An infantilised generation

By Ezra Butler on August 7th, 2013

Research shows that the brain is not fully formed until the early twenties, yet we give teenagers crutches that subvert the entire learning process. We help them solve problems with graphing calculators, because they will be doing so in the real world, but studies show that it gives them confidence in the wrong answers.

A middle-school teacher performing a limited test using her students as test subjects, even after noting the slight increase in grades without the use of the programmable calculators, still chose to offer future students the technological crutch.

Autocorrect solves most simple spelling errors, which lulls us into a false sense of security with regard to homophones and grammatical errors. Word rarely realises when a word is omitted.

Learning has traditionally been about failing and learning from mistakes. As we learn from rats running through mazes, repetition is a crucial step in education, something largely glossed over in today’s skills-centric, knowledge-light education systems. Shortcuts are taught and accepted, because adults use them freely.

We focus on Pavlovian conditioning for positive encouragement, but children begin to receive the endorphins without any of the negative repercussions. As all children receive awards for participation and highly inflated grades, do they all receive a similar endorphin boost?

Studies have linked increased use of antibacterial soap with the rise in childhood allergies. Children’s immune systems are not challenged and therefore do not become robust. The same thing happens with their minds.

Why should anyone strive for excellence when mediocrity is celebrated? The popular American television programme Jeopardy was recently criticised when they considered a 12 year old participant’s final answer incorrect when he misspelled the word ‘emancipation’, something that would have not happened had he been playing on a computer.

His father castigated host Alex Trebek as “smug” and argued that “everyone knew what he meant”. A CNN article on the subject cited multiple people on social media, with both grammar and spelling errors, unhappy with the game show’s decision. Unfortunately, the CNN authors did not feel the need to point out the errors.


Bad behaviour is rewarded these days. The millennial gets fired for a customer service tweet for a food truck, receives almost 2,700 likes on Facebook for his full confession published on The Awl and launches an illustrious literary career. The NTSB intern who fed a news network offensive joke names following a fatal air crash in San Francisco received a well-publicised offer for a new internship within the week.

And the investigative reporter who blogged an overly unprofessional confessional about quasi-immoral and/or illegal things she did at work, under the guise of “free expression”, will probably receive more exposure from her admission. And she knows it and is pithy about it in her twitter stream.

What is the difference between these people and the gaggle of teenagers arrested and jailed for posting idiocy on Facebook? In one case, an anonymous donor posted $500,000 in bail, as he believed that freedom of speech on the internet included talking about “shoot[ing] up a kindergarten”, “watch[ing] the innocent blood rain down” and “eat[ing] the beating heart” of one of the victims. The teenager’s father argued that he must have been joking because he wrote “jk” and “lol”.

Would an intelligent implanted version of localised electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), akin to a pacemaker, help prevent antisocial or stupid activity in minors? Do the benefits to society offset the potential moral implications? Is this any different than using drugs to maintain serotonin levels? Or is this solution a little too Clockwork Orange?

I believe that technology will be our salvation. Hopefully that technological advance won’t have any unintended side effects, but if you’ve ever tried to decipher a grammar-addled text message from a millennial, it really can’t get any worse.