What Young People Teach Us

It’s nearing finals week here at the University of Denver, so this will be quick. Just had to share this story from one of my students because it so neatly illustrates the positive experience young people can have when they lend their digital media expertise to people of their parents’ generation.

“So, do I need a Facebook account to promote my book,?” Emily’s supervisor at her internship asked her. She told him she didn’t think he needed one for that purpose, but she suggested that he should find out whether or not Facebook would be useful for him by establishing a personal Facebook account. He agreed, and so she helped him set up the account.

As luck would have it, one of his daughters was in Chile during last Saturday’s devastating earthquake. “The phones were down, and so he had no way of finding out if she was okay,” Emily said. Fortunately, the young woman in Chile was able to get wireless access – and so she put a note on her Facebook page indicating that she was all right. Her father was able to get the news and to let others in her family know – and he was able to be in touch with his daughter to provide emotional support at a crucial time. Emily said that now he’s asked her to show him how to make phone calls using Skype so that dad and daughter can be in touch and can see and hear one another.

For Emily, the experience turned out to be a very positive one. She’d often been asked by coworkers and supervisors for help setting up Facebook, Twitter, or blog accounts; that’s what happens for lots of young people who are asked to share their social media expertise with those who have been in the workforce for a while. But this time, Emily was able to see how this small instance of helpfulness had given her an opportunity to make a difference. “It made me feel really good, because I had played some small role in helping him to use new media in a way that enabled him to be in contact with his daughter – and that made a huge difference for him,” Emily said.

Coworkers and supervisors have seen the value of getting involved with social media for some time now. Business leaders talk about social media marketing, the new wave of online and contact-based business, etc. – and sometimes, young interns like Emily are called upon to offer their expertise in the work situation. But parents, too, can appreciate the ability that social networking affords for long-term relationships with our kids, and I’m finding that they’re increasingly asking for their help in getting set up for social networking. Once emerging adults are away at college or the military, many parents ask to “friend” their kids, and while some kids choose to use the “limited profile” option, many find social networking can be a helpful way to remain in contact with parents.

What’s more, being in touch via social media can help emerging adults to navigate the changing relationships they have with their parents. They can control what they put up, what they provide access to, and how often they share what they do about their lives. And Emily’s story is a great reminder not only of how a dad and daughter were able to maintain connection through a devastating time, but how a young person was able to provide assistance in making that connection possible.

We often focus on the negatives of the digital generation gap, and with good reason. But because of the digital generation gap, this is a wonderful time for us to be able to learn from our children. Let’s hope we can find meaningful ways to establish and build upon those connections with our kids and with the other young people who are eager to contribute their expertise for the rest of us.

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