Chances are that at some point in your life you have heard the phrase
“The problem with these millennials is….” followed by some complaint about how the new generation is extremely subpar compared to the previous one. To be fair, the technological revolution has led to such a rapid change in how the world works that my childhood a decade ago was vastly different from today’s youth. iPhones aside, as time has gone on technology has brought great change to society no matter what decade.
Hello, most of our grandparents probably didn’t even have a television growing up.
If you think that there were no crotchety old timers back then complaining about the youth of the day, think again. Below you’ll find a collection of complaints from adults about the youth of their day throughout history.
“[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.”
4th Century BC
In all things I yearn for the past. Modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased. I find that even among the splendid pieces of furniture built by our master cabinetmakers, those in the old forms are the most pleasing. And as for writing letters, surviving scraps from the past reveal how superb the phrasing used to be. 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!” Instead of calling the place where the lectures on the Sutra of the Golden Light are delivered before the emperor “the Hall of the Imperial Lecture,” they shorten it to “the Lecture Hall,” a deplorable corruption, an old gentleman complained.
Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness), Yoshida Kenkō
1330 – 1332
… 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…
A Little Book for Children and Youth – Being Good Counsel and Instructions for Your Children, Earnestly Exhorting Them to Resist the Temptation of the Devil, Robert Russel
“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
The total neglect of this art [speaking] has been productive of the worst consequences…in the conduct of all affairs ecclesiastical and civil, in church, in parliament, courts of justice…the wretched state of elocution is apparent to persons of any discernment and taste… if something is not done to stop this growing evil …English is likely to become a mere jargon, which every one may pronounce as he pleases.
A General Dictionary of the English Language, Thomas Sheridan
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; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge. Parents take care to feed their children with wholesome diet; and yet how unconcerned about the provision for the mind, whether they are furnished with salutary food, or with trash, chaff, or poison?
Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family, Reverend Enos Hitchcock
We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.
The Times of London
…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, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Speech to the House of Commons
February 28, 1843
Household luxuries, school-room steam-press systems, and, above all, the mad spirit of the times, have not come to us without a loss more than proportionate…[a young man] rushes headlong, with an impetuosity which strikes fire from the sharp flints under his tread…Occasionally, one of this class…amasses an estate, but at the expense of his peace, and often of his health. The lunatic asylum or the premature grave too frequently winds up his career…We expect each succeeding generation will grow “beautifully less.”
“Degeneracy of Stature”, The National Era, Thrace Talmon
December 18, 1856
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, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises–not this sort of mental gladiatorship.
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, the haste to know and do all befitting man’s estate before its time, the mad rush for sudden wealth and the reckless fashions set by its gilded youth–all these lack some of the regulatives they still have in older lands with more conservative conditions.
The Psychology of Adolescence, Granville Stanley Hall
…[The screen artists’] beauty, their exquisite clothing, their lax habits and low moral standards, are becoming unconsciously appropriated by the plastic minds of American youth. Let them do what they may; divorce scandals, hotel episodes, free love, all are passed over and condoned by the young… The eye-gate is the widest and most easily accessible of all the avenues of the soul; whatever is portrayed on the screen is imprinted indelibly upon the nation’s soul.
The Pentecostal Evangel
November 6, 1926
“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.”
Young People Drinking More, Portsmouth Evening News
“…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.”
Young People Who Spend Too Much, Dundee Evening Telegraph
“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.”
Scottish Rights of Way: More Young People Should Use Them, Falkirk Herald
“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.”
Not Ready for Middle Age at 35, 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 Boring Twenties, Washington Post
“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.”
Proceeding with Caution, Time
Sources/Where to head if you want to read more:
- The Friends’ Library: Comprising Journals, Doctrinal Treatises, and Other Writings of Members of the Religious Society of Friends
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