Even Plato complained about teenagers...........

Johnny - posted on 04/20/2011 ( 7 moms have responded )

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Do you think young people today act more or less responsibly than in years past?

If you answer less, you've got a lot of company. Although you'd be wrong on several counts.

In a recent column on CNN.com, it was noted that teenagers are not taking as many health risks as they used to, according to a large national study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They're smoking less and drinking less, fighting and using firearms less frequently, getting pregnant and giving birth less often. I noted that this is true even as the teenage population has grown in size and diversity.

To say that many readers didn't buy it would be an understatement. Many were downright hostile to the notion that young people might actually be faring better than previous generations, including one who said teens are, in fact, "in a worse state than ever."

"Teenagers have a 'lower IQ,' " this reader said, and "the number involved in violence and gang activity is rising ..."

Another commenter said teens are "completely incapable of thinking for themselves"; "don't give a crap about anything but themselves"; and have "an appalling lack of any sense of remorse for wrongdoing."

Another opined: "Kids today are ... becoming the most narcissistic, self-centered yet. They're obsessed with Facebook and looking at pictures of themselves ... they don't study nearly as much as Asian kids ..."

"They all got the tattoos!" yet another said. "And the girls with the tramp stamps and cleavage tats. Who wants to hire them?"

As the comments rolled in, the focus shifted to people in their 20s who, the critics said, are unmotivated and unable to make decisions without the help of mom and dad. "It's not the current kids, it's the generation before them," wrote one person. "Far too many are selfish, rude, totally self-absorbed and lazy."

Of course, young people's performance is not improving on all measures. While the proportion of those 25 and older who have at least a college degree is increasing, it lags behind that of other developed countries.

Still, young people have made significant progress in critical areas. So why does it seem that so many adults are reluctant to believe that young people are more responsible? I turned for answers to three professionals who study the younger generation.

Gene Roehlkepartain, vice president of Search Institute, a 53-year-old youth development organization, says people tend to generalize quickly, basing their opinions entirely on their own experiences.

"Everyone knows personally one or more kids whose lives didn't turn out well or that ended tragically," he says. "It's hard to accept a general statement about overall patterns when you have a particular case seared in your memory."

For some, it apparently doesn't matter if that memory is decades old. Said one reader, "These polls are very wrong. I'm 52. My oldest son is 31. By the time he was 14 he had tried every drug and alcohol known to mankind. Had a girl pregnant at 15 ..."

One thing was clear from the harsher reactions. Older adults tend to forget the beers they consumed when they were young, the classes they skipped, the music they played so loudly that the family dog ran for cover. One fellow writer called other colleagues out on this. They were, the writer said, suffering from AOA, or Adult Onset Amnesia.

Social historian Stephanie Coontz calls it the "fun house mirror effect."

Time modifies memory, says Coontz, author of "A Strange Stirring," a new book about women of the 1950s and '60s. Hearing about an escapade that a child got into, it's easy to say, "I wasn't like that," just as you would look into a distorted mirror at the carnival that showed you with three heads and say, "That's not me."

Maybe some of these ranting readers have lost their jobs, homes and health insurance. Maybe they're at that stage in life where they suspect they'll never achieve their dreams and resent those who still have dreams.

Coontz says it goes beyond resentment, however. The troubled economy is recovering very slowly, the country is engaged in war overseas and leaders of our two main political parties are at each other's throats more than usual. Such turmoil can lead people to lose hope in their future, she says, and when they do, they also lose hope in their kids.

Including "kids" 18 and older. One commenter, identifying himself as an academic adviser at a Texas university, said that although some young people are all right, most of them have "no common sense and no drive! They can't think or make decisions without calling Mom and Dad ..."

Yes, says Richard Settersten, professor of human development at Oregon State University, more young adults are close to their parents, even living at home after high school or college. But if they once felt entitled to an easy life, they no longer do. Many of those staying with their parents are doing so to afford to go to college or, if they're already out of college, pay off debt.

In these uncertain times, it's a mistake to believe that the younger generation should think and act like we did, says Settersten, co-author with Barbara E. Ray of a recent book about 20-somethings called "Not Quite Adults." Companies running smoothly today may be bought out or go bankrupt next year; jobs may change or disappear; health insurance may be affordable one year and not the next year.

As children, today's youth "were told they could be anything and now they're here and they can't," Settersten says. "The quick start, lock-step life is dead for everybody. Yet we still carry it around in our head as a yardstick for young people."

At least one commenter on the website acknowledged this, reminding other writers that high unemployment affects the youngest members of a work force first. He also noted that the interns where he works "are some of the best I've seen in a long time."

He was not the only contributor who showed an understanding of, and affection for, the younger generation. And although sympathetic writers appeared to be in the minority, I was heartened that their observations drew more "likes" than the remarks that were critical or mean.

