I’m a mother of two young adults who are perfectly imperfect. Each of my children are very different from the other. My son has always been outgoing and super funny; my daughter is shy and artistic. But aside from those differences, I can say they are both problem solvers. Each one of them, having experienced loss, heartbreak, disappointment and challenges, has learned to be resilient, to figure things out, to discuss concerns and problems in a logical matter.
Yes, there have been mistakes, and sadly, tears.
I’m writing this letter to you not only as a mom, but as a retired educator. What I see around me now, no matter what your political leanings or opinions, has been disheartening. I see young people relying on social media for opinions and following trends like sheep with no concept of the consequences and ramifications of their actions. Their critical thinking skills are sorely lacking and in some cases, non-existent.
I started my career 24 years ago as an English as a second language teacher. I stopped teaching full time to raise my daughter; then worked as a substitute teacher, SAT prep teacher and tutor, and finally, as an instructional assistant for special education students. Over the course of my career, I met and worked with junior and senior high school students (as well as their parents!) from all walks of life, from all over the world, of all socioeconomic and academic levels.
One thing I noticed, however, was the steady deterioration of thorough research. You may accuse me of being an old-fashioned fuddy duddy, but I do believe a reliance on technology has made it harder for young people to think for themselves. They are Googling answers, citing memes on social media as if they were encyclopedias, relying on information from unsubstantiated sources and latching on to those ideas as if they were facts. Adding fuel to the fire, young people also have an innate desire to belong to a group, or a cause, and can easily fall prey to the algorithm herd mentality.
I have been watching the news, just like most of us, these past few weeks. It breaks my heart to see youth protesting on colleges (institutions of higher learning?) and chanting to exterminate an entire race of people, namely the Jews. No matter what you think about the situation in the Middle East, for college students to resort to that heinous, barbaric level is disturbing on so many levels. I know, too, that the Holocaust is taught in high schools. What did these young people learn, if anything at all?
Prior to these recent circumstances, however, I noticed how increasingly difficult it was for students to open a textbook, look for information, and actually think about the information they were researching. I’m talking here about a basic educational skill: OPENING A TEXTBOOK. I was in history and English classes, so I can say without a doubt, many students have become lazy. They want quick answers, rather than taking their time and methodically searching text for information. I can’t tell you how often (every day!) I had to help students find information that was right in front of them. I could go on and on, too, about the failings of the educational system that emphasizes standardized testing at the expense of nuance and inference skills.
My cautionary tale to parents is this: Ask your children questions! Lots and lots of questions. Why do they have the opinions they have? Where and from whom did they get these opinions? Hold them accountable for facts. Make them think for themselves, and not as a collective body. Even better, research with them and set an example. Explore both sides of the question — the pros and cons — and come to an understanding not based on a one-second story that may or may not be true on Tik Tok, X or Instagram. Raise your intellectual standards and raise your children’s standards. Please turn off your phones as a family and read and discuss books.
The adage that our kids grow up too fast is true. In a blink of an eye they are off in the world as adults making decisions and fending for themselves. They will make mistakes. We, as parents, will make mistakes, too. Nobody is perfect here. But the ability to think, to pause and weigh facts logically could impact not only their life, but also the life and well-being of others.