Here’s Why Kids Flunk ‘Life Skills 101’

Think: way too much screen time. Think: lax parenting. Now you're getting closer.

Young people today face a rough road ahead.

Those born between the 1980s and 2000 are too often spoiled, overprotected and pampered. That’s according to psychotherapist Tom Kersting, who is based in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and has a unique window into this group of young Americans.

In a frank and forthright discussion with LifeZette, he shared his thoughts about the challenges ahead for this next generation. 

Question: What are the biggest differences you are seeing in kids today as compared to those of an earlier time?

Answer: The overindulgence of technology leads to a lack of coping. On average, kids are spending nine hours a day in front of a screen and very little face-to-face contact time.

As a result, they have not learned how to communicate with other human beings. They do not have the ability to overcome adversarial situations. The only way to develop that ability is by having constant face-to-face communication with other human beings.

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Kids are not living or engaged in their natural habitat such as the playground, the ball park or even having dinner with the family. Shortly after they get a smartphone, they lose sight of who they are and lack the ability to know that and regulate themselves.

If you look in on a family today, it’s a bunch of individuals living solitary lives plugged into their own devices. You have to have human interaction to handle the curveballs in life. A case in point: I have had double the amount of middle schoolers with major anxiety disorders than I’ve had collectively in the last 15 years.

Question: So why do you think kids today are so protected?  

Answer: Parents themselves are living in fear. Ninety to 95 percent of our beliefs and values come from what we see in the news. That gets pedaled through social media. We’re ingesting this fear mongering and spewing it back out to our kids. We’re afraid to let them walk to school or ride their bikes around the block for fear someone will take them.

It’s the social hypnosis effect. We absorb the social norm going on around us. A few years ago, there was an attempted abduction. Once the child told his mom, she put it on her social media, which spread it exponentially. The next day there were more attempts, and more attempts the day after that. When the media came to me and asked why, I responded, “I don’t think there are that many attempts.” People are just afraid and it gets posted and reposted.

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In a CNN documentary in October, 94 percent of parents underestimated the impact social media was having on their children. The average 13-year-old checks their device more than 100 times dayParents need to shake off the fear and grow a backbone.  

Question: Why are the kids unable to empathize?

Answer: It comes back to the lack of face-to-face contact. Kids don’t learn how to act in social situations. It’s not instinctual anymore to know what to do when they meet another kid. They lack social skills. Communication and social skills can only be acquired by using these skills on a daily basis.

If a young lion is injured in the wild, for example, and it is brought to an animal hospital to heal, after it stays there for so long it can’t make it in its natural habitat. It has lost the ability to navigate on its own. It’s the same thing with kids.

Question: What are their relationships like?

Answer: You’d think a lot of the kids were on the autism spectrum disorder. They have Asperger’s traits. They lack the ability to communicate and relate.

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If you walk into a high school cafeteria today, it’s mainly quiet — not like it was 15 years ago. Ninety-nine percent of the kids have their laptops open and they’re staring into their laptop or at their phone.

They’re communicating with each other online. It’s reducing their ability to act as human beings. This has a major dehumanization effect.

Question: How will the lack of resilience and empathy impact young people as they go through their lives?

Answer: The fact that kids can no longer interact in socially acceptable ways will follow them throughout their lives. The inability to empathize or show empathy toward others affects them socially, their family system, academically and vocationally. They can’t focus and are not confident human beings. When kids are given everything and protected from everything, they don’t know how to act. It leads to a sense of entitlement.

Question: Give us an example.

Answer: A friend was interviewing young people for an internship. One young woman interviewing for the position was in her early 20s, a top medical school graduate and an exceptional student. Yet she had a surly attitude. She sat with her arms crossed throughout the interview and answered questions begrudgingly with an angry look on her face.

The interviewer was frustrated.

At the end of the interview, the young woman wanted to know why she was being asked all these questions. She acted as though others should be honored by her presence, by her abilities and excellence. And she thought that just being there was enough — that the firm should want her simply because she was who she was.

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