These are the traditional actions of an older, more experienced person when viewing the youth of today going about their business.
Today, we all revile Millennials, because, honestly, it’s an easy thing to do. We watch them: glued to their cell phones, popping selfies and living online. We laugh at their lofty ambitions to have meaningful careers, and can’t wait for them to get a taste of the real world.
All in all, we basically act like antagonizing assholes towards younger people. And I have a theory why: we are secretly jealous of them.
Being someone who was born in the late 70s, I came into my teenage years around 1990. I was a child of Super Mario Bros, Milli Vanilli and Saved by the Bell. All three did nothing to damage my psyche (as far as I can tell) but they were certainly reviled by my parents, grandparents, and anyone older than me.
“Video games are a waste of time… go outside.”
“You call that music! That’s just a bunch of noise!”
“This TV show is ridiculous… you’re killing your brain cells.”
And so on.
The older person would get a smug sense of satisfaction criticizing my life choices. I would get to be an angsty, misunderstood teenager. Kind of a good deal, in some respects. We both felt like we were right.
But of course, at the time I couldn’t really see that was the case. I figured that older people didn’t get it and that I was right and they were wrong.
Fast forward 25 years, and I found myself shaking my head and criticizing the youth of today for being surgically attached to a phone. I figured that these younger people didn’t get it, that I was right and they were wrong.
Notice a pattern here?
In less than a quarter of a lifetime, I had gone from being a misunderstood youth to misunderstanding youth. And instead of seeing myself as a link in the chain, I just fell for the same schtick.
The world always seems to be going to hell. Back in 1925, the Hull Daily Mail, a newspaper that still exists to this day was condemning youth:
“We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.” – The Conduct of Young People.
It seemed that even in 1925 the world was going to hell because of the youth of today. Less than 25 years later, those same youth were condemning the next generation for listening to rock and roll, wearing blue jeans and idolizing Marlon Brando.
You get the idea: every generation reaches a point where they decide the way they grew up was better than the way the young people are living today.
However, here are two fallacies I’ve discovered:
1) There is no actual group of ‘young people’. There are only individuals behaving differently than you would choose to.
2) The time period you are idealizing wasn’t actually that different in terms of importance or value. It just felt like that because your life experience was shorter at that time.
Recently I heard a great phrase from Gary Vaynerchuk on this topic: “We accept the past. We criticize the current.”
Upon hearing this, I had to admit it was true for me.
My dress style and taste in music stagnated about 10 years ago. My interest in video games and ‘cool’ celebrities became less pointed. I’d started to appreciate home furnishings more than nightclubs.
Of course, like everyone, I called this growing up. But lately, I’ve started to see that by ignoring or dismissing the current world, I am the one losing.
I learned a few years ago when I attended a punk show with my sister that there is a lot of life out there to experience. When we shun the current and cling to the past, we shortchange who we can become.
I may never completely understand the youth culture of today, but what I can do is respect it. I can take an interest in what is current and embrace it as a part of an evolving world. When I do this, I find that my desire to criticize disappears, and so does my jealousy about no longer being young.
‘Kids these days’ are doing their best to navigate unfamiliar waters, just like us.
And when we join them in the discovering, joy is the reward.