Kids These Days

August 25, 2022

“Kids these days.” Of all the tropes I loathe, and there are plenty- this one takes the cake. I have to assume that dating back to the time of neanderthals, people used to complain about how “kids these days” just aren’t as tough as they used to be. Each generation assuming only they could bring down a mastodon with one punch, only they were capable of building a decent fire and only they could make deer shapes on cave walls with any proficiency.
I see how my kids behave and get tempted to think the same thing. They are monumentally dumb and lazy at times and I have to wonder how, as a species, is it possible that we continue to survive? I think our chances are bleak with our future dependent on these people that take shelter in my home.

I have to remember though, that not long ago, I was once quite dumb and lazy. Some might even suggest it was as recently as this past weekend. But kids are kids, as they always have been and so shall they remain.
What always strikes me about the “kids these days” cliché is how it overlooks a very important component. PARENTS! Kids these days are being raised by parents these days. The failings of children all go back to one source. So when you hear a person complain about their kids, they are only shouting out their own failings. I am well aware that the shortcomings of my offspring fall at my feet. I have no one else to blame but myself when my son doesn’t know where the kitchen is or when my daughter gets temporarily buried under a pile of her own dirty clothes.

Kids these days are the same as they ever were. They need guidance and direction. They need someone to teach them what to do and how to behave. They have to know what is expected of them. Kids are like the rest of us, if we want them to perform to our expectations, we have to be clear about our expectations and give them the tools to succeed.
I am not trying to defend my kids with this post. They are awful just like their parents (ok, maybe just me). I am attempting to defend a scapegoat that seems to make a convenient excuse for everything a community can’t accomplish.
A month doesn’t pass in which I don’t hear an exasperated volunteer complain how the younger generations just don’t want to get involved. They say “The kids these days, they don’t volunteer, they don’t care about their community.” Oh really? This is the problem in your town? All these people that were born into sprawl-hell are to blame? The people that had nothing to do with the destruction of your town, they are at fault?

Here is the problem with this line of thinking. For one, it’s intellectually lazy. I find it very hard to believe that after thousands of generations of civilization, we have finally arrived at the one generation that just doesn’t give a shit about their community. These are the people that just don’t want to live in a friendly town, these are the kids that don’t want social connections and they are determined not to live in a nice place. It’s preposterous, of course, to assume that the next generation cares any less about community than the one before.

But what is entirely possible, is that the “kids these days” have never experienced a sense community and don’t know what it means, how it behaves, how to foster it or how to support it. It’s actually quite likely that “parents these days” decimated the sense of community and now choose to point fingers instead of taking ownership of the problem.
There is absolutely no logical reason to believe that one generation is any different from another. All kids will behave like kids. Mine behave like I did and now I find myself behaving like my parents. The universal truth is that people are all the same. Town to town, country to country, and generation to generation, people act the same. We value the same things, we want the same things. Most people are great everywhere, but there are also assholes in every single place that mess things up. There isn’t a town of all nice people and there isn’t town full of just assholes, not even Philly.

It’s not that “kids these days” are any different from the kids that came before. They are not. They are the same as the five hundred generations that came before them. Toss a kid in a time machine and they would navigate some other century just as poorly as they do this one. The kids haven’t changed, they have simply adapted to the surroundings we provided.
Once you start to look at how much our landscape has changed in the last half-century, you begin to see the issue a little more clearly. Kids didn’t change, their environment did. Few kids these days even grow up in a real community. They grow up isolated in subdivisions, having a harder time finding friends, being stranded by a lack of car rides or penned in by dangerous streets. They can’t walk to school, or the park or the ice cream shop. They are simply a product of their environment. Of course they still want to play with friends and adventure outside. Of course they want to explore. But we isolated all of the kids at the end of the cul-de-sac, handed them an iPad to entertain themselves because they were bored out of their minds…and then we complained about how they didn’t play outside.

I didn’t grow up with community. My family, like everyone else, moved away from the type of density my grandparents enjoyed. We moved away from people and parks and playgrounds. Away from friends and community. Away from walkability. I grew up isolated, all kinds of acres and no one to enjoy it with.

Kids these days have simply learned to deal with the garbage we built them. They don’t get to experience a sense of community, they don’t get to play freely, or roam around and explore. They are trapped and I can promise you, they didn’t do this to themselves.

I didn’t get to grow up in a community like my parents or grandparents, but once I have a chance to experience “community” I knew I wanted it. I knew I wanted to raise my kids in such a place. I knew how much I wanted to provide them with a different experience. Of freedom, autonomy, of the fun of meeting up with friends and the feeling of have a life of their own. I knew we couldn’t find this place at in the suburbs. Car places, it turns out, are the enemy of children.
Neighborhoods like our grandparents grew up in are in short supply these days. Not because people didn’t love them, but because we have made it impossible to build them. These places that shaped the generations before us are nearly gone and the few that remain are growing increasingly expensive because people know how valuable they are.

Kids these days have adapted to a setting that isn’t fit for them, because it’s not fit for anyone. The range kids travel outside the house on foot has been steadily declining for decades and is a paltry and pitiful distance these days. The amount of kids that can walk to school has dropped by nearly 2/3rds in the last 70 years. Do you think this is because kids don’t like to play outside? Because kids don’t want to walk, or kids don’t want to explore with friends? Is that it? Or could it be when everyone left the city block for the suburban cul-de-sac, we screwed over our kids. Now we blame them for adapting.

Kids these days didn’t do anything wrong, they are just suffering from the decisions those that came before them made. Stop blaming them for their lack of civic engagement, because who ever taught them what it means to be civic-minded? Stop wringing your hands because they don’t value a sense of community, because they’ve likely never experienced it. And stop blaming their shortcomings as the reason your committee doesn’t have volunteers, because no one ever taught them the value of volunteering and also, your committee might just be really boring.

Stop using the younger generations as a scapegoat for why your community revitalization efforts aren’t taking hold. I can promise you they aren’t to blame and they are suffering more than anyone. So if you find yourself about to mutter those three awful words, take a quick trip to the mirror and ask yourself, who raised these damn kids these days anyway?

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