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Hansen: Gen V: Is it virtual living?

March 08, 2012|By David Hansen

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Laguna Beach, and my boys were holed up in the house, so I started to kick them outside when I stopped myself.

One was laughing loudly with a group of online friends while playing a game. Another was Skyping with schoolmates on a homework project. The third was quietly reading a book.

I wanted them to go outside and play with friends, but they already were — sort of.

It's clear that teens and preteens have embraced online collaboration tools. Some pundits have dubbed the kids "Generation Virtual" or Gen V.

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My question is, what does this mean? What are the long-term impacts? Am I creating little cyber boors devoid of social skills?

Anyone who grew up before the Internet was regularly kicked out of the house. We went to the mall or corner store or played in the dirt, and it was good. It fostered creativity, solidified friendships and caused all kinds of neighborhood problems involving toilet paper.

We proudly recall these stories today.

But does this give us the right to badmouth today's online approach?

I turned to psychologist Michele McCormick, Ph.D., a Laguna Beach resident, to understand how these tools may be impacting young adults.

"Parents are wondering what their position should be," McCormick said. "Is it good, is it bad? It can be both. It's how it's used."

McCormick says the primary focus for kids this age revolves around the peer group. This has not changed for decades. What has changed are the dynamics around involvement.

"They're tribal, and they're finding their tribe, and that's not a bad thing," McCormick said. "For introverted kids, this is such an easier way for them to reach out. Their level of anxiety is not as high."

If the playing field is more level with an online group, then self-esteem and confidence should follow.

The challenge is most studies have focused on the negative: Don't do this, limit that, monitor everything. The research has also honed in on excessive use.

"What we're finding is kids' attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, so they do everything in sound bites," McCormick said. "And they're distractibility levels are increasing. So their capacity to sustain focus and concentration is really being compromised."

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