Tonawanda News

July 10, 2012

CONFER: Some traits of underachieving youth

By Bob Confer
The Tonawanda News

Editor’s note: This is part three of a four-part series.

Based upon statistics provided in the previous two columns, there is a glut of minors who are underachieving in the classroom (or, as noted last week, totally uncommitted to the classroom). Which of their behaviors contribute to this underperformance? For the sake of brevity (and not making this a 10-part series), here are just three...

Today’s kids lack work ethic. Elbow grease at home and in a working environment helps to develop a work ethic that carries over into studies. Unfortunately, today’s youth are not afforded the chance for such enrichment.

Many of the Baby Boomer class and the generations before them had either permanent or temporary access to farm life (regarding the latter, think of how many kids used to spend weeks of their summers on a grandparent’s or uncle’s farm). That exposed   the impressionable youngsters to visible rewards (harvests and cattle auctions) that were the result of sweat, hard work, planning, focus and patience. Those days are long gone for teens for smaller family farms have been replaced by larger, more-efficient farms. To put it into perspective, in the 1940s there were over 6.5 million farms. Now, there are just over 2 million.

But, the pastoral experience is only one part of the labor equation. It used to be that teens everywhere could get summer and evening jobs. At the turn of this century, half of all 16-to-19 year-olds held a job. The Great Recession and the resulting “new norm” put youth employment in the crosshairs. Because of the lack of economic opportunity, cost-cutting endeavors by businesses fighting to survive, and adults willing to take what were teens’ jobs in order to survive as well, less than 30 percent of teens now hold a job.

Unfortunately, that availability of free time does not equal better grades because work is a lesson in itself. As the old   adage says, it builds character. So, without work (especially in the formative years), character cannot be built. And, character is the catalyst for achievement.

Today’s families emphasize the extra-curricular over the curricular. It used to be that kids might choose an interest or two that took some of their free time. Now, they choose (or are forced into) schedule-intensive sports while ballet, band, horse-riding lessons, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and more are heaped upon that. The materialism of modern life has driven this, making the parent feel inadequate if he/she can’t keep up with the assumed expectations of our society. They believe they can’t do right by their child if the child is not perpetually busy. It’s sad, as it contributes to financial and emotional stress of parents and it robs kids of their childhood (and the freedom and spontaneity it should have) as well as the time that they need for books (far more important than any sport). The exhausted kids can’t focus on schoolwork, nor do they have time to: Approximately three-quarters of American youth participate in some structured extracurricular activity that consumes up to nine hours per week. Ten percent of them devote more than 20 hours per week to it.

Today’s youth are destined to underachieve thanks to electronics. Sci-fi tales of years gone by predicted a technologically advanced world in which the human existence would be made better by computers and other efficiencies. We’ve come to that era with high-speed computers, the Internet, smart phones and more.

But, rather than making our lives easier, they’ve made our lives more difficult, since we’ve become incapable of thinking, analyzing, communicating, calculating and even relaxing without them.

Well, at least that’s the situation that’s befallen the young. Consider these damning numbers: The average American child spends 7.5 hours of every day in front of the TV or computer or engrossed with some other electronic device like a phone. Not only are they failing to live life or study, but numerous studies have also shown that early and constant exposure to electronic media lead to psychological problems, attention disorders and cognitive issues. Some scientists have even noticed severe changes in the way that brains function. Technology has weakened – even dramatically hurt - today’s students.

What is most confounding about all of this? Suppose that between extra-curricular activities and electronics a kid devotes a total of 61.5 hours per week. Compare that to academics: A University of Michigan study showed American students average just under four hours of homework per week! Where are our priorities?

Next week, the series ends on a positive note as we look at some of the really special youth who are bucking the trend, and outperforming their peers in dramatic fashion, giving us a sense of hope for tomorrow.