Ian Tyson

Not As Different As You Think

As a speaker, working predominantly in the school market for the last 28 years, the question/comment that I get most from teachers, parents, and friends my age is: What is the difference in the issues and struggles facing students today compared to when we were that age?

I can certainly see where a question like that comes from… people want to make a connection, and perhaps try to find a way to relate to another generation. At minimum, they want to try and understand, because they seem so different.

The thing is, the answer is pretty simple. Students today face a lot of the same issues that “we” faced growing up, the difference is the way in which those issues are presented, and the way they have to deal with them. Technology is the biggest contributing factor to that and plays the largest role in how different the issues look from the outside.

For example: Bullying existed when I was in school, and existed for centuries prior… there have always been bullies, there always will be (unfortunately). The difference is in the way that it presents itself these days. Once upon a time, you could avoid a hallway where a bully hung out, and when you got home, you would perhaps have a reprieve and find some sanctuary. Now, you cannot escape it. The rise of social media and handheld devices, means that people have that many more ways to get to you, or at you. But if you take away all the technical trappings, the issue is the same. Students, during a period of vast physical and emotional change in their lives, are looking to assert themselves, find their tribe, and grow into themselves. On occasion, this journey can manifest itself in acting out, perhaps through expressing power over another person to make you feel better or stronger. It’s about finding some sense of control, and in some cases, power. That’s a simple explanation of a complicated problem, and is only part of it, but when you boil it down, that’s a part of what we are dealing with. When you add the technology and extra social pressures, and you start to get a hint at what that one issue looks like for today’s youth.

Dating and relationships can be equally challenged by rise of online communication. In this case, much like throughout time, we experience attraction and seek connection, and have to muster the courage and fortitude to express the myriad of emotions we are feeling for another human being. It’s just that now, you can email, text, FB Message or any other number of methods of communication with someone and build a digital rapport, only to make the idea of face-to-face meeting potentially more daunting. We are all still seeking some form of companionship and validation, it’s just more complicated.

So when I hear people ask me that question about “millennials” in particular, or the different generations of youth I have had the honor of standing in front of over the years, I tell them the path is the same, but the landscape looks differently then when we walked it. It doesn’t make one way better than another, or that anyone had it harder than anyone else, there are just different tools at play. I say in my shows often about smart phones; that are a tool, like any other. The thing is, you can build a house with a hammer, but you can also tear a house down with one… it’s all about how you use it. We are all taking the
same journey of growing up and finding our way in the world, and should respect that about each other.

With that in mind, and if we can all agree that we are walking the same path… for all the parents, educators and students alike, I would say, “Mind the path, pack the right tools, be aware of your surroundings and please… leave the path better than you found it.” It’s all any of us can ask for and expect from the generation before us, and all we should do for those that follow behind.

There is a Greek Proverb that says “A society grows great, when old men plant seeds for trees, in whose shade they will never sit”
Let’s get planting!