What’s Really Wrong With Kids These Days?

If I had a penny for every time a youth pastor has been asked “what’s wrong with the kids these days” …. well I guess I’d just have a stockpile of useless coins that contain no value in tender or metal. Either way, I am tired of hearing this question because the same people asking this question are usually the actual problem, not the kids. Allow me to illustrate.

The real issue is not that kids are worse these days than before or that society is somehow worse during their generation than it was when the parents were teens. The issue is that older adults look at the past through rose colored glasses. The other issue is that most people perceive that since they survived adolescence then they must have done it the right way and because kids are doing it differently now they are doing it wrong. In the following article I will demonstrate both these points.


What is the problem?

In an effort to see what other parents online are deducing the problem to be I went about surfing Yahoo Answers. If you’re reading this and you are under the age of 21, you probably don’t know about Yahoo answers because it’s an outdated website, ran by an outdated web index company, used mostly by people your parent’s age who don’t know how to do actual research on the internet because they were not taught how to in school like you were. Now that that’s out of the way here is the most common question/answer I hear for this debate.

From Yahoo Answers….

What is wrong with kids these days?

I don’t understand it. Kids these day are insane. They yell at their parents, do drugs, have sex, etc. I just don’t get where all this came from? THEY’RE JUST KIDS
there are 2 6th grade girls who are pregnant at the middle school in my town and one of them said, “I don’t care it’s my body I can do whatever I wan’t”
Is this really what our society has turned into?

Best Answer: Its a lack of discipline on the parents part. I have done a lot of research about this. In the 70’s we started all of this non-violent parenting crap (meaning no spankings,etc.) Now our jails are filled with those kids who break the law, do drugs, and generally become menaces to society and make our country look stupid. If people got off this “fell good” wagon and did what is morally right by their children, we would not have children who behave this way. These children have NO respect for their parents, and they dont know who’s boss. how do I know? I was one of those kids who was spoiled rotten and then got into trouble… luckily I wised up. Now I treat my parents with respect(even though I dont agree with how I was raised), have a lot of education and continue to go to college to further my education, an excellent job, and I dont break the law. I raise my children with high moral standards, and yes, they get a spanking if they do something wrong!  (Posted by user: “LOST IN LOVE”)

The person providing the “best answer” by this thread was only able to provide a single point of actual data; namely, their own experience. This is typically how these conversations go. But if we are going to provide an actual debate about the kids then we need to talk about all the kids, not just the brats that you know. We need someone to provide more than a single point of data. Luckily, we have statistics to our rescue.


Kids are actually way better today than previous generations

Youth Arrest Statistics

Youth Crime Index
Youth Crime Index (Source: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/excel/JAR_2014.xls.)


Let’s take a moment to realize that whatever you think or whatever you feel about kids these days does not count as evidence. In the real world we have numbers and statistic to give us a picture of what’s going on. We have meta-data that gives clear patterns over time and space. The reason why this is more important than your personal view is because statics are based on reportable data. Your opinion is not. Opinions are made usually on just a few unreliable data points.

As one can see the 2014 crime rate for youths is lower for the current generation of teens than the previous 3-5 generations. If we had data to represent further into the past I would have used it but there is no reliable data for that.

So if the kids are not involved in crimes as often then what’s the problem? Is it drugs? Is it education? Good thing for us, all of these other questions can also be answered by statistics. In fact, today we collect more data than any generation in history, usually done by software programmed by the same Millennials who people keep claiming are so messed up.


Youth Drug Use Statistics

Youth Drug Abuse Violation Index
Youth Drug Abuse Violation Index (Source: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/excel/JAR_2014.xls.)

The interesting thing about the youth drug violation index is that in the last 20 years its been cut in  half and is still dropping fast. But we live in an era where drugs are more abundant and more cheaply obtained than any generation previously (excepting maybe the 60s). So drugs are abundant but drug use is way down among the youth. I suppose we aught to take that issue off the table as well.

So if it’s not crime and it’s not drugs then what exactly is the issue? Oh right, It’s obviously education. Kids today just don’t have the same quality of education. They are all dropping out and spending their days playing video games and smoking the Devil’s lettuce, right? Wrong again.

Let’s take a look at the education statistics.


Youth Education Statistics

High School Dropout Rates
High School Dropout Rates (Source:http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_coj.asp)

The graph seen on the right (or above on cell phones) is the high school dropout rates from 1990 to 2014. For years I always heard people talking about working to get the graduation rate over 90% which would mean dropout would have to be below 10%. It is clear that that goal was achieved in the early 2000’s. Not only are youths graduating at higher rates but they are more likely to have taken more advanced math classes than previous generations, learned more about physics and science than previous generations, and much more likely to attend college after graduation.

I recall when I was in high school and I asked my mother for help on math homework I was met with a laugh. When she was in school they were required to pass algebra and maybe geometry. Typically high schools would require a 3rd math credit as an elective but not all schools. When I was in high school I took algebra I & II, geometry, statistics, and a special course for physics math. I had friends who took classes all the way through calc III. Today’s students have more offerings in the STEM classes than ever before and they are taking them.

