I joke around a lot about telling kids to get off my lawn, but I’m really just making fun of myself for being old and out of touch. But it really irritates me when I hear people talk about the “millenials” and how lazy and shiftless and apathetic they allegedly are. Sociologist David Finkelhor points out how wrong those people are:
The news media likes to characterize today’s young people as risk averse, narcissistic, app-dependent, over-scheduled, entitled and “pornified.” Among the culprits are too much praise, not enough challenge, helicopter parents, cellphones and of course, the Internet.
But by many measures, young people are actually showing virtues their elders lacked. They have brought delinquency, truancy, promiscuity, alcohol abuse and suicide down to levels unseen in many cases since the 1950s. Rather than coming up with ever more old-fogey complaints, we should be celebrating young people’s good judgment and self-control — and extolling their parents and teachers.
Here are some of the most impressive developments.
You’ve probably heard that crime is down. But most of the remarkable facts about crime and delinquency among young people have not been trumpeted enough in a country just 20 years removed from fears that it was facing a generation of young “super-predators.” In fact, arrests for serious violent offenses by juveniles have dropped about 60 percent from 1994 to 2011. Juvenile arrests have receded faster in the past 10 years than adult arrests. Property crime by youth also has sunk to its lowest point in 30 years.
Of course, we read, quite correctly, that rates of rape on college campuses and in the military are high, and that victims are treated poorly. But rape and other sex crimes among youth have been decreasing. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the number of sexual assaults against 12- to 17-year-olds has declined by more than half since the mid-1990s. The number of youth arrests for sex offenses also has dropped. It may be hard to believe, but three nationwide and statewide victim surveys have corroborated these decreases…We hear about the bullying epidemic in painful accounts of youth taking their own lives after dealing with peer harassment. But peer victimization, harassment and bullying — despite their ubiquity — have been abating in almost all of the surveys. Suicide, too, is less common. Among 10- to 24- year-olds, the rate declined from 9.24 to 7.21 suicides per 100,000 people from 1991 to 2009.
Every generation of parents is alarmed by the sexual behavior of the young. But the accusations are more misplaced now than ever. Not only is the rate of teenage pregnancy down to record lows in the United States, but the percentage of ninth-graders who say they have had sexual intercourse has declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2013. The percentage of high schoolers who say they have had four or more sexual partners also has declined.
I’ve spoken to a lot of SSA clubs around the country and I always walk away feeling encouraged and inspired by how many intelligent, passionate and committed those young people are to making a positive difference in the world. Yes, that’s just anecdotal and there are plenty of assholes among young people as well. But that’s true of every generation, obviously. Every generation thinks the next generation is terrible (except their own kids, of course, they’re angels. It’s those other people’s children who are the problem). And even the nostalgia was better in the old days.
Seriously, just stop it. Could we even have imagined that there would be such a thing as Gay-Straight Alliance clubs when we were growing up? No one would even have thought to imagine such a possibility. Just like we are less prone to racism than our parents and grandparents were (depending on your age), kids today are much less prone to anti-gay bigotry than our generation. That’s great moral progress. They are fighting the social justice battles of today just as previous generations of young people fought in their day. And that’s a very good thing.