It’s become a bit of a cliche to say that children are growing up more and more quickly. Our education system is engaged in an ideological battle between the idea that we should allow children to stay children for as long as possible, and the idea that we need to get them ready for adult life as quickly and early as possible. Isn’t that what happens in nature? Isn’t that the best chance for survival in a tough world? Surely the first view is naive and the second the only practical way?
Certainly the second view largely dominates in Western Culture. Or does it? In Scandinavia, children aren’t taught to read until they are nearer seven years old. In Waldorf education, children flourish and adulthood sets in at a natural pace for each child – it isn’t forced. Learning to play, to slowly focus on the sharper edges of the world, this is valued by many as the best preparation for life.
And yet the Facebook generation, the tech-savvy generation Y soon and quickly grasp what technology has to offer and are beginning to see their slower parents as the naive ones, as the childish ones. The young are teaching the old, and often leading the way, both into realms of light and shadow.
We don’t know how the digital age is going to pan out and many adults look on, bemused at the new patterns of living and working among our younger generations. We can no longer guide them, if we find the digital age a mystery. The parenting relationship becomes weirdly reversed as children, even as young as seven or eight are guiding their parents into the digital age. Many parents, worried (perhaps rightly) at the effects of the digital on their young human beings in their care, resort to traditional forms of control and policing, only to find their children can become master cat burglar’s of digital time and space.
Though the older generations may be running to catch up with their Generation Y kids and millennial grandchildren, they still are wiser and older in the business of being human.
It becomes ever more important to identify the archetypes of living and working in the digital realm – issues of trust, connection, developing meaningful relationships, staying safe – all of these remain relevant to the wisdom and experience that comes with age. Yet there are also newer, emerging phenomena around disembodied communication and collaboration, of linking our physical limbs and senses to technological products, that put our kids right into the front line of what is emerging.
Here the adults really do become slower developing children. And these challenges then become about being open to learning from our kids, even as we attempt to keep them safe and well. We now have a role of what Edgar Schein calls “humble inquiry”. We aren’t here to tell the younger ones what to do, though we can invite their own inquiry. Leaning becomes mutual, a vital dialogue, a conversation between older generations, a blending and trading of smart with wise, of knowledge with experience. The conversation is no longer top down, old to young, but is horizontal, a circle of dialogue. And we will all be the better for it.