltered. I’m saying, express your best self.   The one you’re comfortable with.  Secretly proud of.  Respect.    Why wait?

One last video.  This one’s really personal.  This one’s my daughter, a few years back.  I’ll spare you the details, but it was not a happy time.  And yet… since  was little, she has been singing.  It’s who she is.  She used to climb the apple tree outside our house and sing to strangers as they walked by.

That particular night she was in some pain;  it wasn’t easy for her; she was a pretty brave girl.  But you see that little smile she flashes at the end?  It’s a reminder to me always, that being your truest self gives you a road back from wherever you are.  And lets others find you, too.

Why wait?

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Filed under Parenting, Random Weirdness, Teenagers, Uncategorized

The Only Gifts of Cancer … or, don’t sweat the small stuff

Perspective Comes in Handy

Perspective Comes in Handy

Some of you may know I have been working — well, actually been putting off, thanks to a number of actual life happenings — on a book called “The Only Gifts of Cancer.”

How could cancer have gifts?

Truth is, it’s terrible and devastating, but there are a few gifts it can bring to your life.  I was reminded of one of them this week as I shuttled between a hospital for my father and a different hospital for my daughter.

That gift — from cancer, or from any life-threatening illness or trauma — is perspective.

  • Because it suddenly does not matter to me whether she gets her diploma in May or in July, or next year, as long as she is healthy, safe and happy.
  • Because I haven’t gotten on a scale in over a month and I realize it didn’t matter, it worked itself out.
  • Because most times it really was important for us to eat together as a family… but when we couldn’t, it was cool to see how everyone did fine.
  • Because there are times when it really is important to stay up to get a client’s work done: I promised, and it really could only be done by me; but there are times when it’s okay to ask someone else to jump in — because the work still has to be done, but my father may not live through the night.
  • Because it made my Dad feel better to know I was there, even if he didn’t always remember it.
  • The fourteen million acronyms in the self-reflecting social media universe will be there when I get back.  I can turn off my *&@! phone.

I have children who need me, and that’s a gift; I am someone’s child, and that’s a gift.

It has made it absurdly easy to make decisions.

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Filed under Parenting, Random Weirdness, Teenagers, Uncategorized

Does Google Make Us Stupid? Let me count the ways

Much has been made about a piece in the Atlantic — a good piece, mind you — where Nicholas Carr posits that Google specifically, and search in general, is making us stupid.

Basically, he points out that we are no longer able to handle large blocks of text; we are losing our powers of recall and concentration — that our brains are actually changing.  He wonders if we may in fact be getting… stupid.

I’m thinking he’s right. Not only are we stupid — we’re stupid about being stupid. We don’t know what to do when information isn’t delivered to us.

On second thought, cancel that “we.” Make it “many people.”  Specifically, many people who might — or might not — be my children.

Recently, my youngest had to finish a paper on the Renaissance, and the Internet was down. He was stymied. Panicked. The grade, as far as he was concerned, was already in the toilet.

I had to point out that probably, he could use this thing — made of paper — called a book. I said, “before there was wikipedia there was an encyclopedia.” He protested that a book was so… primitive.  It couldn’t possibly be up to speed.

“I need the latest information, Mom!”

“You need the latest information… on the Renaissance? Believe me, it hasn’t changed that much.” The Internet’s chief attraction is they can play games or watch YouTube videos while theoretically doing homework. No wonder we have the collective attention span of a paper plate.

He was uncertain, but I showed him how to open… the… Big Encyclopedia Book… to… the … right… letter. R=Renaissance. See?”

He was impressed. “They have pictures, too?”

I think he was expecting stone tablets.

And that’s not the only way we’re getting stupid. Like Nicholas Carr, I am finding myself less patient with long stretches of text unless it’s really interesting, beautifully written, or informative. This is a huge change for me; I read constantly. Constantly!

I recently tried to re-read “Atlas Shrugged,” because I remembered liking it as a teenager and thought my middle son would like it. OMG. Here’s this 1000-page book, with speeches that last — I am not making this up — for 50 pages or more. I kept popping in and out of paragraphs, saying, “yeah, yeah — get on with it! Get to the point!”

Now I’m quite sure that Ayn Rand fully intended everyone to read every word.

I couldn’t do it. Maybe *she* was stupid. Or maybe I am, for ever thinking I liked a book with 50-page speeches in the first place.


Filed under Parenting, Science and tech, Teenagers

The Wrong Kind of Friends

My teenage daughter — we’ll call her Franny– caught a friend in a lie tonight.

The kind of lie where the friend was actually blowing Franny off to spend time with someone else, but couldn’t just say that (the way my daughter would have), and instead gave some lame excuse that she couldn’t because, um, “my Mom is being weird.”

Frankie found out because, of course, a different friend posted on MySpace that she was waiting for this same person to come over. So, duh, this girl is not grounded because her Mom was being weird.

Now, this post isn’t about how easy it is to catch people in a lie, thanks to social media, though that’s still true. (My favorite one of those stories is still the Bank Intern and the Fairy Wand).

Nope. Apart from the easy slander on Moms — crazypersonblamecatchers that we are — which I’ll ignore for the moment — this is really about the lifelong process of growing and culling your friendships, and finding those people who are strong enough to tell you the truth. The big huge truths, and the little stupid ones (“Uh, Dude? Is that the same shirt that Chris Farley wore in Tommy Boy?”). And you know what, Franny’s in high school — where people are organized by AGE, for heaven’s sake — so it’s hard for her to understand that there is a world out there where she’ll be able to find and recognize friends because they have things in common beyond the year they were born and whether they’re willing to have lunch together.

Mind you, Franny’s hurt and furious. “How could she lie like that?,” she asks, rhetorically. “How could she not think I’d find out?”

See, at Franny’s age, and the age in which she’s living, friends are literally and figuratively a currency. How many do you have?

But soon, I hope — and I hope that social media stretches to help — her understandings of friends will deepen. It’s not just about who will go to a party with you, or who shows up with a bright smile, posed in your Photobucket.

It’s about finding the people who will appreciate and forgive you when you’re not perfect. Who will be straight up when they have to disappoint you, knowing they’ll be forgiven — but in a way that meets you as an equal, and takes responsibility for errors, not that careens into you and leaves the scene of the accident.

Franny is stronger than she knows, and she’s going to be “one hell of a woman,” as the saying goes — because she’s so, well — frank. It may cost her some friends, and her lesson may be to occasionally learn when to turn up the tact and turn down the honesty.

Tonight, Franny wanted me to tell her she was right, that this girl was terrible– that she should just cross her off her list of friends.

But I wasn’t going to. There’s a place for that kind of friend — you don’t make that kind of person your best friend, because she’ll never be strong enough. She is what she is, and you know it. Franny should sigh, shake her head; maybe say, “that was stupid,” and let it go. And then go on, looking for the right kind of friend — which is, actually, just as hard to find sometimes as a lover. Someone who is fiercely honest, funny, smart, opinionated — and who, just like Franny, will occasionally need to be forgiven.

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Filed under Parenting, Teenagers