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.