I very likely learned the word “hypocrisy” when I studied for the SATs in high school, but it was a fitting description for what I was seeing in the Adult world. I felt like Adults had unrealistically high expectations of me and my younger cohort, but didn’t manage to live up to those aspirations themselves. You know, telling us kids to be good, be kind, be respectful and then not abiding their own admonishments. It was a slow, disheartening learning experience to see the repeated cycle of Adults telling us kids one thing and doing the exact opposite themselves. It felt unfair, it seemed wrong, but there was nothing I could do about it because I was “just a kid.” So, I pledged to never become a hypocritical Adult myself.
I’ve come to accept that my decades-younger-Pleasant Progressive-self would likely be disappointed in the Adult me. I do occasionally fall into the easy traps of hypocrisy, the worst of which is lamenting the Youth Of Today (YOT). While I’m half joking, the YOT lament does get at a broader issue of perceived laziness—something that has permeated even my own understanding of the difference between being an Adult and being a YOT. Finish the sentence: “kids these days…” and it very likely has something to do with a shortcoming, idleness, or lack of drive. Adults tend to think that YOT are lazy (at worst) or under-motivated (at best) and should be doing a better job of having their lives and (future) responsibilities figured out.
Perhaps my redeeming Adult quality is that I can see the hypocrisy in this YOT lamenting, even if I’m the one doing it. Sure, some YOT are spoiled, over-coddled kids who would benefit from a series of “life lessons” about “hard work.” Some YOT need more structure, should contribute more to their communities, and most of them should stop making such bad music listening choices (I joke!). But the narrative of “kids these days” takes responsibility for children away from Adults—and that in itself is just a big bowl of hypocrisy soup. Adults—not YOT—have proven themselves totally incompetent at improving the lives of America’s children.
YOT-blaming also masks the more authentic experience of American Youth, which doesn’t seem all that awesome—but is more understandable given the aforementioned Adults’ incompetence. For the sake of fun, I did a little statistics trolling to help break down what American YOT are up against. No YOT is a statistic, but it is good food for thought for us Adults:
Let’s take an average American YOT. Chances are, our YOT identifies as white, but those odds are decreasing as our population shifts. And this wouldn’t matter, except that every childhood challenge correlates to minority status. Our YOT has a fifty-fifty chance of being a boy and about the same chance of being a planned birth. According to the CDC, that percentage fluctuates, and it’s generally higher for teenage mothers and women who have kids in their early twenties. Just because you arrive to this world as a result of an unplanned pregnancy certainly does not mean you’re an unwanted kid or that you’ll have bad parents. So let’s just go with what we know: half of our YOT join our world as a result of botched contraception, lack of access to facts about sex and/or contraception, forced sex, or just plain ignorance about sex. This is no fault of our YOT—we Adults make decisions about reproductive health issues.
Let’s say our lucky YOT is wanted and cared for by their kind and loving family. Chances are pretty good our YOT is being raised by a single mother, along with one-third of American kids today. Regardless of family structure, chances are also pretty good our YOT is living in poverty. Youth are about a quarter of our country’s population, but 36 percent of the poor population. Over 16 million kids under 18 qualify as poor, and nearly 20 million qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. Right, so that’s nearly half of all students in U.S. public schools qualifying for free or reduced-cost food because their families meet a damn weak definition of poverty. Again, no YOT is asking to get free food or is well-fed but excited to live in a community where other kids are living in poverty—we Adults make decisions about these types of income inequalities.
Of course, poverty exacerbates many other challenges, including access to health care and other niceties that makes up a healthy life for YOT. Pre-ACA implementation, one in ten kids are uninsured and around four million kids are eligible for federally funded health insurance but aren’t enrolled because of stupid bureaucracy. Lots of American kids without doctors—again, not by any YOT decision. And I have to mention how many kids are considered overweight or obese—that’s one in three. Are five year-olds to blame for being obese? What about a fifteen year-old?
If our YOT happens to be a girl, she has a one in five chance of being the victim of child sexual abuse. Studies show that nearly a quarter of adult women recall a childhood sexual abuse incident. Regardless of gender, one in five kids between ages 10 and 17 have reported receiving an unwanted sexual solicitation while online. According to an article I read poking around the interwebs, two thirds of parents don’t monitor their kids’ activity online. The idea that kids these days are being preyed upon and assaulted because of anything to do with anything other than Adults is asinine.
Maybe our YOT has made it through childhood safe and sound, so let’s talk about schools. Luckily, they’re providing free food… because the quality education bit has been a struggle. Less than 80 percent of high school students get their diploma on time. We’re graduating kids who can’t read (1 in 5 of us Adults read below a 5th grade level) and kids who can’t go to college (in 2010, just over 40 percent of 18- to 24 year-olds enrolled in higher education). I can tell you from personal experience that the quality of our YOT’s education is undeniably impacted by these realities—even high achievers notice when most of their classmates can’t go to college and many can’t read.
Why are our YOT living like this? Why are they dealing with poverty, fatness, inadequate schools, no doctors, and even child abuse? If we’re going to lament YOT as lazy or pompous kids who haven’t done their math homework or mowed the yard or found a longer skirt, let’s simultaneously bemoan the crappy cohort of Adults who made their lives this way. Starting a sentence with “kids these days…” means at least this: you’re about to say something about kids that via a big bowl of hypocrisy soup is really just an expression of your disappointment in other Adults.
The Pleasant Progressive