Monday, April 25, 2016

Young People Get Misrepresented - Don't Fall For The Old People Negative Hype

I recently attended an educational event where a panel of business leaders were asked what they were looking for in future employees. Answers centered around fairly predictable responses related to timeliness, professionalism and soft skills. However, there were also several criticisms of today’s young people as being lazy, unmotivated, and generally irresponsible.

We have heard this criticism before right? I have heard it for years and even more often recently. Indeed, does it not seem like each generation misrepresents and/or misunderstands the next generation? We usually criticize their culture (music, clothing, hair styles), as well as their general ‘work ethic.”
Walk into any adult gathering anywhere with folks aged 30 and beyond, you will probably overhear someone denigrating the young people of today. It’s not only a pattern that repeats, but it almost seems to be an obligation. I know my dad did about myself and my peers at times and I can guarantee that his dad did about him as well.
After 25 years of working with young people in six high schools and many other environments, I’m here to dispel and refudiate this notion that young people are anything less than their parents or grandparents. Indeed, I actually think each generation gets better….not worse.
When I graduation from high school in the early 80’s, I had never heard about or witnessed a peer of mine volunteer to do community service. It would have been a foreign suggestion. Less that 20 years later, I watch as hundreds of students I worked with created charity events, started new charitable organizations, raise money and awareness and so much more.

And that’s just the beginning. I have now seen young people own their own companies, become activists, be community leaders and truly impact their environments. They have their own websites, blogs, recording studios, non-profit groups, meetings and so much more. If one looks closely at all, you could be and should be amazed at what young people are doing. They are presenting, creating and communicating at levels that my generation never touched at that age (or maybe any age).

In addition to exercising what seems to be our generational duty, I think we often say and do these things because  we don’t understand young people - and maybe we don’t want to. Older folks see things they don’t understand (again cultural things) and then criticize, minimize, and even ostracize. We remember things one way and anything that deviates from that self-established norm is bad. We then attach this to all that they do and simplify them in terms like “no work ethic.”

This is not a human challenge limited to age or generational differences. We do this about anything that is different in people than ourselves - race, religion, politics. But that’s another blog or three.
Meanwhile, what do we do to fight this tendency or typical generational behavior? Well, if you’re an educator, I think it’s your duty to fight for young people and always find the best in young people. If you work with them, it shouldn’t be too hard. So, not only find it, but promote it, celebrate it and appreciate it. And for those that are not fortunate enough to work with young people, they need to be educated. Next time you hear the negative, don't be afraid to share the positive. Not only are our young people our future leaders, they are leading earlier and better all the time. 
Whether you’re an educator or bystander, check yourself. One, make sure you’re not falling prey to the generational tendency to criticize the younger generation. And two, make sure you’re not putting down anyone because of something you just don’t understand.

Our young people and students deserve our respect and trust. If we don’t demonstrate our faith in them, we could be limiting them in so many ways. Believing in students is fundamental to their development. Don’t believe the hype. They have work ethic and a whole lot more.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Buchanan High School)


  1. Always a preception that is wrong and easy to fall into. In K-12 schools you have a WIDE cross section of any particular age, ranging from FUTURE blow your socks off successful to those who end up at the bottom of society. In the business world the adults have self selected and generally a successful business has functioning adults in it. Kids are a product of the adults they are around. Usually parents, teachers, coaches and grandparents in the early formative years. If they see hard work and ingenuity they they will model that behavior. The fault is not in our stars(kids) but in ourselves.

  2. True. True. True. Young people are no different today than they were in previous generations. The world is different, which contrubutes to the perception, but if anything imo young people are better educated (a result of the best public school performance in US history) and better social connections, which I think can enhance the volunteer spirit and opportunities.

  3. We see what we want to see. I'm always inspired by my kids' tireless energy: 6 classes, athletics, clubs, babysitting, part-time jobs, testing, relationship drama, high school gossip. I always challenge adults to go through one of their kid's days - could they handle it?