Modern teens are all thumbs

Today’s teenagers can’t use a hammer, writes Macleans, a Canadian magazine. And that could mean they can’t solve problems.

In Nisku, Alta., John Wright, the technical supervisor at manufacturing company Argus Machines, oversees 12 apprentices in the welding, machinist and millwright trades. Three years ago, he started noticing two tiers of applicants, those with basic mechanical skills and a new crop who, as he says, had no clue what they were doing.

Those who grew up on farms could figure out repairs — and show up on time.  The rest “couldn’t grasp basic nuts-and-bolts mechanics, they couldn’t solve simple problems.”

Occupational therapist Stacy Kramer, clinical director at Toronto’s Hand Skills for Children, says parents don’t put babies on the ground as much, so they do less crawling and don’t develop their hand control.

Then comes the litany of push-button toy gadgets, which don’t exercise the whole hand. That leads to difficulty developing skills that require a more intricate coordination between the hand and brain, like holding a pencil or using scissors, which kindergarten teachers complain more students can’t do. “We see 13-year-olds who can’t do up buttons or tie laces,” she says. “Parents just avoid it by buying Velcro and T-shirts.” Items that—not incidentally—chimpanzees could put on.

Hand development is linked to brain development, neurologists say.

So what happens if that all-important hand-brain conversation gets shortchanged at a young age?

“We don’t really know,” says neurologist Dr. Frank Wilson, author of The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. It’s always the parents’ fault, isn’t it?

    Let’s see… Our high school dropped shop about 10 years ago. I don’t think it’s an exception. Students who might be good at working with their hands never get the chance to find that out. Everyone should go to college, haven’t you heard? (sarcasm intended.)

    Next, many children spent most of their waking hours outside the home, from infancy on. Thus, they didn’t get the chance to fool around with stuff at home under their mothers’ guidance.

    Then, there’s this foolish idea that more academic pressure at younger ages will improve educational outcomes. Your three year old is a very short third grader. Out with preschool, in with worksheets! Of course academic skills are the only skills which matter in life! (sarcasm intended)

    Last, how many children are growing up on farms these days? How many factory workers are able to afford families? How many factories still exist? In our area, many factories have closed. Would you raise your child to work in factories which don’t exist?

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    The economic situation of the single mom–divorced or never married–is well-known if not always acknowledged.
    They are, I would guess, more likely to live in an apartment or a rental home than would a two-adult/some kids family.
    That means two things: No father to pass on the various simple skills addressed in the article, and little reason to need them. Homes require frequent if not constant maintenance. If you use, for example, a laundromat, you don’t need to figure out how to oil the bearing in the dryer. If you live in an apartment, you’d probably call the landlord to change a light switch–since doing so yourself might be against the lease. If you don’t have a lawn to keep up, along with the other landscaping, you don’t have a mower, a hedge trimmer, a…. That”s why farm kids do so well in the jobs mentioned in the article, along with having to get to work at the specified time. Dad and Mom got them accustomed to that pretty early.
    Yes, yes, I know it’s sexist to presume only fathers know this stuff. I denounce myself.

  3. Richard Aubrey, the two-income household may find it more effective to hire an expert. Don’t forget many kids are also enrolled in outside sports teams. The time dad might have spent on washer repair’s already committed to a travel team away game.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Cranberry saith:


    It’s always the parents’ fault, isn’t it?

    Perhaps not the parent’s fault, but surely it’s always the parents’ responsibility.

  5. It’s very hard to teach skills you yourself don’t possess. I know very successful adults who don’t know how to do the simplest things for themselves. (Home Ec hit the chopping block before Shop.)

    I would be in favor of schools resuscitating Home Economics and Shop class, as required classes for all students. Do you think that will happen?

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cranberry.
    Disagree. We had a two-income, two-kid, two-parent family and I did a considerable amount, in addition to community activities. Our kids were particularly active. You just take it out of sleep time.
    My son is more adventurous than I was, in a two-income, two-parent, onekidandoneontheway family. He does considerably more than i did, drywalling and ripping out walls to redo bedrooms and whatnot.
    He and his buddies and brothers-in-law frequently make the big jobs joint projects and learn from each other.
    We hire contractors for the big stuff. One exception today was that I had to do some caulking and could not make it look neat. Looked awful. The guy we have do the big stuff–doors and frames and such on the schedule–might know how to do it or have a tool.

    But, generally, disagree.

