Yesterday I taught a creative writing segment to a group of elementary school kids. It was my last teaching gig of 2016. This year, thanks to Denver’s Lighthouse Young Writers Program, I worked with third graders and high school seniors and middle school students. I taught suburban kids and city kids. I taught one ninth grader who told me she catches a city bus at six o’clock every morning to get to school. Do you know how dark it is at at 6 a.m. in Denver in the winter? How cold?
I hear a lot of people complain about younger generations, or I see their complaints on social media. They say kids today are entitled, whiny, sheltered, fragile. I disagree.
This instinct to criticize young people probably dates back to the beginning of time. When I was just out of college, the older generation complained about my generation. We expected too much too soon. We were greedy. We were selfish. We didn’t have a strong social conscience. We had no respect for authority. We were lucky, though, to start our lives in the age before social media. If we wanted to listen to baby boomers complain about our lack of conscience, we had to read a magazine or watch the evening news. Nowadays everyone has a megaphone and seems determined to use it.
The baby boomers, of course, were taken to task for being idealistic, unrealistic, and ungrateful. They wore their hair too long and played their music too loud. Every generation finds a way to rebel against the generation that came before. It’s what young people do. It’s what they should do. And we should stop criticizing them for it.
They are not entitled. They are not snowflakes. They are not whiners. They are trying to figure out what to do with the world we’re handing them. Every move they make is criticized, scrutinized, and analyzed. It isn’t easy. It’s never been easy.
I have faith in the next generation and all the ones coming up behind. The kids in my classes don’t seem entitled or fragile or whiny. They certainly don’t seem sheltered. They know more at the age of eight or thirteen or seventeen than I knew at thirty. They possess a remarkable capacity for empathy. They’ve been exposed to the world in ways I couldn’t have imagined at their age. They aren’t freaked out when they meet someone who dresses or speaks or lives in a way that seems unfamiliar. They’re curious, but not afraid. Plenty of people in my generation could learn a thing or two from these kids. I have learned plenty from my time with them.
So I refuse to criticize anyone based on the year in which they were born. First, because I’ve witnessed how smart and thoughtful and empathetic and talented these young people can be. Second, because I know that shaking my fist and railing against the youngsters is the surest way to mark myself as old and out of touch and irrelevant.
And, finally, as I write this it is 6:45 in the morning. The current temperature is 19 degrees. The forecast calls for snow. It is as dark as night outside. Somewhere in Denver, a fourteen-year-old girl has already walked several city blocks to catch a bus to school. Whenever you’re tempted to paint the younger generations as entitled or spoiled or coddled, think of her. I do. I trust that kid with her own future and I trust her with mine. You should trust her too.