What’s wrong with kids these days? They just need to learn a little respect! Amirite?
There have been a lot of shitty things in the news that involve young people lately. No one is arguing that. Four rapes resulting in three suicides. I can’t even. We absolutely need to be asking questions that move us toward change, but “What is wrong with kids these days?”—it’s the wrong question, you guys.
If I was a teenager, I’d be put off by this question and its sentiment. I’d feel misunderstood, invisible and belittled. I might start being an asshole just to spite the condescending adults asking this question.
The assumption that comes with this question is that things used to be better.
Rape didn’t just start happening. And rape victims have been slut-shamed and ostrasized for all of time. The difference? The mean girls (and boys) didn’t have social media and smartphones to spread hate in the quantity or at the rate they do today. They didn’t have the audience or the platform. There is no longer a refuge for bullied kids; they carry the playground with them everywhere they go. The harassment is portable.
I’ve been a teacher for nine years, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard adults lament over how much more disrespectful and shitty small humans have become.
“My mom used to just give me a look, and that would be it! We didn’t dare talk back in my day. No siree!”
Well, I dunno! I don’t know the answer or the science behind that observation, or even if it’s true. I do know that we’re not honouring kids when we say shit like this about them and the groups they belong to.
Some kids are being taught all the wrong things at home and those ideas are being reinforced by the media. Others have parents doing all the right things and their kids consume that same media.
It’s really fucking hard to cover all your bases as a parent. One minute I think I’ve got parenting in the bag, and the next minute Emma is making a face while she watches Cam and Mitch kiss on an episode of Modern Family playing in the salon while I get a haircut. I shrink as she calls across the room, “Ew! Mom, I think those two are gay!”
I read somewhere that parenting can be like following around the town drunk. Yuh huh.
I’ve done things I’m not proud of that my upbringing didn’t foster. I was a bully in elementary school. I’ve said cruel, hateful things trying to feel less small. I’ve made decisions as an adult I wish I could take back. My home wasn’t the easiest place to grow up, but it was filled with a lot of love and regard for humanity.
I also grew up around the bigotry and sexism of the 80s.
Likely none of these parents imagined their kid would hurt another human being one day. Anyone is capable of anything given the right circumstances. These boys aren’t monsters—they’re products of years of misogynistic messages reinforced by media and day-to-day nuances hidden in jokes, stereotypes, social norms, and ignorant (perhaps well-meaning) guidance.
Or maybe some of them are monsters, but they aren’t a sweeping representation of all Kids These Days.
So let’s stop asking, “What’s wrong with kids these days?” And let’s start asking:
- How can we teach consent?
- How can we educated kids about the responsibility of a bystander?
- How can we teach kids to be critical, compassionate thinkers?
- How can we support and save victims of rape and bullying?
- How can we empower teachers to create safe spaces for tricky, important conversations with students?
- How can we empower parents to tackle these topics?
- How can we support parents who don’t have the resources to tackle these topics?
- What’s great about kids these days?