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Don Tapscott

The evidence refutes allegations in Maclean’s

Critics say the Net Generation is dumb, coddled and narcissistic.  Steve Maich in this week’s Maclean’s is the most recent example.

Maich says that young people are a bunch of shallow, selfish, spoiled good-for-nothings who should just grow up and learn that success can only be achieved through serious effort and discipline.

I disagree, and unlike many of the critics of this generation, my opinions are based on research. I led a survey of 11,000 young people as part of a multi-million research project conducted by the think tank I founded years ago. We also interviewed employers and dozens of experts in North America to paint our portrait of today’s youth.

Our findings refute the headline on Maich’s story: “Spoiled, shallow and selfish: Say hi to the new kid at work.” If they are so spoiled and selfish, why are they setting records for volunteer work — and continue to do so long after it’s no longer required by schools?

What about the “rampant narcissism?” Not true, according to University of Western Ontario researchers who have definitively studied the issue on both sides of the border.  See Grown Up Digital for data.

Poor attention span? That may be true in classes led by teachers who are boring. But the evidence suggests the opposite – university performance (which presumably requires attention) is at an all time high.  For that matter, take a look at kids playing video games — the media of today’s youth. They don’t have any trouble focusing for hours on end.

Undisciplined? Tell it to James Quigley, the CEO Deloitte, who says his thousands of young employees are much more disciplined and productive than previous generations.  His evidence?  They bill more and have happier clients.

Shallow?  IQ scores have grown year-over-year for two decades; universities are graduating youth at record rates; and SAT scores have gone up or remained stable, despite a huge increase in students taking the tests.

Enough already!

Maich’s article is another example of criticism of young people that is driven by fear — fear that they will use their collaborative tools and instincts to change the world, and dislodge the old hierarchies. That’s exactly what they did on November 4 when their movement brought Barack Obama to power. And in Canada alone there are 8 million of them poised to change every other institution in society – for the better.

Grown Up Digital acknowledges there are real problems to be solved.  The top third of the generation performs spectacularly well; the bottom third are dropping out of high school. Young people are blowing their privacy online today.  Many parents are oblivious to the challenges of ensuring that young people have balance in their lives, good values and are safe online. Companies have created a “generational firewall” and are missing opportunities to embrace the many positive aspects of youth culture that have been shown to improve innovation, collaboration and productivity.

While sadly, Maich’s cynical attitude confirms my concern about the attacks on today’s youth, I get no comfort, because he is wrong, and his characterization obfuscates the challenge of understanding the generation and acting appropriately.

Tags: Family, Government, Guidelines for Educators, School/College, The Buzz, Work


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