Given the limited social skills of many in our modern workplaces and society, I can’t help but to wonder about any long-term collective effect of the current Corona Virus threat (COVID-19 threat) on the minds of today’s young people - young people who will comprise the workplaces of the future. Most of my concern includes the effect on the social abilities of young folks of a certain age with the intellect to perceive the threat but without the ability or wisdom to actually comprehend any such real-time viral threat. Like…, what will be the overall effect on the social skills of young people who might be developing their cognitive and adult social abilities in a time wherein they are being warned that passing too close to another person could essentially kill both themselves and the stranger without anyone being the wiser. My concern led me to blog, because I’m curious as to what the young are being told about these virus fears as well as what messages they are not hearing, given prior social trends of past decades which promulgated fear upon everyone and especially the young.
During my middle-school years of decades ago, children of that era had to worry about the effects of warnings which included “six minutes to nuclear winter” – whatever that actually meant. Throughout my impressionable years living in the suburban shadow of Washington, DC, young folks of that time more or less believed that such a stated threat of “six minutes to nuclear winter” meant that with the passage of any given six minute time span, the world might no longer exist as it had to that point in time – if not all human life to end in six minutes, at least in our geographic area. Or so many of us young folks of the time learned and/or were led to believe.
The apparent long-term effect on those of my ilk seemed to be that to envision or to work towards any long-term goals would likely be a waste of time and effort. Hence, many of that era seemed to end up with no ambition to endeavor towards anything at all – as many seemingly never expected to live past the age of twenty. And, few adults explained anything to us to the contrary – as maybe the adults also were fearful of the unknown “six minutes to nuclear winter.”
Then, about a decade later during the time of my college years, the faces of missing children began to be posted on milk cartons. Such led to the apparent paranoia of mothers and parents everywhere regarding nearly every passing stranger. Of course, that parental fear seemed to lead to limited social skills of the young children of that time when those children mentally matured and entered the workforce - as we found out later. Much of the limited social abilities of those youths when they became adults, I hypothesize, was likely a result of childhood fears of strangers. Because the children’s parents taught the kids to irrationally fear all strangers throughout those children's’ impressionable mental years.
It is true that, in my earlier years, children were also told not to speak to strangers – of course. But we were not taught to have any irrational or excessive fear of someone just because that person was not personally known to us. Yet during the 1980s, when missing children were being shown to every parent and child as those folks ate their morning breakfast, what could be expected to result other than an excessive fear of strangers? Once the children of those years came to actually emulate the fear of their parents towards strangers, the stunted social skills of those matured children in the workplace eventually became readily apparent. Because the young people never learned how to productively interact with strangers, as they were taught from an early age to fear all strangers.
Those fears that were nurtured with the face of a missing child on every milk carton seemed to grow exponentially, particularly as the threats were compounded with the rise of the information age of the 1990’s and its sensationalized media outlets competing for viewers. As we all know, the lacking social skills of the youth of that time were also exponentially compounded when our civilization’s electronic gadgetries immensely rose in popularity. At that time and forward to the present, the young, as well as everyone else, were rarely required to actually deal with one another in a face-to-face and/or in-person manner. In the end, as many in the workplace are aware, the social abilities of many workers are severely lacking, and particularly so with the younger workers – as they rarely had to practice social skills in their youth, say for example, on a long car ride with nothing but the others in the car with which to entertain oneself. (That is to say, now everyone just looks at stuff on their phones during car rides.)
And finally to the point of this blog, with the corona virus threat reportedly growing greater with every passing day, the young people might be learning to fear strangers outright – as strangers now harbor the ability to kill others with no one even knowing of the potential threat. This surely will not bode well for the already stunted social skills of many in the nation.
I am forced to wonder if children and young people are being taught that any modern virus threat is not due to the social nature and friendliness of individuals as compared to the infectious nature of the virus per se. Maybe there is no real difference in the end. But there is surely an inherent difference to which some young minds might not comprehend.
I ponder this dilemma for many reasons. Schools are closed for the indefinite future – even graduation ceremonies are being canceled. Playgrounds, parks and beaches are closed. The populace is being told to stay indoors and avoid all contact with everyone but “essential” businesses and persons. The press, media, and politicians seem to remind everyone of the deadly virus threat to no end nearly every day. And we are personally reminded of our fears by having to wear masks whenever we go anywhere as if we are all in a hospital ward. Moreover, the children are not even allowed to attend school classes other than to do so remotely over the internet. As such, what could be the long-term effects of such a reminder of this death-laden fear of all strangers throughout every passing day on the impressionable minds of young people?
Modernly with the Corona Virus fears ever present, when all are being told to “stay at home” and that merely to go outside and to breathe the air around us could pose a threat of death, such a threat could pose a mind-boggling prospect to an adult, let alone a child. When this threat is extended to school children, school classrooms, playgrounds, and classmates, then such fears also surely has to affect the outlook of a child who may not understand the reasons for it all.
I fear that in the end, not merely may the upbringing of young people lead to the compounding of any stunted social skills which may have developed in days of yesteryear, I have to wonder if the social abilities of today’s young people will essentially be nonexistent in the future due to any youthful terror associated with strangers – in the vein of any long-standing social paranoia of lack of modern practice of socializing, as described above.
My generalized fears of the effect of virus threats on the minds and social abilities of young folks could well become moot, if the virus pandemic threat passes relatively quickly. And maybe I’m over-reacting with this blog entry, as a relatively short virus threat might not instill a long-term sense of fear in peoples’ minds after the Corona Virus / COVID-19 threat subsides. But nevertheless, I am concerned with any long-term effects on social skills of those subjected to never-ending fears of this latest virus pandemic, regardless of the length of the threat. Because my concern is of the effect upon those who may not really have awareness of how folks are expected to behave towards one another to begin with, anyhow.
In the end, I would hope that folks who interact with young persons take the time to explain that this virus and its threats are not reasons to be rude or to maintain an irrational fear of strangers. Because, as argued herein, the social skills of many people have already taken significant setbacks over recent decades for possibly less valid paranoia of those bygone days.
In a world where common decency, friendliness, compassion, and tolerance towards others seems to be at a premium, maybe it's time to teach the young people how to be social again. As an example, I would suggest, that we don’t merely think the lack of these simple human qualities only appears in others. I would further suggest understanding how these issues appear in ourselves and try to inform our young people how we ourselves could be better towards others than we have been in the past. Because I also know that people tend to blame others for their own shortcomings (a subject for another blog, no doubt).
Instead of trying to close the minds of the youth with fear of strangers or fear of the virus or whatever – intentionally or otherwise, try to enlighten the minds of the youth to the benefits of better social skills, if nothing more. The society of the future and its workplaces will likely be grateful to anyone for doing so now.
Adam Trotter (COVID-19/Corona Virus type of April 2020.)