Do young people today get a bad wrap over an idealisation of the past? Here are 7 ways the younger people today aren’t worse than previous generations.
If you know me, you know my wife and I absolutely love Gong Cha. Not the milk teas or the tapioca pearls, but the green and alisan teas with a fruit in them. Oooh and Aloe Vera. If you’re shouting, Grapefruit Green Tea or Mango/Lemon Alisan teas no sugar with Aloe Vera you can’t go wrong. So good.
We were out with our young daughter around Southbank over the Christmas break at the store there when I realised something – I’m not going to be able to open this big door at the angle I’m wheeling the pram. What am I going to do? I’m on struggle street. And I’m blocking everyone inside from being able to reach the handle themselves.
A group of young men was walking passed, perhaps early 20s, and one of them saw me struggling with my life choices over by the door and rushed over to open it for us. I hope that young man is blessed beyond belief for seeing a stranger and helping out.
To be honest, this isn’t the first time a younger person has helped me out when getting bub sorted – I remember another young man who brought some food for me all the way out to my car – and to be fair, it hasn’t just been younger people who have lent a hand. I remember being in a local grocery store and an older gentleman gave me a free bag when I realised whilst carrying a squirming baby that I couldn’t find the one I thought I had brought, and another lady offered to help carry some things on another occasion even though she already had a lot herself.
Kindness, man. It still matters.
These many occurrences, in addition to the fact I love researching topics of human interaction, friendship and romantic relationships, and helping people work through issues, had me on the line of thinking about the differences between the younger and the older generations.
Younger people today cop a lot of slack on a variety of topics. There is a perception of being ruder, less focused, more distracted, and not as good or wise as those who have gone before.
But when people start sentences with “Back in my day”, is it really an accurate description of how great things used to be? Or a romantic fantasy denying how things really were? Are current generations actually worse than previous generations?
I would probably concede one area (generally) is that work ethic seems to be lower. This is more an anecdotal observation of general trends mainly in the various workplaces I’ve been in and in discussions with others in different industries, but not one I could prove with any real evidence, hence leaving this one out for now.
But what about all these other ones we see in the news so regularly? About how millenials/Gen Zers/Alphas are worse, or seem worse, at so many things?
Let’s take a critical, statistical, and realistic look at 7 ways I don’t actually see the current generation being any worse than previous generations… and perhaps some ways we’re doing even better.
For context, I’m a married cis dad in the later half of being a millenial.
#1: Cancel Culture
This is the one the media absolutely loves to hammer on about, especially in the last 2-3 years. We see companies like Disney slapping parental controls on movies like Peter Pan, celebrities refused invitations to events because of perceived controversial opinions, or social media sites getting absolutely slammed or deleted for things people have said or done.
It seems like there’s a lot of merit to what seems to be a “new” phenomenon.
After all, everyone keeps saying how this is new, and has never happened before, and how much oppression people are under nowadays for sharing opinions or discussing sex, drugs, politics and/or religion, sometimes all at once.
But if you have a look through history, there is absolutely no way that this is any worse than previous generations. In fact I would argue it has been way worse before.
Consider the French Revolution. Nowadays we think it’s outrageous that someone has their Twitter banned or even suspended for sharing a 140 character statement that people don’t like. However, should you have spoken or written a sentence that could have been perceived to be counter-revolutionary, well, off with your head. In the street. Christian churches and other religious centres were converted to “Churches of Reason”. Progress was touted while 27000 people were executed.
How about during World War I or II? The Roman Empire? Or the Greek? The Russian Revolution? The Soviet, Communist, or Nazi occupation of various countries? How about life in Ancient Sparta?
While people may have been more tolerant (or maybe more like silent) about comments of offense during the time of the boomer, history shows us that it’s been worse, and indeed way worse, in the past.
#2: Sexual exploitation
Don’t get me wrong – I hate sexual exploitation. I’ve written extensively denouncing sex trafficking, what pornography does, the rise of sexual violence in cinema recently, the preference of sex with screens over people, and even why I think sex scenes ruin your love life, even if it’s in a PG rated film. My generation is pretty screwed up in this area.
But there is ample evidence that this was worse in previous generations, or at least just as bad.
I mean look no further than the number of allegations coming out about celebrities, business tycoons, sexually frustrated religious figures, and other deviants in recent years. Many of these are historical cases perpetrated by those in the generations above. That said, I’m sure a day is coming when the current generations have to stand trial for what they do in the shadows.