  7. My 8th grade son is an aide to the Industrial Tech teacher. The teacher gave my son a stand to build for some new equipment. He walked away figuring he’d see how far my son could get on his own. He was suprised when he came back and found the stand completely built and said very few kids in the school seem to even know how to use a screw driver these days.
    Note that my son has poor hand development, does not write well, but just loves computers and equipment in general and looks for any opportunity to work in the garage.

  8. Richard Aubrey,

    Are your grandchildren playing travel sports? Are they playing video games? How long do their parents commute to their jobs? Can their jobs be outsourced?

    The article’s all over the place in assigning blame. Is it a lack of floor time for infants? Who knows?

    In comparing my childhood to my children’s childhood, in the same state, I’d say that parents are around much less than they used to be. Now, maybe this can be traced back to the enormous amount of debt (mortgages, student loans) my generation’s taken on, particularly near large cities. I know many parents who are working far longer hours than their parents did. In their free time, they want to play with their children, or prepare their children for the college admission rat race, not perform home repairs.

    Look at the recent posts on this site about technology, though. No one in the education world is talking about hand-eye coordination now. It’s all cloud-distributed-collaborative gobbledygook, hand-waving promises about the Wonders of Tomorrow. I don’t know how it’s possible to assert a credible dedication to STEM skills while cutting Shop, but by golly, it’s being done.

  9. I don’t have a problem with either shop or home ec but I do have a problem with requiring either (or any other non-academic subject) without the possibility of and opt-out, because some kids already have those skills. I remember one kid who had an unbelievable workshop at home and who designed his class’s homecoming floats (including models of King Tut’s coffin, which opened and the mummy emerged, and the Captain Crunch ship, which shot popcorn into the crowd); he could have TAUGHT shop. All of my kids could iron, do minor clothing repairs and cook real, healthy, from-scratch meals. They sat in home ec learning how to make nachos and similar junk foods. Leaning lots of non-academic things is good, but I don’t feel that the school should necessarily be teaching them, let alone requiring them. BTW, that includes PE; school, rec and club sports should be acceptable substitutes. (but we’d need fewer PE teachers; horrors!)

    It’s one thing at MS level but really interferes with the most competitive academics at HS level. My older kids and their friends took 4 years of honors English (poss AP as seniors), 4 years honors math through AP calc BC, honors Spanish 3 , 4 and AP Spanish language and AP lit, honors government, US and world history, at least 2 years of APs social studies(econ, Euro, geography, US ,government) , honors lab sci, bio, chem and physics, two years of double-period AP sciences (chem and physics for mine). Of course, all were doing serious extracurriculars, with leadership.

  10. “I don’t know how it’s possible to assert a credible dedication to STEM skills while cutting Shop, but by golly, it’s being done”….I was talking to a highly-skilled machinist, an American who has spent a considerable amount of time in Germany. He remarked that in Germany, an engineer (I assume he’s talking about a *mechanical* engineer) would be expected to have machining skills; in the U.S., not so much.

  11. How about this:

    1. A low-income single-parent family might lack a father at home to model garage-type activities, not to mention a garage.

    2. A more prosperous two-parent family may well be white collar, and perhaps neither parent ever acquired these skills themselves, what with the white collar focus on college prep activities.

    My husband has gotten much more handy ever since we moved into a house with a garage. He and our six-year-old were recently taking apart a hard drive. Not sure what for.

  12. “They sat in home ec learning how to make nachos and similar junk foods.”

    Oh my goodness.

  13. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “Of course, all were doing serious extracurriculars, with leadership.”

    Is that like a quarter pounder, with cheese?

  14. My dad was a research pathologist. He could have afforded to hire a lot more home repairs done than he chose to, because he knew that we would benefit from some practical skills. Himself, he wasn’t too coordinated but he knew we needed to achieve a basic level of competence. And, he required us to learn an employment skill by the time we graduated from high school (not just babysitting and lawn cutting). We 4 will be forever grateful, including the MD, the LLB, and the 2 MA’s.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cranberry. My kids played AYSO from div 6 to div 3, five years. I coached. My wife was team mom as well as teaching. I had a job. We also worked simultaneously in AFS exchange student program which included housing the kids, raising funds, interschool events, lots of driving. Even when we weren’t hosting a kid ourselves, we might get a kid for a week or two if he had to change homes.
    A year or two after my kids got out of AYSO, they were playing JV and varsity sports. My wife and I were in the athletic boosters, the tennis, basketball, football, and soccer parents groups. My wife ran a fund-raising auction. We were both employed.
    My wife and I still laugh, me mostly, about the time she left for a meeting one night, got to the end of the street and couldn’t remember whether to turn left or right, since she had forgotten which meeting she was going to.
    Good enough? I have more.
    My granddaughter skyped us this evening. She’s playing soccer. Said our son is her coach. I hadn’t known that was the plan. Perhaps it was not, perhaps it just happened.
    My son is in financial advising and occasionally works with the fraternity where he went to college. Up really early one morning each week for Bible study.
    As I said, disagree.

