“Monkey see, monkey do.” This age-old phrase unfortunately describes the deteriorating state of modern thought processes. Today’s society, especially youth, is majorly influenced by media and popular culture. We tend to trust those who seem to be in authority, and with the rapid advance of technology, our critical thinking skills are steadily weakening.
As children, we begin to learn the things that will lay the foundation for our entire lives. We learn rules, regulations, manners and what things mean. The people around us and our experiences help to shape our entire perception of life. As children and teenagers, we are impressionable, and we accept what is told to us as unquestionable truth. The pre-frontal cortex, which helps in making judgments, is not fully developed in children and teens. This means that critical thinking skills aren’t fully developed, making children and teens an easy target for falsehoods and propaganda.
As we enter school, we are given the opportunity to broaden our minds and form our own beliefs and opinions. But our teachers are showing us this knowledge through their own eyes. In the hallways, the administration monitors our clothes to see if they are “inappropriate”, and if we should have to change or be sent home. Walking down the street, the flyers and posters and ads tell us how we should act, dress and what we should buy.
At home in front of the TV, we again see the mould we are expected to fit, and how with the swipe of a credit card, we could fit in it easily and comfortably. We sit down to dinner, and our parents discuss their opinions and views, shaping and hardening our own minds. In the bookshelf sits either the Bible or On the Origin of Species, the difference affecting our views drastically. After dinner, we do our homework, with a textbook whose source we never question, and with a worksheet whose font is just too bold and Times-New-Roman-y to dispute. Then, we go to sleep, all the information we’ve consumed that day absorbing into our brains and solidifying into a mould that will shape our entire lives.
It is the information age and daily we are flooded with images, videos and stories. If we have a question, we Google it, and the first page of results is stone-carved, gold-framed truth. The validity of some reality show star’s argument is measured on how much attitude he or she says it with, and how cool his or her clothes are. If something is funny or clever, we agree wholeheartedly, no matter how ridiculous it is. When our phones do our thinking for us, it is hard to use our brains, let alone use them critically.
We were born into a world where religion, roles and budding consumerism dominated. When the product of this materialistic equation came out, we were labelled the Me Generation, but if you ask me, we are focused on anything but ourselves. We are focused on fitting the criteria that the media, parents, teachers and celebrities tell us we should fit: smart, in a standardized school system; fit, in a fast-food, junk-loving market; pretty, in a world where pretty means self-hatred, unhealthy measures and even death. In the midst of this information-and-opinions flurry, set in a consumerist, aesthetics-obsessed society, we as a generation are thought to be doomed to selfish, unhappy lives on the conveyor belt. But what if we could find some way to switch off the machine?
How can we do this? By challenging what we know to be true. By inspiring radical new ideas. By raising awareness about issues that are swept under the three thousand dollar, hand-threaded, sweat-soaked rug. By no longer fearing controversy, but asking why it’s there. By giving young people the tools to create their own opinions, form their own beliefs, and tackle their own ambitions.
Most of all, the key to brightening the futures of today’s youth is free thinking. Free thinking, or free thought, is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Forming one’s own opinions about important subjects (such as religion or politics) instead of accepting what other people say.” Progress cannot happen if people don’t question things. Instead, the cycle will keep on, the major issues of the world taking backstage to the curtain of our consumerist, beauty- and popularity-obsessed society.
If we, as today’s youth, learn to open our minds and use them critically, we will have a future based on fact, and progress. In the past, society has evolved from mass brainwashing around things such as civil rights, social issues and religion. This growth has come from free thinking, by people opening their minds, educating themselves, and forming their own beliefs. By doing these things, by freeing our minds, we can create a better future.
LoRae Blackmore is entering Grade 12 at Prince Charles Secondary School. The Teen Take is a column co-ordinated by Creston’s Teen Action Committee.