The 60s and 70s gave birth to a genre of film that unashamedly exploited women known as sexploitation. Swinger parties abounded. With less information and options around protection you were more likely to have a brother or sister you never knew about. These were just the earlier equivalents to the adult dating apps, porn sites and OnlyFans mechanisms of the current day.
And even history will show us that culture was once on the side of the sexual abuser. Consider the various religions that have enacted sexual rituals such as in ancient Greek, Roman, Assyrian and Babylonian religions. Encouraged, widespread, and seen to be something noble even, and perhaps even with children and teenagers. Women and children especially have been used and abused by men and systems that have been built by those who cannot find or have rejected more healthy mechanisms to appease their sexual desire.
Fortunately the greater consensus of society and our justice system pursues those who have exploited others sexually (to varying degrees of success I will admit). And while I hate it being done in my own generation and beyond, it’s simply untrue to say that it’s never been like this before, because it always has been.
#3: Handling of money and debt
Yes – AfterPay, ZipPay, credit cards and short term loans granted by a few key presses in an app on your phone are ruining people’s financial realities and futures.
But this isn’t new. And while numbers of young people still manage their finances poorly, are they actually worse than their parents or grandparents?
A 2021 American study showed Gen X and Boomers, rather than having it all paid off over time, have on average a $10000-60000 higher level of debt than the younger generations. A further study showed Gen X and Boomers actually have higher incidences of credit card debt, and another went so far as to say these generations were spending away their kids’ inheritance.
That said, a 2018 Australian study put the younger generations at the lowest percentages of seeking financial advice or wealth products. An additional Australian study from 2018 found those under 40 saved more, had clearer financial goals, and made use of a budget at rates higher than those older, and yet still believe the use of alternative credit products was good for them financially #whoops
All that to say, better in some ways, worse in others, and we see in finances that older does not always mean wiser. But neither does younger.
#4: Ability to sustain longterm relationships
I remember when I was a teenager fully comprehending what “cheating on someone” meant. Once I discovered it, it seemed to me that the numbers of those cheating were going up. I’ll never forget my mum saying, “No Matt, this isn’t new, people have always been like that”, which helped me realise this has been a problem for millenia.
And it’s unfortunately true.
In fact the generations that are alive today could point to the sexual revolution of the 1970s (or earlier) for one of the greatest times of infidelity and marriage breakdown. There can be scary levels of correlation between the issues in the younger generation’s today and what was passed to them by the generation before. Domestic violence isn’t a new thing, and I know many boomers and Gen Xers who grew up themselves in homes full of turmoil and fighting.
Australian statistics from 2017 show that family breakdowns involving and affecting children fell from 67.6% in 1975 to 47.1% in 2017. Some American research showed the rate of nonfatal DV to be decreasing in addition to more and more support being available for these issues. Maybe the young people aren’t doing as bad as is being described, comparitively.
But even then, this has been a prevalent issue throughout human history.
What makes it hard to gauge is that we didn’t track it statistically as well in the past, given that society was much stronger geared towards the sanctity of marriage as a whole, and it was considered much more taboo culturally to be or do anything but, or even to talk about it.
But watch any historical documentary from any one of the centures in human history and you’ll find letters from mistresses and lovers, of rulers who flaunted multiple concubines, of people who got married simply for convenience or land, of children dismissed or belittled by their insecure custodians. We find in the diaries of those long past just as many people unhappy and discontent in their relationships and searching for answers elsewhere.
I think one thing the generations that are alive today have as both a severe advantage and disadvantage is the instantenous access to information. On the one hand we can find answers for our marriage, friendship, sexual, or any other problem at the click of a few buttons or a spoken sentence. Conversely, we can also find opportunities for unfaithfulness, for aggression, and for the illusion of choice within those same few seconds.
Better or worse? Better in some ways, worse in others. Relationships take work – they always have, they always will. And unless you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll repeat the troubles of the generations before you, and most likely pass it on to your own descendents.
Break the cycle.
#5: Too much time on their phones
Now this is an interesting one. Obviously unless you were Gordon Gekko of Wall Street (great series of movies those two) you probably didn’t have a fancy phone for quite a while. So how do we compare the generations on this one?
Simple. The real issue is that of escapism, and indeed escapism to the detriment of your loved ones or your society at large.
A classic example I always have copped as a millenial is how everyone on public transport is always looking at their phones. To which I reply:
Same issue, different device. And usually young people are “antisocial” from the perspective of who they talk to on the bus or the train, but way more actively social by the merit of how many people they are communicating with from their little screen. Potentially at least.
In truth, if it wasn’t the phone of the newspaper, it was the golf score, the runs on the board at work, the time at the pub, the snooker tables, the bottle of alcohol, the state libraries, the theatres and streets and marketplaces. Or as singer Michael Card put it, perhaps just the destructive silence of a closed door, meaning the “youngest son would starve for what he would always do without”.
