Youth and the Digital Drug

Are we raising the dumbest generation?

Last year, a thought-provoking commentary on our digital age was published titled The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. Its author, Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein, stirred up quite a hornet’s nest with his thesis that today’s youth are dumber than any prior generation due to their being hooked on digital technology.

In the preface to his newly released paperback edition, Bauerlein states that the initial release of his book caused no small brouhaha. Despite some disagreement, he wrote, “A blank and broad question lay on the table. Do the digital diversions of the young cut kids off from history, civics, literature, fine art? Does mounting screen time dumb them down?” He thinks the answer is yes. The observable facts clearly support that conclusion.

The average American youth spends no more than eight minutes per day reading. This fact, Bauerlein suggests, “points to what may be the great social consequence of the digital advent. It turns on, precisely, the relationship of generations and the duties of elders. For, we all agree, one responsibility of adults in our society is to acquaint the rising generation to a civic and cultural inheritance. They have the experience and perspective that come with aging; the young do not. Teenagers live in the present and the immediate. What happened long ago and far away doesn’t impress them. They care about what occurred last week in the cafeteria, not what took place during the Depression. They heed the words of Facebook, not the Gettysburg Address. They focus on other kids in English class, not leaders in d.c.” (emphasis mine).

That the digital distractions hamper the transfer of quality knowledge to youth is a reality unique to our age.

If the adult members of a society refuse to—or are incapable of even beginning to—inculcate into the minds of following generations the best of the cultural heritage of their forebears, then that society is dooming itself to its own destruction.

Professor Bauerlein observes correctly that “Maturity follows a formula: The more kids contact one another, the less they heed the tutelage of adults. When peer consciousness grows too fixed and firm, the teacher’s voice counts for nothing outside the classroom. When youth identity envelopes them, parent talk at the dinner table only distracts them.”

Knowing that “the lure of school gossip, fear of ridicule, the urge to belong” are uppermost in the average youth’s mind, Bauerlein issues his most powerful challenge to adults. For youth “to grow up into mindful citizens and discerning consumers, then, adolescents must break the social circuit and think beyond the clique and the schoolyard. But they can’t do it themselves—peer pressure is too strong—and so adults must help draw them away. Mentors can provide instruction in bigger things: the op-ed page, actions of Congress, … what transpired in the Gulag, what the First Amendment says, the fate of Adam and Eve. … They steer young minds toward deeper wisdom and young tastes toward finer consumptions. The story of heroes and villains from history sets the eminences of senior year in bracing relief.”

There exists clear biblical revelation as to the ultimate destructive source of this great distraction—this digital drug—and the ultimate intended goal. The Apostle Paul speaks of those who live their lives “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).

It is of this “prince of the power of the air” and his demented minions that the Bible speaks when it warns that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Through the digital drug, this malevolent spiritual force can exert an influence unique to our time. As Bauerlein portrays it, “Youths undergo an intense awareness of one another, a high-pressure social feeling. The stakes are high—is anything worse than exclusion?—and so they have to tune in, to manage that omnipresence. They don’t really enjoy it, for when they leave my class and flip open the cell they register concern, not glee. But if they don’t check in, they don’t know whether something big might have happened. Peer pressure long preceded the microchip, of course, but e-mail, cell phone and the rest have cranked it up to critical levels, fostering an all-peers-all-the-time network. Communication is horizontal, centered on a narrow age-bracket, while parents and teachers hover outside the loop baffled by the immersion.”

The good professor argues that “Late-teens and early-20-somethings stand at a delicate threshold that marks the most important intellectual growth of their life. They have passed the basic skills of elementary and middle school, and now they acquire the higher knowledge and understanding requisite to good citizenship and tasteful consumption. These are the years in which they read good books, discuss great ideas, judge past events, and form moral scruples. If it doesn’t happen in high school, in college, and in the home at this time, it probably never will.”

There is one book that many have proven to be the ultimate tool in raising responsible youth accountable for their own actions. It is the Bible. Never in its entire history since its original canonization has this Book of books been so easy for the open, unprejudiced mind to understand. For parents, that’s the Book that is the most essential tool to place in the hands of your children to ensure they avoid becoming part of “the dumbest generation.”

Request a free copy of our booklet The Proof of the Bible for an eye-opening account of the power that biblical revelation can have on helping you obtain true success for you and your family!