If you have a child born in the 1990’s, you may be one of the lucky parents struggling to motivate a son or daughter whose primary social interaction occurs on Minecraft and whose thirst for knowledge is quenched by Youtube programs like the Amazing Athiest and Ray William Johnson, rather than English or Science 101.  Generation Me is a younger sub-category of the Gen Y group and is allegedly characterized by equal parts confidence, tolerance, entitlement and narcissism.[1] Motivation can appear to be hidden behind a deep seated belief that the laundry, grocery and gas fairies will continue to provide unlimited resources towards a laid back life justified by that self-same sense of entitlement.  The questions posed by many parents in this situation are: “How do I get my child to be accountable and self-sufficient?” How do I change their behavior?”

It has taken me years of yelling, threatening, and wondering what I was doing wrong, to achieve the kind of patience and acceptance that I currently enjoy…on occasion. I’ve been called a “noob”, a “derp”, and simply ignored because my opinion was apparently irrelevant. My own upbringing would not have tolerated that kind of freedom of expression. An A+ at school was the only acceptable grade and mandatory extracurricular involvement in music, sports, and the arts was just as highly scrutinized.  Having a Type A personality did not mean you had ADD, it simply meant that you were acceptably productive.

Nowadays, I have become accustomed to seeing scraggly facial hair grown specifically to taunt me, and having my every comment challenged by Google. And although I tell my son I love him every day, I have watched his return comment change from the standard “I love you too” on the phone, to “U2” via text and ultimately simply to “2” in order to avoid wasting characters and game time. If I call him too often, for instance two days in a row, the second call will undoubtedly be met with “is there a specific reason you called again?” Unless, of course, there is money involved, a Kickstarter game to finance on his behalf, or an existing Steam game that he HAS to have (only indie games of course because mainstream games are for noobs).

Now don’t get me wrong. As I said above, a level of acceptance that our parents’ generation never achieved and ours has had to learn balances what would seem to be a rather narcissistic outlook on life. He is accepting of every appearance and lifestyle that I can possibly imagine. There are no underlying prejudices or fear of what is “different”.  He is kind and tolerant to everyone (except me of course, because, as he put it recently, I will always be there because I have to). He is unbelievably creative and funny, overflowing with online confidence. And as his parent, I look at these qualities and am very proud of the kind of person he is.  And, coming from a generation where social interaction with “real” people was unavoidable and essential to escape overbearing parents of the prior generation, I cringe at his lack of non-virtual friends. I have found myself encouraging him to thrown a party or go to a pub – hoping that he will discover the magic that a face-to-face conversation can hold. To date I have been unsuccessful. His greatest wish is to live at home, create Indie games he can distribute for free and wait for the Brits to come online because he thinks they are hilarious.

So…how does a parent motivate a child who willfully chooses to ignore the outside world (often at a detriment to studies)? And should we try to change anything at all? Technology is light years ahead of where it was when we were young. Communication is done via cell phone for the most part. In fact, I am guiltier of using my cell to check emails and to keep in the loop than my son. I admit to having used online dating and I even use an app for billing clients! Perhaps I am looking at this in the wrong way. Maybe I need to accept that social interaction done his way allows him to meet people on a global level, and that he gets different world views every moment he is online, which is largely responsible for his acceptance of differences. He even learns to deal with conflict when he is gaming, which he easily deflects and resolves all on his own. In his online world, he is accomplished and fluent in all kinds of languages, and confident like I’ve never seen him. So maybe there needs to be a bit of a balance, rather than a change.

It’s the day-to-day stuff that matters most as those experiences form the basis for a child’s outlook on life and ability to deal with conflict. And in each successive article/blog/podcast, my partner and I will discuss how we deal with Gen Me issues like cereal being its own food group; long nails and a scraggly beard on a kid who looks 15; having a 19 year old sleeping in the bedroom next to you; staying up until 4:00am school nights to game; and finding a balance between face to face and online social interaction. Despite our best efforts, we can’t control what our children do. We can, however, control what we do in response and in support. We can provide a positive and encouraging role model where we don’t judge and we offer options and opportunities. And that is much easier said that done…so stay tuned!

[1] Twenge, Ph.D., Jean (2006). Generation Me. New York, NY: Free Press (Simon & Schuster). ISBN 978-0-7432-7697-9.

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