I took away one other thing: The sheer volume of comments -- about 1,000 within a few days -- indicates that no matter what their specific opinion is, people do care about kids. Maybe that's something to build on.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Laura Stepp for CNN



I see this here on COM all the time and it really surprises me. Why are people always so convinced that the next generation is going to hell in a handcart?

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Stifler's - posted on 04/20/2011

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Because of the media. We watch Wife Swap with the useless teens who party constantly and don't go to school or know how to put trash in a bin. We watch Teen Mum and 16 and Pregnant and think holy hell what is wrong with the youth of today. We see things in the news about idiot teens on Facebook and Myspace. If the media reported good stories no one would be interested.

ME - posted on 04/20/2011

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I think as a Freshman level college teacher in a small college, I probably have a skewed view of what young adults are really like. My students are practically illiterate, and they really don't seem to be capable of thinking for themselves or taking care of themselves. I have a few students each semester that don't fit this stereotype, but it's REALLY a few...maybe two or three out of 100...It's pretty disheartening....

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Shannon - posted on 04/20/2011

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This brings to mind the thread on DD's school, where one Mom said she wouldn't allow her 18 yr old child walk home from school or something to tht effect. My oldest 2 daughters have been raised with responsibility. They have to maintain certain grades to get privilages and my oldest is starting drivers ed in May, she could've started as early as last Dec. but due to her grades she was not allowed to, she was told to bring all grades above a c average and show that she could maintain them in order to get the class. They have been raised to have chores and those chores have to be done to go anywhere on the weekend or whatever.

I do however know quite a few teenagers that are so out of control that i really feel terrible for them, one child i know she is 14 and basically in charge of her entire household while her parents both work, she has FIVE younger siblings that she takes care of. I know her school work suffers greatly from this.

There is a school system not too far from where i live a 9 yr old child was at one school and the "top reader" in her class, due to issues in her family she was placed in foster care and transferred to another school in the area and the teacher was absolutely appalled at the serious lack of education the child had received. When she would read a sentence if she didn't "know" the word by sight she would put in whatever she thought sounded good there, it was quite sad, but alot of public schools in the are here at least if a school is in the "ghetto" the teachers basically give up, they schedule Parent teacher conferences and have no one show up, kids come to school with no breakfast, filthy and unfocused because mom and dad or whoever was up partying all night and the child couldn't go to bed because the mattress that he/she sleeps on is in the living room and it had to be stowed or out of the way to make room for everyone that was there.

There are some major issues in alot of areas when it comes to how kids are being raised today and other than snatching up parents that are lacking common sense that have been spoiled or catered to all their lives and shaking the piss out of them, there isn't much we can do but try to be there for the kids and show them that they CAN have a better life, it just takes some work. I probably just took this all over a spectrum it didn't necessarily need to go to but i am also overtired lol

Amber - posted on 04/20/2011

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Ahh...you know. I think I'm overtired. I'm misreading/misunderstanding people tonight. Maybe it's time for bed! I'm usually more on it than this ;)

Wow! That would be scary. I can't imagine not being able to write a legible sentence. That speaks to the education they are getting in K-12!

ME - posted on 04/20/2011

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@ Amber...That's why I said that I have a "skewed view"...I agree with you for the most part. I also have some "non-traditional students" in my classes. They are always harder working, more dedicated, and better prepared; so, it's not surprising to me that a stay-at-home mom would be a great student!
I also want to say that the longer I teach, the more I realize that I wasn't as great a student myself as I thought I was...BUT...and this is what concerns me the most...BUT, I was respectful, and I could always write a coherent sentence and understand what I was reading...MANY of my students seem to be capable of NONE of those things...THAT is what terrifies me!

Amber - posted on 04/20/2011

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As a college student who took a few years off to be a stay at home mom, I say that it's probably about equal. I'm a senior, I'm 24, and I've busted my ass off all through out college. I've won a couple faculty voted awards and am graduating next month with distinction, in honor society, on chancellor's list. And I did all of that while being a stay at home mom.

And you know what, there are a LOT of other students just like me. We all studied together and competed against each other to get the best grades. They all work full time outside of school and have their own apartments to pay for. A lot of us have applied to graduate school together too.

I find it sad that so many of us are assumed to be lazy even though we work so hard. It really seems to be the masses getting blamed for the ignorance of the few.

@ Mary ~ I will concede that freshmen are irresponsible. But they aren't necessarily a good measure of the entire group. For most of them, it's their first year of freedom and they take extra liberties. After that first year, a lot of them will go back to being responsible as they were in high school. So, college freshman are probably the exception to the rule.

Emily - posted on 04/20/2011

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I tend to think that every generation thinks pretty highly of themselves, and forgets what they were like as youngsters. Naturally, then, the next generation of teenagers looks inept, lazy, and doomed to failure, in comparison. It is true that each generation is a bit different than the one before, but that doesn't make them worse, just different.

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