Friday, November 24, 2023

Why You Think Kids These Days Are Terrible

This piece of 2019 research bubbled up recently, and it's an interesting look at the eternal complaint that Kids These Days are Terrible. Or as the authors, John Protzko and Jonathan W. Schooler put it, "Kids these days: Why the youth of today seem lacking." Protzko and Schooler were at the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara. 

The introduction kicks off just as any intro on the subject should:

Youth were never more sawcie… the ancient are scorned, the honourable are contemned, the magistrate is not dreaded.—Thomas Barnes, the minister of St. Margaret’s Church on New Fish Street in London, 1624

Since at least 624 BCE, people have lamented the decline of the present generation of youth relative to earlier generations (25). The pervasiveness of complaints about “kids these days” across millennia suggests that these criticisms are neither accurate nor due to the idiosyncrasies of a particular culture or time—but rather represent a pervasive illusion of humanity.

And yet, they note, nobody seems to have spent much time researching why this pervasive illusion persists.

The pair ran a series of studies, and golly bob howdy but the write-ups are filled with piles of wonky statistical mathy stuff, but let me pull out the highlights for you.

First, the more authoritarian a person is, the more likely they are to believe that Kids These Days respect their elders less than they used to. 

Second, they found that the more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to believe that Kids These Days are dumber. A particularly striking effect because, the researchers say, intelligence has been rising steadily across the decades. They also note that the belief in dumbification didn't correlate with respect for authority, suggesting that the folks in the first study weren't just down on all aspects of Kids These Days.

Third, they found that the more a person enjoys reading, the more likely they are to believe that Kids These Days don't like to read any more. In this study they also cross-checked for a correlation with politics, and found none. Conservatives are neither more nor less likely to believe in the downfall of reading in this generation.

And they provide a handy chart.

You see the pattern. People tend to believe that a trait they themselves have is lacking in Kids These Days. The researchers pursued that connection.

They did another version of the Like To Read study. They found that well-read people not only thought Kids These Days don't like to read, but they weren't too keen on Adults Thes Days either. The study suggested that memory is a bit subjective. In other words, young readers hung out with other young readers and treat that sample as representative of all their peers. "My friends and I liked to read, therefor, everybody liked to read."

The fifth study is the wacky one. They gave adults an Author Recognition Test and then randomly told them that they were either in the top or bottom 15%. That actually affected how they judged Kids These Days--even how much they "remembered" enjoying reading as a child. People are amazing.

The results in one sentence:

The present findings suggest that denigrating today’s youth is a fundamental illusion grounded in several distinct cognitive mechanisms, including a specific bias to see others as lacking in those domains on which one excels and a memory bias projecting one’s current traits to past generations.

This all tracks for me. You don't have to look at adults to see the Kids These Days effect in action. As a high school teacher who dealt with all four grades (9-12), I heard, through the entire length of my career, upperclasspersons complain about the underclasspersons. "They are so much more disrespectful than we were," goes the refrain, and more to the point, "I would never have talked to a senior or teacher like that when I was a freshman." 

The latter may have been true, but as I would tell my disturbed upperclasspersons, "You might now have, but plenty of your classmates that you didn't hang out with surely did." When they were young, they saw a very narrow slice of what was going on; now that they're older, they see much more, including the kids of people and behaviors that they were neither around nor aware of in their long-ago youth (seriously-- seniors will gladly tell you that their freshman year was roughly a thousand years ago).

Protzko and Schooler acknowledge that some of the effect could be related to actual declines in one characteristic or another, but when it comes to intelligence they're pretty sure not, and when it comes to the rest, since the complaints have been constant for 2500 years, we ought to be in a state of total societal collapse. 

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the kids are any more terrible than the last generation. They are just as terrible, but in different ways. What they are is uneducated due to the Common Bore test prep curriculum. History, geography, science has been ignored since it's not covered on the stupid standardized tests.