By: Tim Bean, Editor-in-Chief
No phrase on Earth irritates me more than “Kids these days…”
Kids These Days are just fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, no generational shortcomings that threaten to topple the United States. The world has changed since you were a kid, since I was a kid, and certainly since the aged soothsayers were kids. Kids adapt. That’s their strength and something they do better than anyone. They handle change with the aplomb of Fred Astaire. The rest of us, more like Fred Flintstone.
Before I continue, let me offer my qualifications for making this call. I taught high school English for nine years, worked as a college writing tutor for two, a GED instructor for three and was a department head for two. I’ve had well over a thousand students, ranging from the rural rich to troubled juveniles (two years teaching at a juvenile detention center). I’ve never been fired, always had fantastic performance reviews and had a principal with forty years in the profession tell me I was one of the five best teachers they ever met. I’m not bragging. I’m too old for that. I’m just laying out my credentials and experience.
Every generation has put the problems of the future solely on the backs of the young. It’s axiomatic. In essence it’s washing their hands of blame and stewardship. They lament the state of the world and believe it’s all going to Hell because kids talk, act or speak differently. Example: the most frequent complaint I hear now is that Kids These Days spend too much time on their phones, especially at family get-togethers. You mean the family party no one really wants to go to anyway? If adults could get away with ducking their heads into phones during those gatherings, they’d do it too.
Phones, social media, tablets…it’s just the current technology of choice for communication. I’m sure when telephones came about, people thought Kids These Days would amount to nothing because they spent all their time jabbering on it. In fact, you could shoot over to Mental Floss and read a insightful piece that details complaints adults had about Kids These Days dating back hundreds of years. Either civilization has crumbled in the last couple hundred years or, gulp, the prognosticators were wrong.
Kids These Days deal with much more than we give them credit for. Once you hit your 20s, most of your identity is solidified, for good or ill. The friends you don’t like are usually gone, and the friends you do like are still around. Most of us have a career, a direction or something to keep us focused. Some people don’t, but that’s nothing new. Kids These Days have none of this. The ones that do are exceptions, not the rule. Most kids are nervous bundles of hormones, neediness and constant anxiety. That’s normal. They need kindness, reinforcement and patience, just as I did, and just as you did. If you think you didn’t, then I call you a liar, liar, pants on fire.
As far as the other issues related to Kids These Days, let me hit those in sequence, rather than devote a paragraph to each.
Kids These Days don’t know cursive!
It’s a lovely, but grossly-antiquated method of writing. There’s almost no reason to teach it anymore except tradition. Reading old documents is not a good enough excuse to spend years of classroom instruction. If you want kids to learn it, stop pressing those state standards on them.
Kids These Days don’t read books!
You probably don’t either. Adults that attest to reading books average about four to ten books a year. Those that call themselves avid readers, maybe twice as much. I can count on one hand how many adults I know that can volley discussion on any Shakespeare play. For most adults, Harry Potter has become the benchmark. A great book, of course, but hardly a challenging read.
Kids These Days don’t respect adults!
Kids have rarely ever respected adults. Ever. Kids just pretend they do. If you want a kid to respect you, stop telling them what to think. Instead, ask what they think. It works wonders. You’d be surprised at how insightful they are. And I don’t fault a kid who disrespects an adult who has disrespected them. That’s self-esteem and worth its weight in gold. Is it healthy to tell a kid to keep their mouth shut if an adult berates them?
Kids These Days listen to horrible music, wear horrible clothes, watch horrible movies!
I shouldn’t even answer this, Mister or Misses Fabian-Bee Gees-Hypercolor-Poodle Skirt-Leisure Suit-Jaws II-Leif Garrett. The wake of pop culture is always ugly.
Kids These Days don’t know history!
There’s three reasons for that. First, I know a lot of teachers that can’t tell a story, and that’s pedagogical cyanide, especially for history. Second, I bet if I went back in time and asked the seventeen-year-old version of that guy the dates of the Civil War, he’d be off the mark. Third, most adults don’t know it either.
Kids These Days spend all their time on computers!
Have you looked at the American economy and forecasted skill demands? Every second your kid is fiddling around with a computer, you should be grateful, because that will be their livelihood. Analog skills in America are almost dead for the educated. The world has changed. Not for the better or worse, just changed. Computers are more than the new trend. They are the future. People have been saying that for decades, but only in the last ten years are we witnessing the practical birth of that prophecy. Computers, love ’em or hate ’em, aren’t going anywhere. Roll with the punches.
Kids These Days don’t (FILL IN THE BLANK)!
Guess what? Neither did you.
What amazes me most is how quickly so many adults forget what it’s like to be young. It’s a lack of empathy so strong it’s almost pathological. It might really be honest forgetfulness, but I don’t think so. Trying working fifty or sixty hours a week at a manufacturing plant stamping tiny engine parts over and over.
Do that for a decade and remember exactly what it felt like to kiss a girl (or boy) for the first time, to streak along an Indiana backroad at ninety miles an hour, to belt out a cry of delight when a snowstorm cancels school, to stay up all night playing poker for Halloween candy. To fear the jingle of change in your father’s pocket as he came upstairs to yell at you for the bad report card (they’re not all good memories, right?). To remember and reconcile that joy with the mindless tedium of labor makes me shudder. No wonder they forget, and that kind of forgetfulness should be pitied. I can only hope that Kids These Days remember that when their turn comes.
Because it will.