Children These Days

Stop me if you’ve heard this rant before:

“Ugh…children these days are so spoiled!  They have no respect for their elders and spend too much time on their smartphones and iPads.  They’re getting pregnant and doing drugs.  They lack discipline, and it’s all those participation trophies and weak parenting that’s to blame.  These kids need a good spanking!  Back in my day, if I stepped out of line, my dad would give me an ass whuppin’!  And I turned out better for it!”

Sound familiar?  I’ve heard this quite a few times, or at least some version of it.  The basic gist of it is that everything was so much better “back in the day”.  You’ve probably heard this mentality before.  Maybe you’re even one of those people who have this mentality.  If that’s the case, then I have some unfortunate news for you.

The facts don’t support it…

One of the biggest components of this mindset is, of course, a perceived epidemic of rebellious behavior.  And while yes, the purpose of the teen years is to push the envelope in a sense, most of the time what people are talking about are drugs, alcohol, and sex.  But the thing is, kids these days are far less likely to do any of these things than they were back in the “good ol’ days”.  According to an article by the New York Times these types of behaviors have been declining for decades.

Some interesting numbers for you:

  • In 1980, about 60 percent of high-school seniors had tried marijuana and roughly 9 percent smoked it daily.  Today, only about 45.5 have tried it and only 6.6 percent smoke it daily.
  • 72 percent of high-school seniors in 1980 said they had recently consumed alcohol, whereas in 2011 that number had dropped to a historic low of only 40 percent.
  • In 1988, half of boys aged 15 to 17 had experienced sex.  By 2010, that number fell to 28 percent.  Same goes for teenage girls, dropping from 37.2 percent to 27 percent.

In the end, what this all means is that the story of an out-of-control generation of kids just isn’t accurate.  In fact, according to the research, today’s kids are better behaved then their parents were at the same age.  But the real question is why?  Why are kids these days so different?  What shaped the changes in their behavior?

Well…there’s no easy answer.  Like everything in life, the reality is that it’s a complicated issue.  The New York Times article points to some helpful possibilities:

“The last three decades have included a rise in the drinking age to 21; a widespread fear of H.I.V.; and legal challenges that stymied tobacco marketing. And while cellphones and Facebook have created new ways for teenagers to stir up trouble, they may also help parents monitor their children.”

The article also points out that today’s teens still found ways to rebel with things like sexting, but still reasons that every generation is subject to harsh scrutiny by the previous one.  And I think that’s the important lesson here, that every generation thinks they know what’s best and that the generations after theirs obviously don’t know what they’re doing.  In all this fear about smartphones and iPads, we forget the fact that the science simply isn’t there yet.  We dismiss the fact that some of the science even says that these things have beneficial effects on kids.  Because, clearly, we know what we’re doing.  Our way is the best, and damn every other way.

But, if I may, I would like to point to a possibility not raised in the New York Times article.  I would like to suggest that maybe part of the reason children are better behaved and generally more responsible may have to do with moving away from one simple thing: the idea of corporal punishment.

I can hear the protesting now.  “But I was spanked and I turned out just fine!”  Maybe you did.  Maybe you’re a perfectly fine, functional human being.  Or maybe it affected you in ways you can’t really see or understand.  I talked a long time ago about corporal punishment, and I’m going to link you to the same article I used back then.  As it turns out, spanking your kid may have detrimental effects on their brain development.  As the article says, “the sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have.”  Most people assumed that spanking led to compliance in children.  But that’s not necessarily true.

“What is spanking associated with? Aggression. Delinquency. Mental health problems. And something called “hostile attribution bias,” which causes children, essentially, to expect people to be mean to them.  This bias makes the world feel especially hostile. In turn, children are on edge and ready to be hostile back, ” the article says.

I’ve felt for a long time that spanking was more for the parent than it was for the child.  Think about it for a second.  What’s easier?  Getting to the root of why your child is misbehaving?  Or simply trying to beat it out of them?  Parents are human beings too, and sometimes they don’t have the time or the patience to deal with a child that’s acting out.  In such situations, it’s very easy to turn to the physical approach because it seems like it has immediate beneficial effects.  But, as the science says, there may be a lot more going on underneath the surface that we can’t see or understand until it’s too late.

Let me be clear, I’m not doing this to crap all over the previous generations.  My generation is old enough that I’ve noticed people my age donning the same mindset.  I’ve even caught myself doing it every once in a while.  Like I said before, every generation thinks they know what’s best and are afraid when things start to change.  I think it’s worth understanding that every generation sees the world a little differently.  And I think it’s worth remembering that it’s not necessarily a bad thing…just a different thing.

No one is perfect.  Children are going to act out in some way or another.  But that’s just part of growing up.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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