Back in my day, we didn’t need social media to ostentatiously announce the shortcomings of these dadgum young’uns.
Nor did anyone decades, centuries, or even millennia ago. Adults have been ruminating about the current generation’s faults from Socrates to Weird Al. This would suggest that the stereotype is inaccurate. Each succeeding generation getting worse for 3,000 years would leave societies and cultures in ruins. Instead, humanity has consistently experienced a general uptick in the quality of life, education, medicine, housing, transportation, food, and innovation.
In order to reconcile this contradiction, University of California-Santa Barbara psychology professors John Protzko and Jonathan Schooler led a team that conducted five studies to assess people’s tendency to believe that kids these days are deficient, relative to those of previous generations, especially their own, or from generations they hold in high regard.
The studies measured three traits and found that U.S. adults believe today’s youth are indeed in decline. Researchers found the subjects were more likely to hold this position if they were good at a specific trait they were questioned about. For instance, authoritarian types strongly feel youth are less respectful of their elders than in years past, intelligent people especially think today’s youth are less brilliant than they were before, and well-read people think young folks enjoy picking up a book (or Kindle) less than they did.
The attitudes toward children’s intelligence is telling because intelligence has risen fairly steadily over the years and centuries. Still, intelligent people believed that children today were becoming less so. Adding authoritarianism to the mix showed this characteristic to be unrelated to person’s beliefs about children’s intelligence. This is further evidence that the Kids These Days Effect primarily afflicts those who are proficient in a certain area themselves. Put another way, there were kids in your day who were just as disrespectful, dumb, and lazy as the current crop you are criticizing. But selective memory and a tendency to generalize the current generation but not one’s own leads to a skewed perspective. And again, this is only true if the subject exceled in that area themselves.
Also a factor is people’s tendency to romanticize the past and think of it as the good ol’ days. They envision the 1950s as the days of Leave it to Beaver instead of as a time of entrenched segregation, and the 1870s as the time of Tom Sawyer instead of the era of Native American genocide.