Kids These Days!

With every generation, it seems, must come a new parade of ‘kids these days!’ editorials and commentaries about the failings of the current generation and the dangerously slippery slope it’s on. It’s not just an assessment coming from people with years of experience that have informed the way they view the world, but a very distinctive and biased ‘get off my lawn’ commentary coming from people who are convinced that their generation is superior. Curiously, in their assessments of the evils of the current generation, they manage to leave out any of the flaws of their own, focusing on this imaginary perfection that supposedly dominated their youthful years; back in their day, nothing bad ever happened and everything was sunlight and rainbows, evidently.

I’ve been noticing this in particular lately with the slew of ill-informed ‘editorials’ in major news outlets about the evils of young adult literature and how it’s corrupting youth and leading them into sin. It’s all too dark, unlike books of prior generations, and it practically serves as a manual for premarital sex, bullying, suicide, getting cancer (I see you, John Green, making cancer look cool!), and other social evils. Poor impressionable children read this literature and become hopelessly corrupt before they’ve even had a chance to truly live in the state of innocence and purity enjoyed by prior generations.

But it’s not just about trashing young adult literature. It’s everywhere; scaremongering about sexuality, pearlclutching about what the younger generation chooses to pursue educationally, terror about the kind of media younger people are producing, and more. Youth are continually reminded in this slew of commentary that they are lesser and will be until they’ve reached some nebulous ‘age of maturity,’ at which point they in turn can pass down scathing editorials to make sure the younger generation knows that it’s failing in every possible way and should be ashamed of itself because it will never be as good as the current crop of matured adults.

It makes me wonder how one goes about breaking cycles like these, in which the same thing just happens over and over again and no one comes out ahead. The same people saying that today’s youth will never amount to much were once youth themselves, getting the same message. And many of them were pioneers paving the way to significant social changes; in their youths, they were the ones upending social norms and demanding more equality and justice. They marched on the streets for civil rights, they fought for AIDS patients, they resisted sexism, they pushed for better environmental policies to protect people and the environment.

Yet, when they see us doing the same thing, fighting to change society for the better, it’s suddenly alienating and undesirable. Rather than acknowledging that societies are constantly in flux and there’s always something to improve, they seem to think we should freeze things where they are, that they had the last word and it was good enough for them so it should be good enough for all of us. Even though things are happening now that never would have been dreamed of in their generation, and that’s a good thing, evidence of social, scientific, and cultural progress, evidence that humans are constantly coming up with new and fascinating things.

I’m starting to reach the cusp, the tipping point, where I shift from being one of the people who is criticised for being all young and dangerous to being one of those people trapped in the middle. Not quite ‘mature’ enough to opine authoritatively on society and talk about the superiority of my generation, but old enough to get a free pass, because I won’t be quite young enough to be lumped in with ‘those kids today’ for very much longer. And thus, I pay particularly close attention to what youth movements are doing and what those kids today are up to.

Not to lay the groundwork for harshing on them, but to see how they’re improving on what people before them have done, and what I can learn from them. I see the fascinating things they’re bringing up and the ties they’re bringing together and it intrigues, rather than alienates or scares, me. In a sense, sometimes I get almost a little bit jealous of the amazing work being done by people, and that makes me wonder if perhaps that jealousy plays a role in the ‘kids these days!’ handwringing seen from the generation above mine. Is it possible that they look at vibrant youth movements and amazing cultural shifts and, well, wish they’d been that cool?

Ignoring the fact that they were doing revolutionary things in their time? Not paying attention to the fact that they laid the groundwork, just as the groundwork was laid for them? Refusing to acknowledge that culture is a continuous evolution and, let’s face it, there’s always someone cooler than you and you’re just going to have to deal? Because in some of this pearl-clutching, handwringing, fussy scaremongering, I do indeed detect a whiff of not just disdain for youth movements but also bitterness and regret coming from people who don’t seem to understand that kids these days had to come from somewhere.

Rather than talking about how much the kids scare you or freak you out, why not talk about how excited you are to see them take things to the next level? Look at the way Judy Blume, for example, talks about young adult fiction; her books were hugely influential for a lot of YA writers working today, and they included some content that in their day (and in some cases still) was considered highly racy and inappropriate. Tiger Eyes and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret were hugely important works—and she’s excited that a new generation of YA authors is walking in her footsteps and building on her work, rather than being intimidated or upset by it. ‘Kids these days,’ she might as well be saying. ‘Look at all the great stuff they’re doing!’