Some stories, a few thoughts, hopefully a coherent OP? We’ll see what happens! TLDR: Long.
13th birthday, party at my house, my daughter (Sophia) and her friends sitting on the furniture, looking at their phones, for they all had phones by then.
“Sophia, Madison, can I ask you a question?”
Looks up, “Sure.”
"Why aren’t you talking? Why are you looking at your phones ignoring each other??
Sophia rolls her eyes, while Madison replies “Oh, we’re not ignoring each other! We’re all chatting on the group chat with those people who couldn’t make it, like McKenna and Rosa. In a way, the party is happening there, understand?”
And I did understand.
Two years later:
Boys are the big thing this year, likely forever for some of these girls, and for the boys girls are the hot ticket item as well. Dating and parties ensue.
Kelly (not her name) gets invited to a seniors party by David (again, NHN). Sophia and a couple of her friends get wind of his master plan of getting Kelly drunk and possibly raping her. So Sophia and co went into action:
… they started texting David
… they texted others at the party
… they went on IG and Snap
All with the same message: “David is planning on getting Kelly drunk and taking advantage of her…” (Kids don’t think in terms of rape, but, to me, that’s a textbook definition) “… you need to protect her. Now that you know, this is on you.”
Sophia is relaying developments to her mother and I and it did not take long - within minutes Kelly had two older girls babysitting her, ride homes were arranged (David gave her drinks on the way there), and the walk of shame the next school morn was performed by David, not Kelly.
A year later:
Things are difficult, midway through 10th grade, the stresses are piling up and the destination seems as long as the journey already made. I ask Sophia sometime during this if she would like to talk to a therapist, perhaps someone focused on academic pressure, and Sophia says (in effect) “No, thanks though. I always have Maddie or McKenna or Bethany to talk to and I’m always there for them. We cheer each other up all the time.”
This is when Sophia and her friends (even the guys) started ending conversations with “I love you”. I first thought it was a girl thing, maybe even a Sophia thing, but they all do that, and continue to this day. Love. It’s what they tell each other they do for the other.
A year plus later:
COVID strikes, completely ruining Senior year and piling additional pressures on the kids above and beyond the loss of prom, the loss of the senior trip, more. The school adapted quickly but with little preview, getting a number of online courses for some subjects, especially the maths, so the students can continue their education.
And these sites were fucking terrible, just terrible. The problem wasn’t getting the correct answers, it was that the software was designed so you had to enter the answer for each step of the question, and if you didn’t get that answer exactly right, you could not go on to finish the problem. One example Sophia showed me said something like "to 2 decimal spaces, what is the answer to… ". One of the steps had the answer of “4”. Just that: “4”. And the software refused to accept “4” until she entered it as “4.00”, then she was allowed to go on to the next step. And, of course, it took FOREVER to get these online assignments done.
The kids freak for a bit. College admissions (they think) are completely on the line here, they are going to bomb Trig 2 or whatever, their grades are going to tank, they’ll have to go to UTSA instead of UT, UT instead of Rice, Rice instead of Stanford, etc. I would have panicked myself! But they were resourceful and things calmed down quickly, within a week or so. And, later, in a relaxed moment, Sophia told us why:
For the math tests and quizzes, each kid assigned themselves specific problems, with all problems eventually tackled. You worked through your assigned problems, telling the group which answers were going to be accepted by the computer for all steps on questions 11, 22, and 33. The other kids did the same, throwing the answers on a shared Google doc. Therefore, instead of doing 40 questions, you do three and 12 others do 3 as well.
I wrote an email to the school administration that they may give consideration to using the Senior class as “evaluators” for these systems rather than trying to teach, but they ignored my sage advice, crammed a lot of work on the kids, and in the end, gave them all the highest grade they had ever attained in that course at anytime during the semester, pre-COVID or post-COVID, so there were “D” kids who got an A because their first quiz scored a 96. All that effort on the kids behalf wasted, the opportunity to conduct an end-user review on new systems was lost as well.
Regardless, the teenagers adapted swiftly to the new environment, realized the different parameters didn’t change the primary objective, and developed and executed a plan where all of them would succeed, and they did all this with no consultation with any authority figure whatsoever.
A few months ago, someone sent me an email with a link to a FB video of my HS graduation and a party afterward. I was fascinated by, frankly, how young acting we were, for the kids I was looking at in 1984 were not the same kids that I and our friends raised: cooly poised young adults with very few of the uncertain glances that I commonly saw during my travels back to 1984.
I know the millennials and Gen Z are getting the press, but the 20s and below are going to be a generation with a key fundamental difference than any generation prior - growing up with access to a 24/7 emotional and practical support group, where they are never alone and never beyond reach.
I call this The Gestalt, a developing Hive Mind as @octopus would put it, a growing. eternal background of reassurance and advice being built by our children. resulting of the connectivity of them with their friends and family via snap, text, chat, IG, and others. It is real, it is having an impact on their psychological development, and it will manifest in ways which previous generations would find surprising.
For example: cheating. Us 1984 grads considered cheating to be wrong. We did it, but furtively, with fear of being caught, and if someone said they weren’t going to help you cheat, you could beat them up… but you couldn’t call someone who didn’t want to cheat immoral… that would be just weird.
The Gestalt thinks otherwise, especially post-COVID. To them, passing around your term paper to the other kids to read and comment on just fucking makes sense. You’re there to help each other, you all have a common goal, and life is hard enough to go at it alone like they do in those old movies like *Metropolitan". So they’re constantly helping each other on their essays, quizzes, homework, papers, and more. Sophia once said that she’s pretty good at giving people points to discuss on their 5-paragraph essays no matter the topic, and I would not be surprised if she’s good because she’s done this often.
And, to be honest, it’s hard to blame them. At no other point in our lives were we 1984ers forced to go it alone like we were in our education. We collaborated at work, we collaborated at love, we collaborated in our marriages, we collaborated in our volunteer efforts, we collaborated at church… but we were taught that collaborating re: education was wrong. And the Gestalt thinks this is insane, purposely using isolation to damage ourselves for no good end whatsoever.
The Gestalt has no problem turning on isolated members of the Gestalt who disturb the harmony, as my daughter learned when she had a COVID scare. The remonstrations, the “why couldn’t you be more careful"s”, the messages back and forth, the stress on her face… and not from worries about COVID but about what it would be like relaying a positive test result back to the Gestalt. Sophia became Queen Mask and Princess Social Distancing after that.
And I get that the above could be read as “well, she just has friends”, and of course she does, but it’s not just her - her friends just seem more adult, smarter, more confident than our generation was at the same age equivalent. I see Greta Thurnberg and I see Amanda Gorman and I see David Hogg and I don’t necessarily see exceptional members of my daughter’s generation, I see typical members of my daughter’s generation who just happened to have the worlds attention turned upon them.
And if you wonder why these teens took to the fore recently, look at them in their group pictures, all of them holding their phones, their gateway to each other, to the Gestalt.