Street Collage

“And if you’ve got enough money where you don’t have to work, let’s face it, who wants to work? There’s no reason why anybody, that five generations of people got to be on welfare…Kids nowadays, that’s the whole thing, too much money, they’ve got too much money. They don’t have to struggle and work for things like when I was growing up had to do. And I was lucky if I got that job delivering hats in a hat store for twenty-five cents per hat. Too much money today is with the young kids, everything was handed to ’em, and that’s why they are the way they are.”

If you read that quote and reflect, you may find yourself agreeing. This generation of kids grew up with DVDs, cell phones, computers, video games and everything they wanted just handed to them. This is why they’re “the way they are” – selfish, lazy, unambitious, entitled, etc. Yup, not like when my generation grew up, we had to work!

Teens often seem entitled, aloof and arrogant to many

However, the quote comes from a street interview (not sure if it’s real or staged) in the middle of the song “Movement for the Common Man” on the album Styx I, which was released in 1972. That means that the ‘young people’ talked about in that quote are probably nearing 60.

In other words, how elders view youth hasn’t changed much in 40 years, even if today’s elders are yesterday’s youth! Why would that be? First, consider another part of that track “Street Collage” from Movement for the Common Man:

Well, you see now, I’m a depression baby and I remember the WPA. If we could just start the same thing again and get people working out there, why not? Is it too menial for somebody to sweep the street?

The elders of 1972 looking at the youth of that time compared them to the depression era. By the early seventies consumerism was beginning, the convenience society was forming (TV dinners were becoming standard fare, the microwave oven was gaining popularity. 40,000 were in use in 1970, by 1975 it was 1,000,000. Fast food was popular, but not yet omnipresent. McDonalds still kept track of how many million had been sold, not just “millions and millions.”

And then there’s this, from the same section of the song:

I had one gentlemen get in — No offense to you gentlemen, he had long hair and a beard — And I told him, he had better go home and take a bath; He had B.O. so bad, it was terrible! I said “You might be educated, but did your parents tell you to go dirty?”

It was the era of the hippies, protesters against the war, for civil rights, and sometimes against the western industrialized society completely. Having survived the depression and used to being thankful for a chance to make money, the counter culture movement of the seventies was a different cultural world. Emblematic of this is a television show that started in January 1971, All in the Family. Just consider the opening tune:

Those were the days! Now many “elders” look at see gays marrying, have the same reaction to Occupy Wall Street that their parents or grandparents had to Vietnam war protesters, and see a youth that has grown up in a time of plenty being used to having material abundance. Beyond that there are cell phones, video games, facebook (and the younger generation seems to disregard the intense concern about privacy that earlier generations cling to), a black President, and a very different world.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Frankly, I’m impressed with today’s youth. Teaching at a university I see them engaged, concerned about their future, and more knowledgable than ever due to the internet and connections made often across borders. To be sure, these are college kids, but I teach at a rural state university not an elitist private school. If students here are engaged and connected, that’s a good sign.

Today's youth - ready to change the world!

Yes, they are used to technology. I hear students talk about how hard it would be to go without their mobile phone for even part of a day — they are more connected to friends and family than I would have wanted to be when I was their age. Parents are often almost tyrannical in their desire to keep in contact with their kids, even at college (note to self: I will not be that way as my kids grow up!). When we’ve done travel courses to Italy and Germany, parents increasingly try to demand students stay in contact with them every day.

In fact, if anyone deserves criticism its the parents’ generation. There is so much effort done to protect kids or make sure they succeed that kids often get stifled by the attention and control. It’s a well intentioned stifling, and certainly better than ignoring kids or not caring, but it can go too far. If the youth of today seem spoiled it’s often not their fault — it’s being forced on them by their elders.

Being over protective leads to sometimes irrational and harmful efforts at control

That’s probably the biggest difference I notice between my youth and now. There is so much protection now – a kid brings a swiss army knife to school to show his friends and he’s expelled. Who does that protect? An ESPN announcer has “chink in his armour” about a Chinese athlete and the fact “chink” had a double meaning as a pejorative for Chinese folk and he gets fired. Really? Protecting us from double meanings in popular expressions?