  16. Bill Leonard says:

    Seems to me that the skills that get acquired depend in great measure on where and how one was raised, and on what values were emphasized in the home — but that scenario is rapidly being antiquated by technology, in many cases.

    I was born during WWII, a working class kid that grew up on the edge of town — I don’t think Des Moines qualifies as a “city” now, and it certainly didn’t in the ‘forties and early ‘fifties. That meant that I, and every kid I knew, grew up acquiring skills by working at things, helping a father or uncle or grandfather build or repair something, and so forth. My wife was raised in the orchard country that pre-dated Silicon Valley; her experience was similar.

    We raised our kids with as much similar experience as we could manage, knowing that there are a lot of useful life skills (how to cook, how to manage most standard home repairs, including common plumbing and electrical matters) that aren’t going to be taught in the college prep courses. And to the degree possible, our grandkids likely are going to be raised the same way.

    Then there’s technology, which can spoil the fun, cost money, and possibly negate the need for common skills.

    Example: My first car was a ’51 Chevy, and I could fix just about anything on it; I even had buddies who had access to chain hoists for engine swaps. Every junk yard had a part, including rebuilt and rehabilitated items. But try doing that now with your expensive Japanese, German or American car when the “fix” needs to be calibrated with expensive electronics. Hell, I even passed on replacing a water pump on our 90s-vintage Passat a few years back when it became clear that I was going to have to pull off an awful lot of equipment to replace the water pump, and that I didn’t have the expensive electronic stuff that would be necessary to recalibrate everything when it was all back together, let alone the skills to operate the equipent that only commercial garages can afford (we’re well past the time when you could get a lot accomplished with a simple timing light). So off we went to the expensive foreign car outfit.

    And so it goes…

  17. Richard Aubrey, I’m not stating that it can’t be done, rather that it isn’t being done. A significant number of families are choosing not to impart practical skills to their children. Either the parents don’t themselves possess practical skills, or they choose to spend their time doing other things. Schools have also chosen to deemphasize physical skills.

    For what it’s worth, this article does mesh nicely with the British study published in 2006, which found that British teens missing the mark when compared with earlier teens: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/article721863.ece.

    In their painstaking research project Adey and his colleague, psychology professor Michael Shayer, compared the results of today’s children with those of children who took exactly the same test in the mid-1990s and also 30 years ago. While most exams have changed (been made easier, if you listen to the critics) this one is the same as it was in 1976 when pupils first chewed their pencils over the problems
    (…)
    In 1976 a third of boys and a quarter of girls scored highly in the tests overall; by 2004, the figures had plummeted to just 6% of boys and 5% of girls. These children were on average two to three years behind those who were tested in the mid-1990s.

    “It is shocking,” says Adey. “The general cognitive foundation of 11 and 12-year-olds has taken a big dip. There has been a continuous decline in the last 30 years and it is carrying on now.”

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cranberry.
    Still disagree. The point is, imo, not that intact families cannot or will not teach practical skills. Keep in mind that the parents of kids today are my kids. My generation’s kids. We learned from our parents and taught our kids. Are you saying that our kids have either forgotten what we taught them, or have decided to do something else?
    Not according to the families I know and see.
    So there must be other families out there, someplace….
    My point is that single moms, due to lack of hubby around, and reduced economic circumstances, have less opportunity to teach this–what can you do in an apartment?–and fewer skills to pass on.
    This change parallels the increase in single-parent homes. Seems a more reasonable probability than that intact families have suddenly changed character.

    When I was a kid, visiting some other kid’s house, if dad was working on something, he’d show us. Spark plug wires (visible then) and how to check and reattach if the engine is running rough. Remove the blade from a power mower. Let us take a few strokes with a wood plane on some scrap wood. Must have been ten guys told us how to avoid M1 thumb. Although the M1 had been replaced when we were in, there were some of us hung out where the locals were still using it. Never know about these things.

    I will say, however, that I talked with a guy who coaches sixth-grade football. Sometimes they”ll get a kid who can literally not run fifty yards. Apparently, upon hitting eleven years old, his dad snatches him from the computer and decides it’s time to make him a jock. Not cool.