The kids are quite possibly all right on average
November 17, 2015 3:59 PM   Subscribe

"[F]or a while now, think pieces have been fretting over the increased fragility of American college students, and blaming it on … well, whatever the writer thinks is wrong with kids and/or society today." What if it's just not true?

"Is Student Pathology Really Increasing? Seven Measures of the Acuity of Counseling Center Clients, 1992–2007," by Allan J. Schwartz. (Article behind paywall for non-academically-affiliated folks, sorry.)
posted by escabeche (43 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am imagining a world full of people who have been taught to pathologically empathize with others and cry when they have strong feelings and complain loudly and pervasively at the scent of abuse and it is almost too much to bear how badly I want to jump into the vision and never come back out.
posted by an animate objects at 4:07 PM on November 17, 2015 [60 favorites]


Every generation has claimed that the generation to follow it is lazy, incompetent, morally corrupt, stupid, fragile, weak-willed, lackluster, disrespectful, uncultured, and just generally worse in all available regards than the parents who raised them. And there has never been a thinkpiece extolling the virtues of the latest crop of human beings. It seems the human race is just constantly outdoing itself in terms of being terrible, if you listen to cranky people over the age of 30.

But yet no one is owning up to being a hundred generations' worth of kvetching worse than people that existed two millennia ago. Why is that?
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:13 PM on November 17, 2015 [19 favorites]


There were never any good old days.
They are today, they are tomorrow.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:21 PM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


The whole trope of the narcissistic, coddled college student has always seemed like a right-wing tactic to legitimize unpaid or low-paid entry-level jobs, so I hope the way that it's being deployed in the latest campus controversies will make lefties rethink platitudes about "helicopter parents" and "students as customers."
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:24 PM on November 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


And there has never been a thinkpiece extolling the virtues of the latest crop of human beings.

Oh there have, I wrote one myself about 5 years ago. Just not viral or mainstream.
posted by infini at 4:27 PM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have worked on college campuses for over a decade. Not usually student-facing positions, but I am literally surrounded by college students at all times. They all pretty much seem... Totally normal. I mean, they're adolescents, they're still developing and sometimes can do things that are monumentally dumb, but that was the case 25 years ago when I was in college too. All of the various "types" that you find in kids-these-days think pieces were also present on my college campus. The main difference? No one outside the school knew about, noticed, or cared about any of it, because people not connected to the school in some way had no way of connecting with or knowing about any of it. The presence of social media and the internet is giving the impression that this generation invented being 19 years old, with all the good and bad that that entails.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:28 PM on November 17, 2015 [46 favorites]


Newsweek(1993):
If you believe the Generation X essayists, all the troubles of the world can be traced to us fortysomethings.

Well, enough is enough. As a baby boomer, I'm fed up with the ceaseless carping of a handful of spoiled, self-indulgent, overgrown adolescents. Generation Xers may like to call themselves the "Why Me?" generation, but they should be called the "Whiny" generation. If these pusillanimous purveyors of pseudo-angst would put as much effort into getting a life as they do into writing about their horrible fate, we'd be spared the weekly diatribes that pass for reasoned argument in newspapers and magazines.
posted by octothorpe at 4:30 PM on November 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


Every generation has claimed that the generation to follow it is lazy, incompetent, morally corrupt, stupid, fragile, weak-willed, lackluster, disrespectful, uncultured, and just generally worse in all available regards than the parents who raised them.

I mean implicitly this just means the generation that raised them were worse parents in all available regards than any prior generation, right?
posted by juv3nal at 4:32 PM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


"Adults" have always complained that students are being babied or spoiled. One of the few articles I can remember from the newspaper at UC Irvine, where I went for undergrad in the late 80s, involved an administrator complaining that students only worked because they wanted stereos and stuff. This at a school that, at the time, had the tenth highest student COL in the United States. As one of my roommates had to drop out when she couldn't earn enough money to continue paying her tuition, I felt...unimpressed, as did many other people. The Culture Wars of the 90s also had its share of whining about entitled students.

Meanwhile, I hope I am granted the strength to resist writing op-ed pieces based on hazy nostalgia.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:35 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


my favorite commentary on the commentary about millennials is thinkpiece bot.
posted by nadawi at 4:36 PM on November 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


metafilter: pusillanimous purveyors of pseudo-angst
posted by pyramid termite at 4:41 PM on November 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I guess that I think some things have changed. There's less of a stigma on mental illness now, so students are more likely to self-disclose that they have serious psychological issues. That may make it seem like there are more kids with mental illness, even though it may just be that there's more visibility now. I also think that it's possible that students with mental illness or serious emotional problems are more likely to get the support they need in high school to be able to make it to college, and it's hard to argue that's a bad thing.

I don't know. I work in a student-facing job, and students sometimes annoy me and seem like spoiled brats and make me want to scream, because that's the nature of working in a job with people. I'm not sure that I would feel any differently if I were doing the same kind of thing with a bunch of 40-year-olds all day long.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:42 PM on November 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


As a millenial and a very recent college graduate, I freaking want all of these bloggers to shut up, and stop erasing their historical complicity in creating the conditions of today, while also blaming my parents (who are also immigrants) for wanting a better life and working hard in this same system to take care of us. It is tough, and times have always been tough, and there should be more empathy rather than clickbaiting off of people wringing their hands out of us. These right-wing, white, cis, male commentators running scared, considering that in 2042, there will be a lot less people who look like them.

