One of my young patients, who was just 10 years old, was struggling with low self-esteem and school frustration that led to depression and anxiety symptoms. When I asked him what he thought led him to feel this way, he said one thing (among many others) was being told he had a “pencil-holding deficiency.” This caused him to have messy printing and trouble with written output. Written output is important, but as a doctor with “chicken-scratch writing,” to me this seems a big burden for a young child to carry.
I asked my research assistant Sajan, a 21-year-old student at the University of British Columbia, how often he wrote with a pencil or pen. In my two years of working with him, I’d never seen him hold a pencil or pen, as he took all his notes directly into his cell phone or computer. He said, “About once every 12 days—I do everything electronically.” Shocked, I explained why I had asked the question, to which he replied, “Your patient needs to type. Kids these days are growing up in a completely different culture. I’m only 21 and I’m already outdated.”
Culture is an extremely broad term that can apply to everything from aspects of ethnicity and language to age group and activities one is engaged in. Cultural identity is evolving, dynamic and an undeniable part of every human being. A child’s “culture” of being a video gamer may feel stronger to a child than the culture of being of a particular ancestry.
Professionals would be well equipped to apply a cultural lens with all youth they work with. But this lens may not be what you think. It’s not adapted for one specific cultural group. The 21st century is marked not only by break-neck-speed technology, but by global connectedness and the fall of authoritarianism. As we’ve seen with the fall of authoritarian political regimes in the Arab spring or in the “flattening” out of corporations, the 21st century is marked by a cultural shift from “top down” authoritarianism to a more “flat” collaborative approach.
Just like educators are embracing the collaborative classroom where teachers and students have shared responsibility, helping professionals must also move from an outdated approach of lecturing, directing, and instructing, to a 21st-century position of motivating and co-operative partnership. This is the world our patients are growing up in and expect to experience when they walk through our doors.