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The Trouble with Kids These Days (It’s Not What You Think)

“Kids these days”.  

This phrase is usually followed with some sort of derogatory descriptor. Adjectives such as lazy, entitled, disrespectful, demanding or defiant are used. . Those who are being charitable might acknowledge creativity, curiousity, or a sense of humour. Sometimes folks will stand in sympathy about a perceived lack of resilience or concerns regarding social challenges. More often than not, however, the focus is on how different “kids these days” are, relative to “kids in my day” -- and the focus is rarely a positive one.  

Well, I call bulls*#%. (yes, I said it). 

Everything I see in the world right now tells me that the trouble with kids these days is adults these days. That’s right. Our collective community of adults is the actual “problem” to be addressed -- if there’s a problem at all. (And I’m not even sure problem is the right word -- I think it’s more like opportunity).                                                                                   

Is the world different than it was when I grew up? You betcha. And, trust me when I tell you that there were problems back then. My parents’ generation was bemoaning the state of my youthful experience versus what they had known in their youth -- and their parents did the exact same thing. In other words, the world is constantly shifting and evolving; the experiences of current youth compared to the experiences of youth of the past is always different and forever will be. It’s the nature of the beast.  

As our collective worldview has changed, we as adults have changed how we are in the world. It makes sense that, by extension, children will be different. And if it feels like the change we’re witnessing isn’t working, or is in any way detrimental, the responsibility for changing back to a better way (whatever that is) lies with us as adults. Because children learn from adults.  

Let’s take the issue of entitlement. I hear pretty regularly how “kids these days have such a sense of entitlement”. Trust me when I tell you that this is behavior that has been learned. And it’s been learned from our generation of adults. Here are two examples:

  • Adults who aren’t willing to see their child be excluded for not having the cool phone (because as adults, we remember the pain of exclusion from our own childhood, and don’t want our children to experience the same).

  • Adults who remember the frustration they felt when their parents implemented a curfew; and since they don’t want their child to feel the same frustration, they don’t draw what are actually reasonable boundaries. 

When I look around me in a restaurant or a coffee shop, and I watch adults interacting with wait staff, there’s a palpable sense of entitlement. There’s an energy of “you are here to serve me -- get me what I asked for” -- with minimal politeness thrown into the exchange. If pushed on it, many folks will say something like “well, that’s their job”. Yes, and does that mean you must be demanding? Or rude? Does it mean you must treat that individual as somehow beneath you? I don’t think so. And while you act in that manner, kids are watching and learning. 

The same is true for the issue of laziness. While adults may or may not actually be lazy per se, adults have created systems that don’t necessarily teach the value of working for what you deserve. Our education system has gotten rid of consequences for late submissions, or failing grades for sub-par work. Our effort to have children feel more success than failure has backfired in many ways. And this isn’t the work of the kids. This is the system created by adults. So our children learn what we are teaching. 

I could probably share more examples, but I won’t. The crux of what I want you to get is that when we are feeling frustrated with the state of the world, or the next generation of employees we need to remember that we are the ones teaching, creating, informing this next generation. If we want things to be different, then we need to be prepared to teach things differently. To model things differently. To ensure that we are, in fact, being examples of whatever it is we expect from this next generation. This opportunity is present for parents, for caregivers, for teachers, for employers -- for adults in every walk of life.  

Is the world different from what it was a few decades ago? Absolutely. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that things are bad. Our responsibility as adults is to ensure that we are modeling for the next generation how to exemplify the strengths and qualities that we say are important, so that the upcoming generating can learn by our example.  

And one more thing: kids these days actually have really great insight into the way the world is evolving and how we can all adapt to operate within it. In other words, we as adults could stand to learn as much from our kids as they can from us. 

Bottom-line: if we as adults are seeing problems in the world today, we need to do something about it. We need to stop abdicating responsibility for how the world is evolving, and instead embrace the opportunity to ensure that we teach our kids how to be strong, resilient, accountable citizens. Kids these days will always be a product of adults these days. So adults, it’s time to step up.