Youth Spanking and discipline statistics

I am also told that kids these days are just undisciplined and disrespectful. It’s from a lack of spanking I am told. Those darn hippies decided that spanking was evil and everyone stopped spanking their kids. But in the 1990’s it’s reported that 90% of parents spanked their kids. Today over 81% of parents approve of spanking children. While spanking is no longer a thing that happens in school it’s clear that parents are still spanking their kids at home.

But these are not enough reasons. People still insist that the youth are just terrible. It’s all this dang technology right? They are staring at their phones all day. They don’t know how to be social…. right? No not right. Continue on.


There is nothing new under the sun

All this technology memeToday’s cell phone was yesterday’s computer. The computer was the previous day’s TV. The TV was the previous day’s radio. The Radio was the previous day’s print media. The print media was the previous day’s written media. There has always been something to take people’s attention away from each other. People have been finding ways to be anti-social for hundreds of generations.

Likewise, the older members of society have always found reasons to lament over the younger generations perceived problems and societal ills.

With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion… the dreamy quiet old days are over… for men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel… leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them… the hurry and bustle of modern life… lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day’s work done, took their ease…

(William Smith’s Morley: Ancient and Modern published in 1886.)

Woe to Drunkards Samuel WardThere is a great tendency among the children of today to rebel against restraint, not only that placed upon them by the will of the parent. But against any restraint or limitation of what they consider their rights … this fact has filled well minded people with great apprehensions for the future.

(Rev. Henry Haussmann, The authority of parents, 1906)

Our modern family gathering, silent around the fire, each individual with his head buried in his favourite magazine, is the somewhat natural outcome of the banishment of colloquy from the school …
(The Journal of Education, Volume 29, 1907)
A hundred years ago it took so long and cost so much to send a letter that it seemed worth while to put some time and thought into writing it. Now the quickness and the cheapness of the post seem to justify the feeling that a brief letter to-day may be followed by another next week–a “line” now by another to-morrow.
(Percy Holmes Boynton, Principles of Composition, 1915)

This tendency to demonize the new ways and to romanticize the old ways is as old as time. Even during the middle ages adults were busy ranting about the new generation. Consider this poster from 1622.

This was the same type of discussion that surrounded one of my older sister’s generation. She was a Gen-X child. As a teenager she exhibited nearly ALL of the Gen-X characteristics. That generation was described as aloof, cynical, obsessed with their friends, lazy, apathetic, and latch-key. They were often criticized as being the MTV generation. They gave us the grunge culture, Bevis and Butthead, and glorified the use of marijuana.

This generation are now adults and many have families of their own. How did they turn out? Well this generation that was characterized as lazy and apathetic is now the most entrepreneurial generation in history. No generation has created more startups and businesses than the slacker generation. They created companies like Google and eBay. They created technology that we are all using today. Like every generation before it, they eventually grew up and found themselves.

Now, I don’t want to suggest the kids today are perfect. I am just suggesting that kids have been acting like kids for centuries. Remember our old prophet friend Elisha? He was taunted by some unruly kids over his bald head.

As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” (2 Kings 2:23)

And what about God’s commandments? If kids were so well behaved long ago then why the command to honor thy father and mother? The facts are that kids have been acting like kids forever. I expect nothing different from today’s generation of kids.


The real problem with the youth is the way older generations remember & percieve things

Faulty memories

I want to first touch on something that most people fail to recognize which is that we have a tendency to romanticize the past; specifically, our own idea of the past. For example, growing up as a kid I basically lived to make it to the weekend classic car show. My dad or mother would get me ice cream and we would walk around looking at hot rods from the days when my father was a young man. Those were the good days; the golden days even. The 50’s are idealized as the perfect American age. Everyone respected everyone else. Everyone had jobs. Everyone stayed married. Everyone could afford to live if they worked hard. I loved thinking about these times and driving around a hot 57 Chevy. We think of the movie Grease and poodle dresses and high school romances.

However, I eventually grew up. I grew older and more educated, allowing facts and data to inform me of the past rather than my older relatives. The 50’s was not a golden age. The high school dropout rate was astronomical. Black’s were systematically and forcefully discriminated against. Even into the 50’s blacks were being lynched by these so called “God-fearing” people of the golden age. Teenagers were still sleeping together and marriages were still blowing up. In fact, my own grandmother was knocked up at age 15 and forced into marriage which, naturally, ended up in a divorce after years of a terrible marriage.

The previous generations also demeaned women and reduced them to baby-makers who’s only use was in the kitchen. They were discouraged from going to school and from having careers. In fact, if it was not for the 2nd world war the USA might have held onto these ideas even longer. One of the theology professors I had in seminary was a female and I asked her what seminary was like for her. She said in her first year she took Greek and on the first day of Greek class her male professor walked up to her desk, slammed a book on it, and yelled “women can’t learn Greek.” To which she replied “then how did women used speak it?” (Personally, my favorite burn of all time) I am glad that today’s teenage girls can look forward to having a career or a family or both, something that was not very possible just 2 generations ago.

