Our parents said it to us, and I find myself saying it to my students sometimes – “Things were harder when I was your age.” I tell them about a world with no computers or smartphones, a world without remote controls or instant messaging. And somehow, I sound sentimental about that world, as if it was better, forgetting that it was a more innocent time because *I* was more innocent.
In the Intercultural Communication class, we talk about various ways of communicating across cultures, including the “generation gap.” A couple of years back, this discussion took an interesting turn I’ve never forgotten. We were talking about how many professors have policies about the use of technology in class, particularly cell phones, and how some instructors will punish students for using them. (I take a different approach, as I don’t believe in “punishing” adults, or that punishment is an effective way to facilitate learning. I explain my reasons for preferring they don’t use phones in class, ask them to refrain as a courtesy to me, and remind them when necessary. It mostly works).
The topic gave rise to some interesting discussion. Students explained that they have grown up with this technology, and they view it differently than people of my generation do. They explained that they don’t mean to be disrespectful when using it, and in fact, it’s hard for them to get their heads around that idea. One student shared the most thought-provoking idea of all, saying that he wondered if people of my generation were a little bit resentful about young people and the advantages they have – access to all of this technology and, well, youth. He didn’t say it to be provocative, but he was posing a question. Could that be what it was about, at least partly?
We pondered this idea together. Some people *are* afraid of aging, and perhaps seeing young people doing things that they, the older folks, don’t understand, can make them feel detached from youth. It’s a valid point. And if one felt this way, it would be easy to take it out on the young, condemning them for the habits that, for them, are just part of everyday life.
Older people have been complaining about “kids these days” since the time of Aristotle, and probably before that. It saddens me that each generation seems to despair over the one to follow. For the record, I find that a majority of my students are engaged, honest, and interested in making the world a better place for themselves and for others. When I hear people grumble about “kids these days,” I wish they could meet the young people I work with, and witness their intelligence and sincerity.
Things weren’t necessarily “better” when we were young. They were just different. And we can’t blame today’s young people for growing up in a very different world than the one we had.
But we can join them there. It’s actually quite a bit of fun.