What’s the Matter With Kids Today?

Why can’t kids today be more like we were? Maybe the answer is simply that they are, but it’s the parenting that’s out of whack.

When a hotel party for 800 high school aged kids, many from the Peninsula, got out of hand in San Francisco on Dec. 28 with several fights breaking out, resulting in two arrests, many of the comments on that story reflected the underlying assumption that today’s kids are different and aren’t being raised right.

Makes you wonder: Are today’s kids any different than generations past? Are kids today a product of poor parenting? Parenting today definitely looks a lot different than when we were kids and when our parents were kids. Certainly 21st century children are using tools and interacting with each other in ways that are completely alien to some old folks.

Kids text each other without a thought and flit from one computer to the next without a care. My 9-year-old daughter sends text messages to her aunt in Boston and has iChats with her grandmother in Connecticut on her iPod. She plays games on the Wii and any chance to Google something she’ll take. Sometimes I’m afraid her attention span is as short as a Tweet, but then I see her plug through her homework without distraction, build with her Legos for hours and fully participate in a chess game with her dad for over an hour.

Every generation is different from the preceding one, but is the pace of today outpacing our ability to keep up with our kids? How — if at all — are these 21st century kids different? Or is it that the parenting is different?

Today’s kids certainly look and behave in new ways. A good friend of mine is puzzled by the flat-billed baseball hat her son insists upon wearing. But didn’t we all look strange to our parents, too?

The late Peter Lyman, a cultural anthropologist from Berkeley, who had been studying digital youth culture, said that underneath the surface today’s kids are a lot like yesterday’s. They still value status and being part of a group. They still feel anxieties about who they are and will become. The venues for exploring those feelings have dramatically changed, but maybe the core remains familiar. Maybe. It's a good question. I’ll keep looking for the answer. But maybe you have one?

The last 20 years have seen many changes in our world. I keep hearing from people that they feel children themselves are different. But are they? If they are the same biologically and psychologically, what makes them seem different now? I’ve heard some certain grandparents (who shall remain nameless) say that kids today are more entitled and over-indulged and have an inflated sense of self because they’ve been told they’re so wonderful for doing nothing.

So maybe the issue isn’t whether the children are different, but how much society and parenting has changed. Children are resilient and are easy to adapt to their surroundings. Perhaps the bigger question should be to parents: How much do your surroundings affect your children’s potential? Are parents willing to adapt and help keep their children’s perspectives where they need to be?

When I read about a hotel party for 800 high school kids in the City that got out of hand, I cringe and shudder to think of my daughter even asking my husband and I if she can go to such an event. What will we say? No. Absolutely, no way. Just as our parents would have said to us. And if your teen goes anyway without you knowing? You hope to whatever higher being is out there for you that he or she makes good decisions and returns home safely where there will be consequences to pay for going out against your word. Right? Isn't that how it works?

Let’s face it. Kids, no matter their upbringing, sometimes just make bad choices. Still, parenting today seems so different because of changed socioeconomic and cultural conditions. We're up against a lot. Parents also seem more tolerant or they have to pick their battles since there are so many today. Does this affect young children’s behaviors to appear different than earlier generations? Are parents today able to keep up with these lightening speed changes? That's not to say that parents in the "good old days" were perfect. However, it seems to me that parents prioritized their parenting responsibilities and duties much different from parents today. I know I could learn a lot more about parenting.

So I guess all my lamenting here comes down to two questions: Do you think kids are different today? Do you think kids are different today because they aren’t being raised right? Tell us why in the comments.

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Ellen Wheeler January 13, 2013 at 03:11 AM
This isn't so much a comment on the article, but to say that I LOVED the headline and subheadline. I'm a big "Bye Bye Birdie" fan, so was tickled to see your clever reference. I couldn't see the author of this article, and would like this information. But, you're probably aware that since ancient Greek times elders have thought the younger generation was too problematic.


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