The other night I was at an event where a writer/teacher was presenting. Since I did not ask her permission to quote her here, I am going to just user her first name: Kerrin. She is a 50-something poet of remarkable skill. And she is a teacher who for years has gotten her students to out perform their expectations.
But she's noticing something about her kids.
Worth noting: Kerrin thinks differently. She says that to make her poems she "demotes" stories into images and then let's them flit about her brain until they match up with another, seemingly unrelated, image and when that happens she begins working on her poem.
I wonder if this is why she appeals so to her students. Teens are a collection of disjointed stories and images that bump into each other and sometimes the results are pretty. Sometimes they are not.
But the reason I bring up Kerrin is that she and I have been noticing a change. A change in how teens are living, breathing, creating, doing stuff. "I can't get them to join your site," she said, referring to youngwritersproject.org, YWP's civil, vibrant community for young writers. "I can't get them to do much of anything outside the classroom."
She explained. She said the kids were so "busy these days." But she surprised me. These kids, she said, are not busy because of helicopter parents or too many outside activities to boost their chances of getting into college. "Social media," she said. "They are spending so much time on all their social media channels they feel busy all the time. And they do spend a lot of time on it."
They do. And think about it, before email, what did adults do with that time? And before social media, what did kids do with that time? And how much time do they spend on social media keeping up with the communications and friends' shares and comments on SnapChat and Instagram and Facebook and ...
According to the Pew Research Center, and aided by smartphones, "92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” Facebook is still king, but Instagram is gaining. And teen girls are the most avid users.
Well that's cool. You are not going to find me getting up on a soap box (now that dates me!) warning of the eminent destruction of the world.
But combine this with what YWP continually hears from teens we work with -- and we work with a lot of them. My question: "Why do you go onto Facebook?" Their answer: "To fill time. ... And to stalk someone." Huh? Yes, they say, if they see a dreamy boy they friend him and then find out where he is going to be and "bump into" him.
But let's get back to the first response. To fill time.
That, I think, is opportunity. Because if we, meaning those offering classes or digital education alternatives, can offer those teens something more substantive, something that challenges and intrigues and makes them feel more worthwhile and alive AND that is social, then we have a chance to engage them.