The key to bridging the generation gap

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 September, 2010, 12:00am

It is known as the generation gap. Each age group is all-knowing, thinking that the one that came before - and after - is foolish, mistaken and out of touch. Parents and children do not see eye to eye and end up at loggerheads, both believing that they are right and the other does not know what it is talking about. Matters would be so much different if only they took the time to communicate.

That point gets lost in the rush. Hundreds of cable channels, computer games, internet everywhere and electronic devices that allow for multi-tasking mean we are always busy. Innovations and trends rapidly come and go, while there is always a better gadget. Never have older generations had to try so hard to stay in touch.

An annual list compiled by the private US school Beloit College to remind teachers that familiar cultural references do not necessarily apply to new students illustrates the problem. This year's list shows students generally send text messages because they think e-mail is too slow, do not wear watches, and have never used a phone with a cord. To them, American companies have always been doing business with Vietnam, and marriages in space are not unusual. It is a reminder of just how wide the generational divide can be.

Children rarely use handwriting, so do not expect them to leave a note telling you where they have gone. Learning and entertainment is screen-based, so advising them to do something else for the sake of their eyesight will be met with a puzzled frown. Urging them to concentrate on the task at hand rather than texting a friend while doing homework with music playing will most likely be met by a remark that may seem snide, but is actually genuine: this is how all teenagers are nowadays. Beyond technology, Generation Y - or X or Z - is no different from its predecessors; at about the age of 30, the realisation that experience is to be valued rather than scorned starts setting in. Parents and their children will always see matters differently; that is what growing up is about. Until that time, the best way to smooth over differences is to communicate - either by talking, or, as present trends go, texting.