Are young people really that bad?


Are the young really that bad? No, they’re not. Everyone else is.

As I enter serious middle age, and I retain memories of youth while gaining a certain wisdom of age (and still have the energy to care), I find myself wondering about some of the canards I have heard for decades.  One of them is that the younger generations are always somehow worse than they were “once upon a time.”  I really think that’s not true, and here’s an argument to support this claim.

Consider the following quotes:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

— Attributed to Socrates (469-399 BC) by Plato, according to William L. Patty and Louise S. Johnson, Personality and Adjustment, p. 277 (1953).

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”

— Attributed to Hesiod, 8th century BC (but probably misattributed)

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”

— From a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in AD 1274.

“Why can’t they be like we were
Perfect in every way.
What’s the matter with kids

— Bye-By Birdie, the Musical (1963).

So, over about 2000 years of history, nothing much has changed in how “bad” young people are.

Which means that they’re not that bad.  And, instead, it’s us – the “mature” ones.  Our perspective changes as we get older, but we can’t tell it’s changed – so we displace those changes onto the external world.

Which is one more reason for not trusting one’s own instincts and, instead, seeking robust evidence.  It’s interesting to think of how society could be if everyone understood this.  What influence might such a change in the way we educate the young? Or how we treat them when they screw up (or succeed, for that matter)?


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