I mean, if you are older, I would ask you what it was really truly like in your own home growing up, or for your friends who had distant and unavailable parents and siblings. The truth is that it wasn’t great for many people back then either, and sometimes this notion of how young people seem to act is bleak in comparison to an entirely romanticised, and I would even say unrealistic, recollection of the past.
People have always wanted to escape and many people then live their whole lives escaped, and today is not really any worse than previous generations in that regard. Just in a different skin.
#6: Aggression and mistreatment of others
Over the last two years I’ve been on a super history kick. I’ve always enjoyed learning about and been aware of world events, but I perhaps have not been as aware in detail of just how many freaking wars there have been, particularly in Europe.
Take World War I for example. The education system would have you believe it just triggered out of one event. In reality, Europe had been at war for hundreds of years on every front, with multiple empires seizing the opportunity to expand. It’s absolutely painful to think that the empires all remained at war for 3 years after the original countries “that started everything” had been defeated.
Even World War II was similar, which reflected the constant fighting across Asia particularly through the imperialisation of Japan and wars in other regions, and once again, the perpetual skirmishes across Europe. But before that, there have been warring tribes, acts of mass genocide, slavery (which the American Civil War was really about), imperial conquest, and acts of violence on large and immediate scales.
This has occurred between every people group in every country since one brother was jealous of the other at the dawn of time.
In truth, compared to previous decades, even the amount of hostility and unrest around the world occurring today pales in comparison to the way people have treated their fellow man (as in mankind, humankind).
I know I’ve mentioned war to cover off the large-scale conflicts we encounter with each other, but the small skirmishes from the kitchen to the boardroom can leave just as many wounded as some of these great tragedies of our time.
Hatred, bigotry, destroying the ones you love over trivial or selfish reasons – none of these are new. They’ve been present, and they will continue. Our level of participation in these wars is up to us.
#7: The search for direction and purpose
I want to matter. You want to matter. We all want to matter and live fulfilled and significant lives. We need it or we start to do really stupid things.
No matter how far we progress, this inherent need in the human heart is obvious across all our writing, all our media, all our photographs, all our endeavours.
Whether it’s a young lady trying to find a course at university that resonates with her, a middle age man working out how to make a difference for his wife and children, a single parent trying to make ends meet, a politician trying to make decisions, a French general trying to further his country and career, a priest calling out oppression, a Greek ruler trying ot unify a kingdom, or an ancient Pharoah trying to build things that would last millenia, history is dotted with so many people acting out trying to find their place in this world.
When we take the time to see the heart behind the actions, we see how much we really are the same, and where exactly it is that we are broken and in need of restoration the most.
What’s the point of all this?
So if you’re an older person reading this, you may be thinking that my intent with this was to launch a savage counterattack calling out the hypocrisy of the older generations towards the younger. And if you’re a younger person, you may be thinking I didn’t do a very good job of defending the younger generations in pointing out a lot of our faults.
The point is this – that people are people, and as much as we want to believe we are completely unique in our experience of life and doing better than everyone else, the truth is we’re all the same in many ways. The Scriptures call us out on this by reminding us that there is nothing new under the sun, and that nothing has seized us in life except that which is common to mankind.
I believe that young people can be wise, and I also believe that there’s no better combination than both age and wisdom. I also believe all of us are accountable for our generation, and what we plan to leave for the next ones.
From one generation to another, we can either declare praise, wisdom, solid habits, right beliefs, and strength. Or we can continue to pass on and reinforce the human cycle of hatred, of isolation, of destruction, of self-seeking.
Today’s young people are no worse than previous generations, and in truth, even the older generations with all their own problems are no worse than the ones that came before them. And one day the young people of today will be the older people of tomorrow that may or may not be going through the same motions once again.
One of my favourite men in history was King Hezekiah of Judah. Although his father perpetuated and reinforced generations of ill conduct and selfishness, Hezekiah cleaned house and gave the current generation a fresh start to believe and to live right.
He didn’t hide away blaming his dad or the culture or other governments or how bad the world is. He empowered the people he was responsible for to absolutely live their best life.
You and I have the same opportunity.
Wouldn’t it be great if all of us could adopt the mentality of Hezekiah – to build on the great things that have come before us, to clear out the negative things that have been passed on and repeated, and to set up the next generation for a bright future.
How about you? Do you think young people today are worse than previous generations? Or vice versa? How do you think one person can make a difference in their generation and for all who are to come?