In the classic musical Bye Bye Birdie that opened on Broadway in 1960, there is a song where the characters lament about kids and how they have deteriorated since the adults singing the song were kids:
Kids, I don't know what's wrong with these kids today Kids, who can understand anything they say? Kids, they are disobedient, disrespectful oafs Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy, loafers And while we're on the subject
Kids, you can talk and talk till your face is blue Kids, but they still do just what they want to do Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way? What's the matter with kids today?
I have heard those lyrics play in my head when listening to people complain about “kids today” over the past 23 years as I have worked as a teacher and administrator in 6 different public schools. I always laugh to myself about this phenomenon. Our memories of what we wouldn’t have dared to do as children sometimes get skewed as we age. The reality is, I was a child of the 1970s and I wasn’t exposed to cable TV, cell phones or the internet. Pornography couldn’t be accidentally accessed on a website since there were no websites and there was no 24 hour news cycle so the media didn’t share every negative story because they had limited time too.
Kids today don’t have the luxuries I cited from 1970. If something happens across the world an alert notifies me using technology within minutes. People have phones that photograph and video at their fingertips which allows us all to witness first -hand the shocking (and the wonderful) events that go on in the world. For every video of a soldier surprising his family with an early return or a baby having fun with a puppy there are hundreds of videos of people behaving badly in the grocery store, the shopping mall, the hospital and even in the school. It doesn’t mean there are more of those circumstances than there were before cell phone footage, it just means it is easier to record them and share them with the world. Humans are visual people, and we don’t have the ability to “un-see” what we have seen, and when we see bad news, it impacts us. It makes us worry that the whole world is upside down and everything is deteriorating because of the clip of what we see in one moment in time. We humans like to generalize, so we jump to the conclusion that the one “bad moment” is indicative of all moments. That’s simply not the case. Some bad moments are less than 10 seconds long. Check for yourself the next time you see a clip of someone behaving badly. It’s usually seconds, not minutes and certainly not hours.
Kids today have all the same problems kids in the 1960s with one exception. The world has more challenges now. Kids see more videos and photos of violence, hostility and aggression than they did in the 1960s, and it is harder to shield our children from it. In the 1970s, the verbiage on TV shows was very mild. Now, network TV permits scripted characters to say almost anything regardless of how vulgar or inflammatory the topic is. Should we blame our kids for that? Are we surprised they want to speak like that too?
Children and adolescents have the same problems kids have always had. They are trying to find their place in the world as they “come of age” and with that process there is problem solving. Sometimes they make mistakes, just like the kids in the 1960s did. Not nearly as many mistakes were caught on camera back then, but they happened, just the same. I cannot count the number of times people my age and older have expressed their gratitude that social media wasn’t available to highlight the “dumb things” they did as kids.
Kids today are not perfect and neither were we. However, we must be careful not to write off one example of poor behavior to indict an entire generation of kids as much further from “perfect” as we were because the reality is kids today aren’t perfect and never have been. No parent has every walked into my office and said “parenting is a piece of cake.” I have been a parent for 22 years and my 3 children have different challenges and talents, and parenting never gets easier. Most parents in our country are working to juggle career and family and battling to muster enough energy to meet the incredible demands that we place on them.
Here are generalizations that we can make. Kids today are doing the best they can and so are their families. Parents are pulled to do more with fewer resources, and often when they ask for help, they cannot get adequate support to help them overcome the obstacles they face.
I work in a school and am the privileged witness to wonderful things kids do every single day. They are real people who accomplish many feats that I could only of imagined were possible in the 1970s. We must remember that what we do to children, they do to society. Children mimic our behavior and as a society some of the things we model are really poor examples. There is never a stronger reminder than when we see a child imitate behavior we as a society shouldn’t have taught him. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. In general, our society is full of many terrific people who believe in lending a hand without reciprocation. Most people do the right thing even when no one is looking and most people are inherently good.