The Trouble With Kids Today...


"The trouble with kids today..." I don't know about you, but I'm tired of listening to grown men and women, who should know better, complaining about how the youth of today are disrespectful, disengaged and morally broken. 

It's not as if this line of reasoning is unique to our time and place in history. The Greek poet Hesiod, back in 700BC whined:

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly, all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint."

And here we are, 28 centuries later, convinced that our sons and daughters are toxic and entitled, self-absorbed and self-righteous - I could go on. Well, having spent almost 3 decades in education, I feel compelled to add my voice to the debate. Believe me when I tell you that the vast majority of young people in our society deserve our respect and admiration, rather than our scorn.

I use the term 'kids', and not 'children' because it provides an acronym which I use to keep my own judgement in check: K.I.D.S.

Kids are Kind

Most are fundamentally good-hearted and empathetic. I have lost count of the number of small acts of generosity and compassion that I have witnessed in the playground and corridors of my school. Is there bullying, gossip and prejudice too? Of course - we are talking about young people, not Angels! On the whole, though, kids have their hearts in the right place and their moral compass is aligned to true north.

A couple of days ago my six-year-old was watching a scene from 'The Karate Kid', and burst into tears when he saw Mr Miyagi trying to snatch a fly from the air with chopsticks. He didn't want the fly to be hurt. This instinct to cherish and protect is found in most of the kids I teach too.

Kids are Intelligent

There's a lot of talk about how the digital world is dumbing down future generations. They don't read anymore. They can't do basic arithmetic without a calculator. They can't even hold a decent conversation at the dinner table!

What we fail to take into account is that there are multiple types of intelligence and kids are hard-wired to learn, if they see value in the challenges they are given. Perhaps we need to look again at what is going on in our schools and whether they are fit for purpose. Is their education offering a learning journey that is meaningful and preparing them for the world beyond the school gates? Kids have pretty well-tuned BS detectors and I suspect their disaffection is often a sign that they can smell that something about school is past its sell-by date!

In comparison to my pre-tech childhood, the kids today are managing and processing vast oceans of data. They are maintaining complex social relationships and preparing for a world which is morphing faster than ever before. They are navigating a crushing number of exams and assessments while preparing for an uncertain job market. They are having to be savvier and better informed than I ever was at their age. They are smart - just 21st century smart.

Kids are Driven

This is perhaps the biggest misconception about kids today; they are not lazy and idle. Watch them labouring to master a new move on their skateboard, build a city on Minecraft or upload their latest vlog onto YouTube - they are busy, productive and self-motivated. They display impressive reserves of motivation, innovation and grit because during those times they are in the flow and at play. Just because kids don't want to play our game, doesn't mean they're not players!

Kids are Scared

This is the one we mustn't lose sight of because it explains so much about why our sons and daughters behave as they do. Many of our kids operate with low-level anxiety as a constant soundtrack to their daily existence. This is, in part, because their hormones and brain chemistry is in flux, but it is also because they are trying to navigate a chaotic world in which they have little agency. 

Their parents are often in free fall, or at least too busy to notice and guide them, so they tend to feel isolated and disoriented. Schools, in turn, often treat their students as means to an end, rather than ends in themselves - they are valued according to their grades, rather than who they are as people. This is not because teachers are shallow, but a reflection of the pressure they are under to continuously 'raise standards' (don't get me started!).

In just the last couple of months, the world has been on the brink of two nuclear showdowns, Brexit is looming and the press is full of stories about plastic pollution, environmental crisis and rising crime figures. Is it any wonder that kids are afraid? They may be children but so many are unable to enjoy the kind of carefree childhood I, and perhaps you, were afforded. Kids today are too well informed, too attuned to the uncertainty of the future, and too aware that they are, at least for now, powerless to change things for the better. So they are scared - angry and confused too, but mostly scared - even if they mask it with bluster and teenage angst.

So the next time you see someone climb up onto their soapbox and proclaim "The trouble with kids today...", remember that they are Kind, Intelligent, Driven and Scared. Do kids sometimes make poor choices? Yes, of course but, on balance, there is very little that is wrong with the kids today!

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Andy Fisher is the creator of Tests of Life - an educational project designed to help students, parents and teachers navigate the 'hidden curriculum'. He is an English teacher and PSHE co-ordinator, based on the east coast of the UK and uses his blog, podcast and digital products to spread the word that schools should be preparing young people for the tests of life, and not just for a life of tests!