If you’ve found yourself wondering what’s wrong with kids these days, you aren’t alone. But research also shows that such thoughts usually say more about the adults having them than the kids they’re disparaging.
In a series of studies, researchers found evidence that, across history, adults have routinely found fault with young people. Those same studies also showed that this inter-generational criticism is based not on reality but instead on inborn prejudices and patterns of thinking. In effect, the researchers state that this complaint about kids represents nothing more than “a pervasive illusion of humanity.”
Children need models rather than critics.Joseph Joubert
Specifically, researchers have found that adults, regardless of the era, geography, or culture, find fault with younger generations because:
- The inherent superiority complex most people have about themselves and, by extension, their own generation. Note that this sense of exceptionalism is not supported by the facts – no generation is ‘greater’ or ‘lesser’ than another. Instead, circumstances (e.g., pandemics, warfare, economic dislocation, etc.) drive collective behaviors.
- The habit of comparing others to our own unique talents – think here, of the adult tradesman, who bemoans the younger generation’s inability to accomplish similar work. That younger person, of course, can tackle tasks with modern technology that would leave the tradesman’s head spinning.
- Similarly, people who hold are prejudiced toward certain behaviors or habits – e.g., respect for authority, reading, intelligence, etc. – typically see a decline in those same qualities in younger people.
The researchers concluded that while they “cannot rule out actual declines, it is likely that part of the ‘kids these days’ effect is illusory.”
Furthermore, they found that in some traits, such as general intelligence, each generation of young people is actually smarter than their predecessors, and that “there is no objective reason” to believe otherwise.
So the next time you find yourself mumbling something derogatory about ‘kids these days,’ it instead might be a sign of your innate biases showing.