Young People Are The Same Today As They Ever Were

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“The Entitlement Era” is an empty phrase used to attempt to describe what many older folks believe is a spoiled generation of younger kids. It’s dumb to use it that way. Kids have been kids since the dawn of time – and old coots have always dragged out pitiful arguments to explain just how bad kids are “nowadays.” It’s a corollary to the old adage that things were better “back when.” It’s not true now, and it wasn’t true back in the good old days, either. Even the Bible admonishes folks to not look back on the old days as better. Last I checked, Ecclesiastes and other references were written a long time ago, much before these young kids these days started acting like spoiled brats and staring at their cellphones.

For generations, it has been a “known fact” that the younger generation feels entitled and that they should have grown up the way the older generation did. People were better, they respected their elders more and discipline made them better than the current crop of young’uns. What a load of hogwash. We were just as irritating and unresponsive to authority and responsibility as the current generation. We were lucky it wasn’t okay to kill us sometimes – because you know as well as I do that sometimes we stretched every limit we could imagine. We thought we were smart.

As an old coot, I feel qualified to say these things because, well, I’m an old coot with a more realistic understanding of how history teaches us that people have always thought the younger generation was less respectful, less hard-working, less everything. It’s the same wrong-headed and conventional wisdom that tells us that people aren’t as smart as they once were. That idea, too, is wrong and gets more wrong each generation. But it plays well for people who want to romanticize the past.

As for the discipline, good parents know how to administer expectations and change the behavior of their children. It wasn’t just because grandma knew how to get a switch and tan your hide, or that dad would get out his belt and physically whip the daylights out of you. Those people also loved us and wanted the best for us in every way we can imagine. (Although many of us had parents so committed to discipline that they almost killed us a few times.) Falsely honoring the tendency to get out the switch often belies the presence of other more important factors at work. Good parents don’t cross the line and good kids often misbehave. You can do everything perfectly as a parent and still have troublesome children.

Discipline takes place in the hearts and minds of parents: by example, by loving and unavoidable and constant insistence that children listen and be considerate, and by dishing out reasonable consequences for misbehavior. There wasn’t a magic fix to mischievous children when we were young and there still isn’t. I learned respect in the only way that matters: by being reciprocal toward everyone who treats me as worthy of consideration.

This ongoing harsh attitude toward an entire generation of youth only serves to further a cliché which has no basis in reality. Kids today aren’t less motivated, less intelligent or more spoiled than they ever have been. No, I’m sorry. It is us who are filtering our world to perpetuate a tired myth of insolence. The Talmud says, “We do not see things as they as we, we seem them as we are.” If you’re looking at young people with a jaundiced eye, you will indeed find a lot of yellow in the world.

As we get older, we can’t help but look back fondly and with memory-crossed eyes, forgetting that we often did and said things that would have made any grandmother blush or make our parents want to whip us until we started screaming in a foreign language. All of us. Whether it was drinking, smoking, not wanting to do chores, not wanting to study or get up early on Saturday to mow the lawn, cursing, or back-talking, our generation also mumbled under our breaths at our parents – or spoke in anger when our parents weren’t around.

There is no “Entitlement Era.” Kids are the same today as they’ve always been. We were once the younger generation, warts and all. Most of us were good kids, some of us weren’t. That’s true. But generalizing and forgetting that there is no real line between kids today and ‘back when’ does a disservice to every young person trying to do be a good person, work hard, and live well. You can focus on the misbehaving kids of today as much as you want. I think, though, that your focus is at fault rather than the young generation.

Just as you listen to the music of today and think it sounds like a cat being skinned, your tendency to glamorize the past generations and compare them to today’s kids is a reflection of you getting old, not that kids are worse than they’ve ever been. There’s no “them” and “us.” It’s all “us,” both old generation and new.
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