The facts of the matter is that people tend to get attached to customs, routines, ways of talking and behaving. When it comes to religion people tend to do the same thing except they end up turning their love of the past into dogma. I have a Lutheran friend who is a pastor who actually had church members quit once he decided he no longer wanted to wear a robe for the service. In that same small town of about 7,000 people another pastor told me about how the previous pastor almost got fired over moving the altar from the front of the nave to the middle of the nave. Church members who had been there and seen that altar in the same place for years lost their minds. They called for his dismissal almost immediately…. but what was the crime? The crime was not treating the past as sacred.

But the past isn’t sacred.

I do not want to belabor this point so I will end with this thought: at this point in history we have less war, less poverty, more education, more information, more access, more social support, more financial mobility, and better chances to choose our own path than any other generation in all recorded history. Yes we still have problems in society, but as a whole the earth is well off.


In 2014 Time Magazine published an article about a condition called Juvenoia. They describe Juvenoia as such:

Every generation believes that the generation before was too rigid and conservative—and the generation after too wild and out-of-control. (Time, http://time.com/19818/whats-really-wrong-with-young-people-today-juvenoia/)

Those who suffer from Juvenoia tend to focus only on the negative (or perceived negative) aspects of today’s youth culture. They point out that the music they listen to is terrible and full of vulgarity. But wait, didn’t the 60’s give birth to Frank Zappa? And what about the the good old rock from the Rolling Stones? They had great hit’s like “Brown Sugar”! Wait, wasn’t that song about sleeping with underage black slave girls? Yea, the Rolling Stones sang about sleeping with 16 year old slave girls.

Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in the market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he’s doin’ all right
Hear him whip the women just around midnight

Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should

So on and so forth…..

I remember the first time I heard my mother listening to one of her favorite artists, Clarence Carter. I actually listened to the song Strokin’ and it was worse than any rap song you’ll hear today.

Now when I start making love to my woman
I don’t stop until I know she’s sex-ified
And I can always tell when she gets sex-ified
because when she gets sas-fied she start calling my name
She’d say: ‘Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter
Clarence Carter, ooh shit, Clarence Carter’
The other night I was strokin’ my woman
And it got so good to her, you know what she told me
Let me tell you what she told me, she said:
‘Stroke it Clarence Carter, but don’t stroke so fast
If my stuff ain’t tight enough, you can stick it up my’ woo!

But what about guys like classic American performer Ted Nugent? He had great hits like “Cat Scratch Fever”. But wait, what kind of fever is that? Let’s just say it’s not a real sickness, at least not what the song was talking about.

I can go on about culture now VS then but I think the point has been made. The issue isn’t that our youth culture is more corrupted than in previous generations. It’s that people tend to forget how terrible the youth culture was when they were younger. They remember the good parts and forget the bad. They look at today’s generation and only see the bad. This phenomenon is best explained by vsauce’s episode on Juvenoia. (Below)


Changing social contexts

One of the other issues that tend to lead to Juvenoia is that as we age we do not learn and adopt the new customs and trends. We also tend to not understand new trends. For example, when my father was moving into adulthood it was unheard of to see someone with piercings and colored hair. If someone had either of these they were pressured to be on drugs. When I was in high school it was incredibly common to see these things and indeed I had both. But I recall that my father was beside himself when I went through this phase. He was calling my siblings asking about my drug use and asking if I was flunking out of school. But I was an A/B student, involved in sports, and a leader in my youth group. My father just couldn’t put things into context properly.

The same is true for my wife’s parents. The time and location they come from believed that going to the “Cinema” is evil. I am sure that where they came from there was a reason why the movies were given a bad reputation. However, today we have Christian movies and family shows all day long in the theater. But my wife’s parents have not given themselves the liberty move away from these old way’s of thinking.

The older generation has to understand that things change with time.


Summary on kids these days

Every generation has it’s own discontents. It also has it’s heroes and successes. Just a mere 15 years ago I was a hopeless teenager and along with my classmates, we were all destined for ruin. Now we own businesses, have families, write software for the newest technologies, build machines that process the most advanced medicines, and create devices that allow us to connect with our loved ones across the world.

I’ve been on a number of mission trips and watched countless kids rebuild homes, serve the poor, love the lost, and change people’s lives. If I am allowed to be a little bit subjective on this matter I would actually learn towards the idea that kids today are better than the previous generation. But my perspective is skewed from being around teenagers too long, perhaps.

If we are being objective about judging each generation we have to look at the data and not our fears. Good research bases it’s results on facts. Those facts then form our opinions. Bad research is what leads to Juvenoia, which is creating facts to fit our bias and opinions. According to the facts, your teenager is just fine.

So settle down, take a deep breath, pray and relax. All teenagers are strange. They do stupid things. They say ridiculous things also. They will get in trouble and they will test the boundaries of both parents and authorities. This is the same growing up process that all people have to go through, just like I did and just like you did and just like your parents did.


So what is wrong with the kids? Nothing. The kids are just fine.



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