Can you imagine a generation of children with greater access to technology, information and experience?
Most of our children never knew a day without personal digital music players, video gaming, personal computers, mobile phones and video cameras, recorders and players—often all combined in a single device. Kids rely on technology, no questions asked. Digital media are in their blood. As a class, kids are as comfortable on the internet as adults are with the channel changer and telephone—and just about as uncomfortable without it. Kids hardly think about technology. They don’t have to; it’s transparent; it just is.
And isn’t transparency what sophistication is about? When something is so ordinary I don’t have to think about it, I don’t. And if I don’t think about it, it really is a no-brainer. Sometimes that’s good (breathing comes to mind). Other times, not so much. Culture comes to mind.
Most kids grow up multicultural in ways that just a generation ago would have shocked everyone but the children of missionaries, soldiers, spies and diplomats. I think that’s good. There’s no turning back from globalization and I don’t want to backtrack. One Planet, One People and all that.
By the mid-90s Douglas Coupland was writing about “global teens” for whom passports and clearing customs were no big deal. Our youngsters travel farther and more frequently than any generation before them. They can afford to, because travel is so cheap compared to prior generations. The craziness of terrorism and America’s fall from international grace may have slowed all that somewhat but nothing, apparently, can stop it. The internet certainly plays its part—kids connecting with kids around the globe on a 24-hour clock. And digital media make it possible for anyone to follow the news from anywhere—good or bad—in a matter of hours...if not minutes...if not live.
Even if our children don’t go to the world, the world comes to our children—and not just Europeans (that is so 19th century). These days North American kids meet Asians, Central and South Americans, Africans, Islanders—people from everywhere. And they very likely have classmates born on this continent of parents who were born elsewhere. Not that there are no ethnic ghettos left but for the most part ghetto populations are aging, and everywhere from city centers to suburbs our children are exposed to a great feast of world music, clothing, food and cultural mashups.
All this exposure makes our children the most sophisticated lot in the history of humankind.
It follows that the more exposure kids have to people in the subcultures that border their own, and the earlier that exposure begins, the more naturally they build relationships across boundaries that once seemed clear and permanent to their grandparents. This does not mean kids understand other cultures. There’s every indication they don’t and that they take their friends’ cultural identities for granted. Unexamined relationships across subcultures can be fragile. Xenophobia lurks just below the surface of the relational grid, and racism is not dead (though it’s certainly sick).
Learning to observe and understand and value other cultures and subcultures has a great deal to do with possessing the skills to perceive, understand and value one’s own culture. Developing that skill set is not a transparent no-brainer; it’s a process best learned in the company of personally and culturally mature adults. This of course raises the question: Does my child have access to such people? and, If not, how can we connect with such people and learn together?
All of which is to say it’s possible to be very sophisticated in terms of exposure and yet remain quite innocent—meaning, quite naive—about the significance of what we’ve observed and experienced but not yet understood.
— from Raising Adults