Over the last few years, because I was a veteran teacher, I’ve been asked many times if kids or youth of today are different compared to those when I started teaching. That is a really interesting question; a question I have pondered for a while. There is no doubt that there are differences in the youth of today compared to say 35 years ago when I began my teaching career, or even 15 years ago for that matter. But does that mean young people are different from the youth of previous generations? That question always brings me back to a couple of quotes I first read in a book many years ago.
“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”.
So have “kids” changed? Are the youth of today different? I don’t believe the youth of today are any different from the youth of previous generations. Children have always been mischievous. Young people have always been self-centred. Kids have always rebelled against authority when they could. There has always been a generation gap. All one has to do is remember the beatniks and hippies of the 1960s and 1970s The two quotes above also illustrate this. Does the first quote sound like something an older person of today might say? You bet it does! The surprising thing is it is actually a quote from a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in C. E. (A.D.) 1274. That was said 741 years ago. The second quote is reported as being said by Hesiod, a Greek poet in 8th century BCE (BC). He is generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC. so that means he said this well over two thousand years ago. I don’t know about you, but it sounds like youth have not changed in thousands of years.
So why does the youth of today seem so different compared to previous generations? I believe there are two key reasons for this.
The first reason is due to the fact that today’s culture is very different from previous generations, and the biggest difference is technology. The generations of today have all sorts of technologies that were not prevalent 20 years ago. Today we have cell phones, computers, calculators, and the World Wide Web, otherwise known as the internet. When I was in school in the 1970s, there weren’t even calculators. We had to use slide rules when attending high school math classes. For you youngsters reading this, that was a ruler-like contraption that was used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry. Addition or subtraction had to be done using pencil and paper. In my experience, computers did not really start appearing in my world until the 1980s when the Commodore 64 came out in 1982. I never had one, but I was envious of those individuals who had one. The internet became available to the world in 1991. So the youth of yesterday did not have access to the vast amount of knowledge the internet provides. For the most part, people still had to rely on libraries to get information. Today, the culture is very different. Young people have come to expect things instantly. They expect instant calculations using calculators. Kids expect to find the answers to their questions within seconds and not to look in books to find them. This is why the youth of today are not as patient.
The second reason has to do with parenting. Today there are so many parents who “smother” their children. They are always hovering and waiting to swoop in and rescue their child whenever their child whimpers. We in the teaching world call these parents “helicopter parents.” The kids of today for the most part are not allowed to “fall flat”. They are not allowed to learn from their failures because their parents are always rescuing them. This is why we are raising a generation that may not know how to handle failure. Young people need to fail from time to time so that they learn how to be stronger; so that they learn from their mistakes.
Not only that, sometimes kids need to be taught values like respect through discipline. They need to be taught that some behaviours are undesirable. When I went to school, my parents always reminded me and my siblings that if we got in trouble at school, we would be in trouble at home. And they meant it. In my experience, this doesn’t happen much any more. They typically blame others for their child’s behaviour. So many parents of today do not “parent” their children. They give children whatever they want. This creates a generation of entitlement. The youth of today expect all things immediately, such as a new car or a new house. Previous generations just accepted this would take time to get and would have to work for it.
So, are young people different today compared to the youth of generations past? The short answer is NO! It is the parenting that is different and the culture that is different. Kids learn these behaviours and develop traits like impatience from the older generations. This is why children behave differently. So don’t blame the children, blame the parents; blame the culture; blame the adults.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of great parents out there who don’t always give in to their children and who believe in strong discipline and not of the corporal kind either. It’s just that they are in the minority. Parents need to be parents. There are lots of great things about our culture and its technologies. We just need to learn as a society how to use the technology appropriately and respectfully.