“[Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances…They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”
This fourth century quote from Aristotle fits into a consistent pattern of criticising youth that dates back to at least 624 BCE according to a recently published study by John Protzko and Jonathan W. Schooler in Science Advances magazine. The study aimed to explore the propensity of older generations to criticise characteristics of the younger generation. The researchers entitled this the “Kids These Days Effect”.
They explained: “The pervasiveness of complaints about “kids these days” across millennia suggests that these criticisms are neither accurate nor due to the idiosyncrasies of a particular culture or time—but rather represent a pervasive illusion of humanity.”
The article explored the results of five related studies in which they measured the responses of 1824 Americans. Their findings suggest that the criticisms of youth seem to have more to do with the adult criticising them than the object of the complaint.
Protzko and Schooler found that adults were generally critical of youths’ respect levels and perceived enjoyment of reading. They found that this effect was significantly enhanced when the adult held that characteristic themselves. For instance, they found that when adults who measured high in their level of deference for authority were asked about youths’ respect levels, they scored them even lower than adults who scored lower on the deference measures. Similarly, adults who tested as strong readers scored youth lower for enjoying reading than those who were not as strong.
Of interest was the fact that despite the researchers suggesting that there is empirical evidence to suggest that young Americans today score significantly higher on intelligence tests than those in previous generations, the respondents believed that “kids these days” were less intelligent than their forebears. This effect was also more pronounced when correlated with respondents who scored highly on an intelligence test.
While the study encourages our awareness of the inherent biases or “illusions” that form the basis of much criticism of today’s youth, it does not undermine the value in trying to appreciate the generational differences in communication, values and priorities that can vary from generation to generation. There is little doubt that technological advances, parenting styles, educational approaches and social and political climates all have effects on the general characteristics of a particular generation.
What is clear from the study is that different is not always worse and as we appreciate the nuances of today’s youth we should be wary of the nostalgia that tends to romanticise our own memories of the past.
Having had the great joy of working closely with today’s students my take is that we have much to admire in the current generation. Their common generational traits of being smart, assertive, politically aware and open minded will likely help them to navigate the challenges that they will face and allow them to enjoy the opportunities that they will earn.
In contrast to the often critical older generations throughout history let us be the ones to acknowledge that the kids are alright!