Teens and Technology

I was in front of a group of about 50 high school freshmen that had moved from the bandroom to the auditorium stage to take a picture of the group to be used in a school program. Without a visible clock, and not knowing how much time ’til the bell, I asked,

“Can someone tell me what time it is?” The first response was, “May I look at my illegal electronic device?”

Out of the 50 students, guess how many of them were wearing a wristwatch. ZERO! In fact, they took it as one of those things that dates my generation that I would even ask.


This is an updated, modified article I wrote for a fundraising blog three years ago about using fundraising prizes with high schoolers. I’ve tried to update some of the technology that has changed even from the original post. Feel free to correct, update or inform me in your comments…..


I was taken aback the first time a student made a Facebook comment asking the question “Why do they still teach us cursive when we don’t use it in high school?” Many school corporations HAVE dropped cursive in elementary school. That question includes a less than completely correct assessment of writing in high school, but he has a point. Even those very few students who don’t have access to a computer at home DO have access at school. With the library, multiple computer labs, at LEAST one computer in every classroom, and a 1-1 iPad for every student, there are few times that students are in a position to have to write with pen and paper. Unless they are writing a paper during 4th period that is due 5th, most will opt to use a computer because they can edit better. But even then, many can PRINT better than they can WRITE in cursive.

Just before Christmas break, I gave each student in concert band a Christmas card with a short, personalized, cursive note. One student brought his to me and asked me what I wrote…. I do have sloppy handwriting, but his comment was,

“I don’t read cursive.”

Today’s teens have never seen a phone with a rotary dial or a TV with a rabbit ear antennae on it. They’ve never played an LP record. I was using an LP in a class and some students helping set things up asked me, in all seriousness,

“Do you put the needle on the inside or the outside?” 

Teens are staying steps ahead of most adults. While adults were getting comfortable with email, teens were texting and messaging on Facebook. When parents started getting on Facebook, teens moved more to Twitter, Tumbler and Snapchat. Teens will communicate with adults (at least they still humor me into thinking so), but they don’t want parents and teachers watching their communications. So whenever parents latch on to a technology, teens move on to a new one.

They can multi-task much better than parents, listening to music via earbuds while texting (even one-handed on a cell phone still in their pocket), tweeting and chatting — all while the teacher thinks they are researching for that book report and listening to associated YouTube videos.

They do all their research for school online rather than in the library and have never typed on even an electric typewriter, learning “keyboarding” rather than “typing” skills.  They don’t surf the “world wide web” — they are “on” the Internet. They don’t own a stereo sound system as most of their music is on MP3 players, iPods, iPads, and/or smartphones.

The progression continues from desktop to notebook/laptop, to tablet/iPad and smartphone. They don’t use film cameras, but instead, take “selfies” and videos with their smartphones. They’ve probably not even heard of Beta and have probably never used VHS and Cassettes. CD’s, DVD’s and Blue Ray is giving way to streaming.

In a wired (or wireless) classroom with computers, they are looking up links and keying in their journal assignments while the teacher is showing a Powerpoint video or giving information or lecture. One teacher who has such a classroom told me,

“I have to get used to the idea that not having their eyes when I talk to them is not a sign of disrespect, but rather a result of their multi-tasking capabilities and functionality.”

In the context of things we seasoned veterans ASSUME, let me suggest a few things to consider in the area of prizes for kids.

Outdated Prizes

NOTE: One of my pet peeves in fundraising are some of the ridiculous prize programs. Vendors find incredibly cheap (price and quality) trinkets from China and create colorful brochures to entice students to sell.  They continue to have outdated prizes and this article was written for THAT industry about fundraising prizes. Some of my examples:

WRIST WATCH: Read the beginning of this article. And yet, nearly every prize program out there includes wrist watches. Maaaaybe in elementary school, but dismissive at the high school level and maybe even for middle schoolers.

stop-watchSTOPWATCH: I recall telling students that the stopwatch was always one of the most selected items in the level. NOTE: Cell phones now include a stopwatch.

CAMERA. Again, cell phones have both a camera and video capability.

MP3 PLAYERs. Cell phone again.


BOOM BOX. Once gigantic. Now the response would be, “Boom What?”

CD’s / CD PLAYERs / CD HOLDERs. Have you been to a store that sells CD’s? They don’t exist much any more. Where Wal-Mart used to have rows of them in categories, the local store now has one small section with all CDs lumped together. WHY? Because teens are downloading the songs they want for $1. Only us old folk are still buying CDs.

When I have offered to make practice CD’s of music the band is working on or of solo accompaniments, students ask if I can make MP3’s or put on their flash drive so they can transfer to iPad or cell phone. Many of them don’t even have a way to play a CD anymore, unless it is through a desktop computer at home.

Coke phoneCORDED PHONES. I used to use novelty phones as a prize; coke can and coke cup phones, piano phones and more. They used to be popular as a way for students to get a phone in his/her room. Today they will laugh, even at the novelty phones.

ANYTHING VHS OR CASSETTE. I have an embarrassing collection of dual cassette AM/FM radio boom boxes that I can’t even give away. If an upper end video recorder requires a cassette version of a tape – FORGET IT! Any recording device worth having now uses either hard drive or SD card for storage, or it can stream or download from the Internet.

PDA6PDA. To teenagers, PDA is in their school’s student handbook as “Public Display of Affection” — and it also stands for the “Parental Drug Association”. In other words, PDA is not a good acronym to use in a school setting. Those Palm Pilots were (and still are for old people) referred to as “Personal Digital Assistants“, the proper new form of a PDA is now more commonly referred to as a “SmartPhone”.

Most phones now include all the capabilities that were in PDA’s, cameras, video cameras and MP3 players.

The $200 iPod I purchased my wife three years ago now sells for $24.95 on Amazon/eBay sites.

Current Prizes for High School Student Motivation

CASH. Still the best. Be creative with it. Play games with it. When I’m introducing a cash prize program,

“Have you ever been in a fundraiser with one of those prize programs that offer you rings that turn your finger green….. or stopwatches that work for 2 days before they break, or posters that your parents might like, but not you??? “

Then….as I pull a string of dollar bills out of my pocket…..

“This is what I use. Most stores will accept it. So, instead of offering you junk that you don’t want or doesn’t work, I’ll just give you some of THIS stuff and you can take it to the store and trade it in for what you really want.

GIFT CARDS. The best would be an iTunes card as that is where most teens are going to download their music…..but a card to Walmart, Amazon or any other place that INCLUDES the ability to download music would be a hit. This could also include pre-paid phone cards that could allow someone to add minutes to their pre-paid phone.


SUBSCRIPTIONS to anything that helps their networking, interconnected, wired and communication rich lives.


Thanks for reading,

VMO Business Card








17 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them. Also 4yrs as proprietor of VirtualMusicOffice.com, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

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One comment on “Teens and Technology
  1. Our new Pathfinder has a tape deck in it. Sweet!

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