It’s late August, so for this intrepid academic, this means I’ll be starting another semester. I’ll have 80 new 20-or-so-year-olds in my classes, and I look forward to meeting them.
Many of my colleagues around the country are not so optimistic, as they decry how “college kids today don’t know how to write, are disrespectful, have no social graces, are totally self-absorbed, are prone to cheating, are just in it for the grade, are stunted by their devotion to trends and technology, are binge drinkers, are shallow, etc., etc., etc.”
You may agree that the average 20-year-old is fairly immature. At this age, young adults are self-confident mostly because they don’t know what they don’t know.
As I constantly remind my colleagues – same as it ever was.
Freshmen Transitioning to College
A few years ago, my college held a session for professors who teach freshmen so we could better understand the transition-to-college issues they face. One speaker got to the podium and started ranting about how college kids today are shallow, they love vapid shows like “The Hills” and look up to the Paris Hiltons of the world as role models.
The room was full of heads nodding in recognition of how immature “today’s” college students are.
I had to intervene. I stood up and said:
I think we “adults” forget that we were dumb when we were 20, too.
Lord knows I slept through early classes, handed in assignments late, spent far too many nights drinking in the frat house, and even decided not to pursue study abroad at Oxford because I didn’t want to miss the college social scene!
And I was an “A” student at Cornell who generally had his head on straight, loved learning, loved reading, and loved college and all that came with it. I was stupid and short-sighted and cocky and fairly disrespectful, but it was because I was young. And you don’t like to admit it, but you were young and stupid too. Give these kids a break.
What’s the Matter With Kids Today?
Every generation does this to the one that comes after them. My grandparents HATED the influence of Elvis on their kids. My parents HATED the influence of Madonna and MTV on me.
Same as it ever was.
From ancient times:
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” Socrates ~420BC
From the 1950’s:
“Kids” by Strouse & Adams, from the musical “Bye Bye Birdie!”
Kids! I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Kids! Who can understand anything they say?
Kids! They’re disobedient, disrespectful oafs! Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!
Kids! You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
Kids! But they still just do what they want to do!
Why can’t they be like we were? Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
Kids! I’ve tried to raise him the best I could
Kids! Kids! Laughing, singing, dancing, grinning, morons!
Kids! They are just impossible to control!
Kids! With their awful clothes and their rock an’ roll!
Why can’t they dance like we did? What’s wrong with Sammy Caine?
What’s the matter with kids today!
Schooling Ourselves… At Any Age
Our tendency to put down the younger generation? Here’s another example that is more recent.
This is from Joel Stein’s Time Magazine cover story on May 20, 2013.
“I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics! Unlike my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, I have proof.
Here’s the cold, hard data: The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health.”
A Good Reason for Bad Judgment?
Research now shows that the frontal lobe of the brain, the part that handles sound judgment, delay of gratification, understanding of consequences and other things that go with maturity, isn’t fully developed until about age 25. So, being dumb and impulsive and Narcissistic is all part of being a young adult.
But the fact is, it is NOT the darned kids today who are Narcissists. It’s us old fogies. By putting down today’s kids while downplaying or dismissing our own youthful indiscretions, it’s us old folks who are being short-sighted, self-centered, and rude.
Kids today aren’t any worse than kids of past generations. In some ways I think they’re better, but that’s a thought for another day.
Maybe Billy Joel said it best: “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.”
And on this optimistic note, I greet my latest cadre of youthful idiots!
© Scott Behson
Scott Behson, PhD, is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad, and an overall grateful guy. He runs Fathers, Work, and Family.com, a blog dedicated to helping fathers better balance work and family, and encouraging more supportive workplaces. He also writes on work and family issues for The Good Men Project, an online men’s magazine, and most recently at the Harvard Business Review blog. He lives in Nyack, NY with his lovely wife, Amy, and awesome son, Nick. Contact him on Twitter (@ScottBehson), Facebook, LinkedIn or email.