Yet with all the protections, the ubiquity of fast food, video games and other temptations overpowers those who would want to protect kids from themselves. It’s a bit surreal. Yet through it all, I think we underestimate the youth — just as my elders were doing back in the 70s. They learn to navigate their reality, they understand dangers and risks, even if their belief in their immortality causes them to sometimes foolishly disregard them. But my generation was the same way. That’s youth.

Today’s youth are being handed a country in debt and decline and asked to fix things. They are pioneers in a world where even the phrase “high tech” sounds old fashioned. They are crafting new realities, throwing off old prejudices (such as the prohibition against gay marriage) and are cynical of the ideology-based politics of the past. Kids these days? Well, count me impressed. The most hope I have for my country and its future comes when I consider today’s youth. They’re no more spoiled than my generation was, and they seem to grasping the information revolution tools that can reshape the world with a gusto.

Anyway, given the mountain of debt and the myriad of ecological, social and political problems my generation is leaving in our wake, I don’t think we elders have any standing to complain!

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  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on February 22, 2012 - 14:30

    “Frankly, I’m impressed with today’s youth.”,/i>

    Here, here.

    If anything the youth today find themselves in the same situation that the depression-era group did who were criticizing the youth in the 70’s. I remember Joan Baez’s comment in the late 60’s, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” and then we all hit thirty. Joan since then has made amends for that comment.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on February 24, 2012 - 02:35

      I remember the phrase (I bought a little comic book when I was a kid called “Never Trust Anyone Over 13”), I didn’t know it was Joan Baez.

  2. #3 by Alan Scott on February 22, 2012 - 23:26

    Why are you trying to put a whole generation in a box ? They are as diverse as any previous generation . Your college probably attracts a better than average sampling of it’s generation .

    But to get back to the old fogies eternally harping on the younger generation. I always liked the song ” what’s the matter with kids today ” from the 60s movie ‘ Bye bye Birdie ‘ sung by Paul Lynde .,

  3. #4 by Titfortat on February 23, 2012 - 15:12

    When I look at my stepson(who is a great young man) I am reminded of good ole Alice…..

    • #5 by Scott Erb on February 24, 2012 - 02:40

      Thanks, that’s a great song. Up there with “School’s Out,” “I Never Cry” and “You and Me.” I had tickets to see them in 1977 but the show got canceled – I think that’s when he went into rehab. Bummer.

  4. #6 by mikelovell on February 25, 2012 - 17:34

    I think the biggest problem with today’s youth (and I being born in 79, sort of fall between the generations) is somewhat linked to their parents’ faults. Parents stifle the kids in a different way. Like you said, the constant need to be in contact with their kids is one thing, along with the intorduction of all the laws and regulations made up to protect us from ourselves (ie- helmets for riding a bicycle in some locations) that may keep them safe, but also take away some of the adventures that we got to engage in by making almost all of it illegal anymore. And then their are the social changes I see, like participation trophies, not grading in red ink, passing kids on to the next grade despite educational deficencies just to save their poor little self esteems, not realizing that its the struggles we overcome that build that self esteem, not just building their baseless egos. I mean how else do we explain the rampant increase in mental conditions requiring medication. Yes, some can be to our esteemed Big Pharma and APA making up problems and symptoms that require the medications, but I have a few friends with teenage kids that literally stress out over every little thing to the Nth degree that they can’t even function without help anymore.

    I know that griping about our youth’s ways is an age old thing, but I think handing the kids everything without them earning an ounce of it, caving to their demands based on societal peer pressure, and then hoisting life real problems on them suddenly is quite a disservice. Their proverbial shoulders just aren’t built up enough to handle half of it anymore.

  5. #7 by Titfortat on February 27, 2012 - 18:52

    @mike

    So true, youre supposed to hurt when you fall off a bike or burn your hand when touching something hot. The kids who dont learn those rules typically push the envelop a little further than the one’s who had the ouchie early in their lives. 😉

    Love your moniker by the way. 🙂

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