Breaking News! Google replaces thinking!

Your regularly scheduled blog reading has been interrupted by Breaking News! It has recently been revealed that thinking, as we used to know it, has officially been relegated to the annals of history. There is no need to think anymore. Instead, you are encouraged to pull out your phone and Google it.

Think back to the time when we were growing up. We were busy, but we always seemed to have time. We didn’t feel the need to “multi-task”; in fact, that term didn’t even enter our dialogue until sometime in the mid- to late-90s. Sure, we did several things at the same time, but we didn’t have the sense of urgency that seems to prevail today. Back then, it was okay to take the time to find an answer or to research a topic. It was expected that time would, indeed, tell.

We had a half-hour conversation about what hummus is made from, batting ideas back and forth, comparing recipes, and finally, after 25 minutes, remembering that the primary ingredient is chickpeas. We wondered about things and sat there thinking about them. Remember the old, “Mom, why is the sky blue?” You would make things up or spin an entertaining yarn, or share everything you remember from science class. You’d take your child to the library and pore over the card catalog until you found books on the sky. Together, you would sit quietly at a table, books spread before you, learning more than why the sky was blue, the library book smell permeating your senses. It was a beautiful thing, discovery.

The anticipation made the answer that much more exciting. The process of working to find a solution or answer piqued our interest in learning. And we conversed as we thought. We talked to other people and exchanged ideas and theories. By the end, we had explored.

Today’s teens have never really had that opportunity. They are an instant gratification generation who has always been able to Google any question they’ve ever had. They grew up riding in cars with TV screens – no need to look outside the window and question why cows all face the same direction; no need to play license plate games. Ask them any question that they wouldn’t immediately know the answer to, and then count the seconds until they pull out the phone. Ask yourself if you have ever seen your teenager sitting in a room, staring out a window, just thinking.

Thinking, it seems, is dead. And that worries me. When I ask students to think and they become uncomfortable after 5 seconds of silence, that tells me something.

What are you doing to inspire your children or your students to think? Please share what has worked for you or what you remember from your childhood that led you to become a thinker.

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Back to school and forward with friendships

It’s that time of year again when we try to eke out as much summer as we can in the last days before school starts up again. Bittersweet is the perfect word to describe August. We had such a beautiful and carefree summer, but at the same time, starting a new school year is a rite of passage that we would never want to miss.

If your teenagers are complaining, don’t worry. Whether they admit it to you or not, they are excited about the fresh start, the clean slate, that is the new school year. We know how important peers are at this age, and whether your child is a timid freshman or a senior strutting with bravado, they are all psyched to reconnect with their friends again.

That doesn’t mean that they won’t find things to complain about, though. One of the first complaints you will hear after Day 1 is that they don’t have any friends in a particular class. This is one of the worst things that can happen to a teenager, so I would indulge them a little in their gripes. However, you know as well as I do that sometimes these situations can turn into huge blessings. Think of the friends you made when you thought you didn’t have any friends in the room.

This was the case with my friend Buffy who is still my friend to this day (although no longer going by the name Buffy). I met her because she was the girl who happened to be sitting next to me, and the rest, as they say, is history. Some call it serendipity, some God’s hand, some kismet. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

Teens love the comfort of old friends who grew up together. But if they are willing to put themselves out there, they’ll find that new friends can be the best friends they’ve ever had.

Teens and technology – inseparable but not irreparable

Check out the cartoon in my last post. Doesn’t it make you feel old? I love that email that has gone around a few times that says something like, “When you were your kids’ ages, none of this existed:” followed by a list of technological advances that even our generation can’t imagine living without. The times have assuredly changed, and as a result, our kids don’t learn the same ways we did.

I don’t have to tell you how much time teenagers (and now much younger children) spend on their cell phones, tablets, laptops, and IPods. They don’t watch as much TV as previous generations, but that’s only because they’ve replaced passive watching with gaming, texting, Facebooking, YouTubing, and all of those other nouns that we’ve made into verbs because we do them so much. Because they use all of these devices, oftentimes simultaneously, they have adapted behaviorally. They can now absorb information much more quickly and multi-task all day long without collapsing from exhaustion.

But all of this has come at the cost of truly taking the time to think. That, they struggle with. Instant gratification and teen’s inherent impulsiveness have waged a war on patience, perseverance, and taking the time to work through steps of a process.

When was the last time your older kids worked a challenging puzzle, constructed something that required multiple steps with built-in obstacles, or carried on an in-depth conversation with you that involved the consideration of multiple view points and reflection? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen at all. I’m saying it doesn’t happen enough.

What activities did you enjoy as a teenager and how did they try your patience and teach you to persevere? For me, it was learning to play the guitar, trying to pass physics, and memorizing lines and dance moves for a play. What activities can your kids join that will challenge them to take their time, work through a difficult process, and build character?