The phenomenon of adults blaming the younger generation is a recurring, and exhausting, theme throughout history, reflecting the perennial generation gap and societal changes. From the ancient Greeks lamenting the perceived moral decay among youth to the countercultural clashes of the 1960s, each era witnesses elders expressing concerns about the values and behaviors of their successors. Often rooted in a combination of nostalgia for the past and a resistance to change, this intergenerational tension manifests in critiques of everything from fashion and music to technology and work ethic. While the criticisms may vary, the pattern remains consistent—a cycle of generational blame that is both a reflection of cultural evolution and a reminder of the challenges inherent in bridging the gap between different phases of life and societal progress.
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
4th Century B.C.E.
“[Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances.… They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”
1st Century B.C.E.
“The beardless youth…does not foresee what is useful, squandering his money.”
“Modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased…The ordinary spoken language has also steadily coarsened. People used to say ‘raise the carriage shafts’ or ‘trim the lamp wick,’ but people today say ‘raise it’ or ‘trim it.’ When they should say, ‘Let the men of the palace staff stand forth!’ they say, ‘Torches! Let’s have some light!’”
“Youth were never more sawcie, yea never more savagely saucie . . . the ancient are scorned, the honourable are contemned, the magistrate is not dreaded.”
“… I find by sad experience how the towns and streets are filled with lewd wicked children, and many children as they have played about the streets have been heard to curse and swear and call one another nick-names, and it would grieve ones heart to hear what bawdy and filthy communications proceeds from the mouths of such…”
“Whither are the manly vigour and athletic appearance of our forefathers flown? Can these be their legitimate heirs? Surely, no; a race of effeminate, self-admiring, emaciated fribbles can never have descended in a direct line from the heroes of Potiers and Agincourt…”
-Letter in Town and Country magazine republished in Paris Fashion: A Cultural History 1771
“The free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth…”
-Reverend Enos Hitchcock
“…a fearful multitude of untutored savages… [boys] with dogs at their heels and other evidence of dissolute habits…[girls who] drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody…the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.”
-Anthony Ashley Cooper
“… see the simpering little beau of ten gallanting home the little coquette of eight, each so full of self-conceit and admiration of their own dear self, as to have but little to spare for any one else…”
-The Mothers’ Journal and Family Visitant, S.B.S.
“A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages…chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements … they require out-door exercises–not this sort of mental gladiatorship.”
1900 – 1920
“Never has youth been exposed to such dangers of both perversion and arrest as in our own land and day. Increasing urban life with its temptations, prematurities, sedentary occupations, and passive stimuli just when an active life is most needed, early emancipation and a lessening sense for both duty and discipline…”
-Granville Stanley Hall
“We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.”
-Hull Daily Mail
“The bad manners of all parliaments, the general tendency to connive at a rather shady business transaction if it promises to bring in money without work, jazz … women painted like prostitutes, the efforts of writers to win popularity by ridiculing…the correctness of well-bred people, and the bad taste shown even by the nobility and old princely families in throwing off every kind of social restraint and time-honoured custom: all of these go to prove that it is now the vulgar mob that gives the tone.”
“Probably there is no period in history in which young people have given such emphatic utterance to a tendency to reject that which is old and to wish for that which is new.”
-Portsmouth Evening News
“Cinemas and motor cars were blamed for a flagging interest among young people in present-day politics by ex-Provost JK Rutherford… [He] said he had been told by people in different political parties that it was almost impossible to get an audience for political meetings. There were, of course, many distractions such as the cinema…”
“Parents themselves were often the cause of many difficulties. They frequently failed in their obvious duty to teach self-control and discipline to their own children.”
“…in youth clubs were young people who would not take part in boxing, wrestling or similar exercises which did not appeal to them. The ‘tough guy’ of the films made some appeal but when it came to something that led to physical strain or risk they would not take it.”
-Dundee Evening Telegraph
“How to bring young people into membership of the Church was a pressing problem raised at a meeting… Sunday School teachers in the audience had found that children were apt to leave Sunday School when they had completed their day school education. They were not following on into the church.”
-Shield Daily News
“It’s an irony, but so many of us are a cautious, nervous, conservative crew that some of the elders who five years ago feared that we might come trooping home full of foreign radical ideas are now afraid that the opposite might be too true, and that we could be lacking some of the old American gambling spirit and enterprise.”
-The Care and Handling of a Heritage
“Many [young people] were so pampered nowadays that they had forgotten that there was such a thing as walking, and they made automatically for the buses… unless they did something, the future for walking was very poor indeed.”
1960's aka Boomers
“A few [35-year-old friends] just now are leaving their parents’ nest. Many friends are getting married or having a baby for the first time. They aren’t switching occupations, because they have finally landed a ‘meaningful’ career – perhaps after a decade of hopscotching jobs in search of an identity. They’re doing the kinds of things our society used to expect from 25-year-olds.”
-Wall Street Journal
“What really distinguishes this generation from those before it is that it’s the first generation in American history to live so well and complain so bitterly about it.”
“The traditional yearning for a benevolent employer who can provide a job for life also seems to be on the wane… In particular, they want to avoid ‘low-level jobs that aren’t keeping them intellectually challenged.’”
The term "slacker generation" is often associated with Generation X, born between the early 1960s and early 1980s, characterized by a perceived disinterest in traditional career paths and a rejection of the materialistic values of their predecessors. Embracing a laid-back and nonconformist attitude, many in Generation X were stereotyped as slackers, prioritizing individualism and alternative lifestyles over more conventional aspirations.
“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.”https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,970634,00.html
Criticizing Millennials, or Generation Y:
The blame directed at the millennial generation, born roughly between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, is a complex narrative shaped by economic, technological, and cultural shifts. As millennials entered adulthood, they faced the brunt of criticism for supposed traits such as entitlement, job-hopping, and a reliance on technology. Critics often pointed to economic challenges, such as the 2008 financial crisis, as influencing millennials' delayed entry into traditional markers of adulthood, like homeownership. At the same time, advancements in technology, particularly the rise of social media, became a focal point for accusations of narcissism and a purported decline in face-to-face communication skills. However, proponents of the millennial generation argue that these critiques overlook systemic issues and that millennials have adapted to rapidly changing circumstances, advocating for social justice causes and reshaping industries through a strong embrace of innovation and entrepreneurship. The blame placed on millennials reflects a broader pattern of intergenerational tension, reflecting societal anxieties and the challenges of adapting to a rapidly evolving world.
Criticizing Generation Z, or GenZ:
The blame directed at Generation Z, born in the mid-1990s to early 2010s, reflects a continuation of the perennial cycle of generational criticism. As this cohort began to come of age, societal attention turned to their unique relationship with technology, characterized by constant connectivity and digital native behaviors. Critics often pointed to concerns about attention spans, social media addiction, and a perceived lack of resilience. The advent of smartphones and social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat made Generation Z the first to navigate adolescence in a truly digital era, leading to debates about the impact on mental health and interpersonal skills. Simultaneously, this generation has been praised for its progressive attitudes, activism, and adeptness in leveraging technology for positive social change. The blame on Generation Z can be seen as a reflection of society's struggle to comprehend and adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape shaped by technological advancements and shifting cultural norms.
Criticizing Generation Alpha.....TBD, but it can likely be assumed it will be the same old oversimplification of complex societal issues and society's "timeless" struggle to comprehend and adapt to the rapidly and always evolving landscape shaped by technological advancements and shifting cultural norms.
In a world where everything is always changing, seems some things never change.
This blog was partly inspired by "The 2,500-year-old history of adults blaming the younger generation" by Joe Gillard (2018).