Teenagers in the UK these days are amongst the best educated children anywhere in the world. Exam results continue to rise, showing that the current teenage generation is also the cleverest we have had – ever – in Britain. True, you can argue with the exam system and suggest it is flawed. Yes, you might suggest there’s some political fiddling going on to make the education ministers look good. And, it is possible, of course, that there were much cleverer youngsters before all the measuring began. But, on the whole, kids today are brighter than when I was their age.
So, why is it, we get so much “teen bashing” from this Government? Today we see another Government-backed scheme announcing research which shows that teenagers are doing themselves harm by using a “different language” to the rest of us. Indeed, says the Government “guru”, they are making themselves unemployable. Really?
Teenagers have always used a different language to adults; it is part of their development of self-identity. When I was a youngster everything that was good was “groovy”, now it’s “cool”. Texting has enabled them to develop a completely new form of language that actually allows teenagers to communicate highly efficiently – much more so than their parents. Language always evolves like this – after all, we don’t any longer say “thee” or “thou” and the idioms from the Victorian age are no longer with us. So, the fact that this new research finds that today’s teens are using different language is, well, obvious..! Well done Government – you’ve told us something we already knew.
But that’s not all. According to the Government’s Child Communication Czar, Jean Gross, “we need to help children understand the difference between their text speak and the formal language they need to succeed in life”. Every study of communication tells us that it is the formal communication that causes the problems. But informal, emotionally-laden and expressive communication is what works, time after time. And that’s exactly the style being adopted by today’s youngsters.
Business leaders complain that today’s crop of teenagers don’t have the communication skills to survive in the cut and thrust of the office world. Yet in truth, it’s those business leaders who lack the communication skills. They are effectively asking today’s teenagers to come down from their higher level of communication to an old, formal, difficult language style. The FTSE100 bosses really should be having communication lessons from teenagers.
It’s not that texting-teenagers lack the words for work, but that the world of work lacks the communication skills to deal with these highly educated individuals. What this report is suggesting is something akin to having an office where everyone speaks English, but are expected to communicate in Norwegian instead. Better for business is to allow the youngsters who work there to use the language they know the best and can use skillfully.
What that means is business putting in place technology that allows everyone in the office to text each other, Tweet each other and use instant messaging services. It means having a root and branch change in the technologies used by many businesses and a completely different focus in the way business is done. Teens today are used to webinars, audio chats and connecting via iPhone Apps. If you ask them to go to meetings and discuss things formally, they are lost. And rightly so – almost all meetings are time-wasters anyway.
So, here we have a Government which has allegedly produced the most gifted generation of all time. Yet that some Government is now telling us that this generation is unemployable. Both those facts cannot be true. What is true is that the Government is a mirror of British business – largely out-of-touch with modern technology and modern communication methods. That means that ultimately those teenagers who can’t get a job in big business will walk away and set up their own companies that operate in completely different ways. And don’t say that can’t be done; that’s exactly how Google started.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+