“Back in my day …”

The idea that “… the kids of today aren’t as good as when I was a kid …”, has been around for thousands of years.

Generation Y, more commonly referred to as “Millennials”, are people born between 1981 and 1996 (but these years vary). Hot take think pieces and “news” stories like to malign millenials as lazy, entitled, and self-obsessed. The general narrative is that this younger generation is not as disciplined as the hard-working older generations. This is frequently accompanied by a “things were better when I was younger” mindset. While millennials have been recent targets of this kind of criticism, this kind of criticism is nothing new.

From Hesiod to Baby Boomers

Adults have been complaining about the up-and-coming younger generation for as long as there have been people. One of the earliest examples is by the classical Greek writer Hesiod who, around the 8th century BCE, wrote “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.” A few centuries later Aristotle echoed this idea when he said of younger people, “They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”

The song remains the same

This kind of thinking is reductive and condescending – it says more about the out of touch nature of the people doing the criticizing than the younger generation being criticized. Despite thousands of years of older people complaining about younger people, civilization has somehow managed to evolve & progress.

People don’t change that much from generation to generation and no generation is a cultural monolith. Every generation has hard workers, selfless givers, narcissists, the lazy, the good, the bad, and everything in between. Shakespeare continues to be relevant because the fundamental human condition has changed very little over the centuries.

The kids are alright

Myths that millennials eat avocado toast all the time, that they fail to save for retirement, that they’re lazy, that they’re all socialists, etc. have all been debunked. After criticizing and blaming millennials for a variety of society’s problems baby boomers seemed surprised and insulted by the “audacious”, terse, and somewhat snarky millennial reply of “OK boomer”. Meanwhile these same baby boomers seem to have forgotten that they were once the subject of the very same kinds of insults by the generations older than them.

As for narcissism, younger people of every generation tend to be more narcissistic but become less so as they age – the older people who are currently less narcissistic didn’t start out that way. Our values also change as we age. Despite being on the receiving end of this criticism the younger people of today will become the older people of tomorrow and will inevitably forget what they were like when they were young. They’ll judge younger generations by their present mindsets and not by the attitudes they held back when they were that age. The more things change, the more things stay the same.