“Kids today, they have no respect. Stupid snowflake millennials need a safe space to keep from getting their feelings hurt. When I grew up, my parents beat the crap out of me and look how good I turned out.” There’s no shortage of people complaining about younger generations. So what’s wrong with kids today?
Nothing. And I’ll prove that we’re better at raising children than our parents or grandparents were.
First, every single generation, since we had words has complained about young people. There is reportedly a stone inscription from an Akkadian king in 2800 BC complaining about how kids don’t respect their parents anymore, and the world is going to hell from it. Socrates wrote about how kids were lazy and disrespectful. There are writings from every important era complaining about kids.
Human history is chock full of cane-waving grumps yelling, “get off my lawn.” And yet, we’ve survived as a species. The world hasn’t ended yet. Civilization continues.
For my part, I have spent time with my kids and their peers and found them to be delightful. Sure there is occasional behavior that raises an eyebrow. I, however, remember some of the sociopaths who attended school with me. I remember, for example, somebody putting razor blades inside another kid’s jacket sleeves – sending him to the hospital.
We were not well-adjusted.
I believe that most people who think that kids today either have a serious fondness for authoritarian parenting or are blinded by a sense of nostalgia.
“When I was a kid we weren’t so stupid that we needed all these warning labels.” No, the warning labels are there because we were that stupid, and our parents were litigious.
What about millennials?
Millennial bashing has become a favorite pastime of the American people. Everyone knows that millennials are lazy and entitled, right? Dead wrong.
It turns out that millennials are very likely to be workaholics who never take vacations. We might also remember that the young adults of today grew up during a terrible recession, took on a ton of student debt to go to college, and inherited the fallout of a trashed financial system.
You think kids today have it easier than we did? I grew up in a single-income, blue collar family, and we owned a home and two cars. Just try that today.
The State of the World Today
If every generation’s children were more terrible than the last, we would expect things involving humans to be getting worse. They aren’t.
While access to 24-hour news has made many people believe that the world has become a more dangerous place, it isn’t. There’s a cognitive bias called the availability heuristic that says that the more memorable something is, the more likely we are to estimate it’s occurrence being higher. We see plane crashes and murders on TV, and we think they happen more frequently than they do.
In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, author Stephen Pinker makes the case that we are living in the least violent era in human history. In the U.S., violent crime has decreased steadily nearly year after year for over a decade. How could this be if the kids we are raising are nothing but a bunch of careless criminals?
But what about those terrible teenagers?
Looking to the U.S. again, we see the teen pregnancy rate at a historic low. The rate of teen violence is historically low. The rate of teen drug use and addiction is also on a steady decline. These terrible kids are getting into less trouble every year.
This Misplaced Focus on Respect
I believe that there is a healthy level of respect that kids should show to their parents, their teachers, their friends, people in general. As human beings, we rely on social contacts to survive and thrive. But I don’t think teaching kids to show absolute deference to adults is healthy either.
Instead, I believe we should focus on healthy socialization. Teach children empathy and healthy social boundaries. We should also encourage children to advocate for themselves, to speak up when things aren’t right. This may include behavior our parents considered “talking back.”
Shouldn’t we be raising leaders who can think for themselves rather than followers who blindly bend to authority? Shouldn’t we raise kids who don’t keep quiet when adults put them in danger?
I find that a lot of people with an unhealthy focus on getting deferential respect from children to be driven by ego. Kindness and empathy are far more important qualities to engender rather than respect. But they take time and effort. Sure it’s easy to threaten or scare children into showing what some people call connection – but positive parenting isn’t always easy.
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