May 13, 2010, 08:27

by Lon Woodbury

This seems to be a perennial question going back to early history. Even in ancient Greece, Plato claimed the younger generation was lazy, disrespectful, etc. That seems to be saying the younger generation, when he was talking as an adult, was not up to standards his generation met when they were young. There have been similar comments from just about every generation since. One problem with this is observations like these are always subjective. Thus the question always remains, and is often debated by childcare workers and other adults even today. That is, are children of each generation usually pretty much the same, or is there a higher percentage of struggling teens today? One possible conclusion is the older generation will always be critical of the younger generation, as if adults have forgotten what it was like to be young, and we shouldn’t take such observations very seriously.

However, in the past few decades, scientific research has been applied to this question, with the hope that a little bit of scientific objectivity can answer the question if young people today are really different from previous generations.

I blogged last January about a study that indicated struggling teens are more common now than they were just a generation or two ago in the blog post Are Struggling Teens More Common Now Than In Past Generations? This study seems to confirm there is a higher percentage of young people having emotional problems now than in previous generations. This conclusion is also supported by examples like the educator concluding from personal experience that Generation Y children are ‘harder to teach’. Of course this is a subjective conclusion, but the study I mentioned in January indicates there is some research evidence to back it up.

However, the jury is still out on this question. Although not a straight comparison, this study, based on the behaviors, attitudes and values of nearly a half-million American students over the last 30 years, goes the opposite direction. It concludes modern students are not that much different from students over the last 30 years.

So where does that leave us? It seems to say that human behavior, and especially that of young people, is not that simple. It could be that both these apparently contradictory studies are right if we could just figure out what this apparently contradictory research is telling us. Until someone can get a handle on the full implications of this research that appears contradictory, I guess we are free to speculate. And, the debate continues.

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