(Read part one of this series on Postmodernism here.)
Every teen raised today faces instability. Oddly, instability is one of the most stable, reliable, and permanent things in our postmodern world. Rapid, major change happens constantly. It is expected. “You just need to go with the flow.”
Throughout the ages every adolescent experiences physical, mental, and emotional change simply by growing up. Your clothes no longer fit. You learn new things every day. Girls or boys suddenly become interesting. You can do things you could not do before because you were younger, weaker, and less informed. Change in the adolescent world is not new.
Our ancestors went through the instability of adolescence expecting to become a stable adult in a stable world. Their adult world changed very slowly. Clothing styles, music, buildings, roads, relationships, technology, and culture were mostly the same as their grandparents. In the recent past, change has been constant: candles are replaced by electric lights, written letters by Instagram, horses by cars, trains by jets, books by YouTube. Today’s young adults have endured more technological changes in one decade than their grandparents did in a lifetime. Instability is the new normal and it undermines a young person’s stabilization of identity.
A part of one’s identity is rooted in a sense of place, but now the stately farmhouse next to the old oak tree has been replaced by a McDonald’s and a parking lot in Anywhere, USA. The sense of connectedness to any place is gone.
More critically, it is the relational instability of modern life that is the most challenging to a child’s identity. In a highly mobile society young people have hardly any life-long friends. They have no village. They have cousins they have never met, yet they have Thanksgiving dinner with a step-granddad and his unknown grandchildren.
“Who am I?” the modern teen asks and then he answers, “Anyone I want to be!” Unfortunately, that is a way of saying, “I don’t know” or “No-one in particular.” For many growing up today, their sense of family history is non-existent. The rootedness of their identity in family and history has vanished.
This is where a grandma or grandpa can play a critical role. You are living history — their history. You are part of their stable identity. You can be there when they have nowhere else to go. When everything around them is free-floating and unstable, you can be a defining value in their developing identity because you are rooted and can help them be rooted.
Learn how to tell your grandchildren who they are. They will never forget it.
Mike Shaughnessy is the Executive Director of Grandly and the Editor of the Kairos Youth Culture Newsletter.
Copyright © 2018 Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club.