I've been sitting on a FPP post that addresses this, and I should probably submit it now.
posted by yueliang at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2015 [21 favorites]


I'm not sure that I would feel any differently if I were doing the same kind of thing with a bunch of 40-year-olds all day long.

fwiw, i work with 40 year olds and screamed today.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


There's a lot to be critical of in higher education these days, and the more recent cohorts of students do have their particular quirks, but when we get together and complain about problems with the current system, we always add this final comment: "The Kids are Alright."
posted by ovvl at 4:56 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I never understood older generations calling younger ones lazy and entitled and whiny and horrible. Aren't they aware they are making huge statements on their parenting skills by doing so?
posted by kanata at 5:15 PM on November 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Honestly, my next major concern is that there are a few right-wing asshats of my generation who are going to be shitting on my children.

If I have any, before the end of the world. This is all very futile and is about as informative as tabloid fodder at this point, while also disregarding that we should probably do some actual research on mental health and resilience...
posted by yueliang at 5:18 PM on November 17, 2015


I never understood older generations calling younger ones lazy and entitled and whiny and horrible. Aren't they aware they are making huge statements on their parenting skills by doing so?

It's never THEIR kids, just other people's.
posted by Dysk at 5:19 PM on November 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


The commenters under that article are talking about how, at age 20, the kids of the '40s were dodging bullets in Europe or the Pacific. And that was certainly stereotypically true of the Greatest Generation. You know what other stereotype we have of the Greatest Generation? Being terrible parents. Drinking martinis, ignoring the children, withholding affection and dispensing spankings. Of course, such commenters would probably assert that their sainted parents never gave them a beating they didn't deserve, but the point is, generational stereotypes are useless for anything but generating resentment.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:28 PM on November 17, 2015 [29 favorites]


One of my colleagues linked to the stupid Chait article the other day. I pointed out that none of our students are delicate flowers, that most of them have experienced racism/xenophobia, that most of them work at least 20 hours a week and many work 40, that many of them are refugees from war torn places and others are veterans of our armed services in those same places, that many of them have limited to no access to health services except our completely inadequate on-campus facilities, that some are single parents, that others take care of siblings or disabled grandparents on a nearly full time basis, that some are illegal immigrants paying for school out of pocket because the state doesn't allow them to pay in-state tuition even if they've lived here since infancy, etc etc etc, and yet they come to class and mostly try about as hard as we did when we were in college and generally seem like pretty good kids.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:32 PM on November 17, 2015 [50 favorites]


Maybe, to paraphrase Churchill, this generation *is* the worst, except for all the others.
posted by uosuaq at 5:37 PM on November 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Snake People Are Alright.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:42 PM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Joe Liebling once called the University of Chicago "The biggest magnet for neurotic juveniles since the Children's Crusade," so I'm guessing this isn't really a new phenomenon.



In his defense, he wasn't exactly wrong.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:56 PM on November 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


A lot of my students aren't refugees, veterans, single parents, etc. A lot of them work 10 hours a week or less. (I ask.) Half of them graduate without debt, which is possible because my university is pretty cheap if you're in-state. But even that doesn't mean they live stress- or problem-free lives. And I mean, I was a total mess when I was their age, in ways that I suspect my professors and other responsible grown-ups would not even have begun to guess. People were routinely kicked out of my college for having the kind of problems I was dealing with, so I kept my mouth shut. The people at the counseling center would probably have thought "there is a resilient student who has never needed our services," rather than "there is a person who thinks she's going to get asked to take an indefinite medical leave if she reveals that she has lost 30 pounds this year because she has a panic attack and thinks she's choking every time she tries to eat solid food."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:21 PM on November 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


The one thing I'd say might be different these days is...well, to paraphrase a police officer I heard speak on the topic, it's the money. People are more broke, more freaked out, and thus the crazy escalates.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:31 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's the money

i taught for about ten years at 2nd and 3rd rank State U.s Here's the thing. In a country when everyone is supposed to have the opportunity to make it big, be a star, be a Trump, become president, what do you say to yourself when you are getting an engineering degree from Sort-of-crappy State U. You are totally not getting a job at Google or Amazon, but it's an exchange, because you are giving up the possibility being a star you are totally entitled to graduate and get that junior QA position at the local spray nozzle manufacturer.

And this is how a hierachical society where everyone has a limited range of opportunities with largely predefined tracks works. People feel entitled to their section of the ladder all the way up and down. How does it feel to be going to Yale and seeing all of the trust funds walking around?

Fragile? All the kids have excellent bureaucratic passive aggressive in-fighting skills, honed to a sharp edge and ready to be deployed to climb their section of the ladder, from investment banking to social justice activism.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


🎵"Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?" 🎵
posted by pjmoy at 8:03 PM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


thinkpiece bot: Feminism and the Problem of Magnets

I actually wrote about this on reddit (it's my most heavily downvoted comment there).
posted by Jpfed at 8:21 PM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


The commenters under that article are talking about how, at age 20, the kids of the '40s were dodging bullets in Europe or the Pacific. And that was certainly stereotypically true of the Greatest Generation. You know what other stereotype we have of the Greatest Generation? Being terrible parents. Drinking martinis, ignoring the children, withholding affection and dispensing spankings.

Yeah, as it turns out, parenting with untreated PTSD from that war you fought in your 20s makes for shitty relationships with your kids, even aside from the whole idea that moms were supposed to do all the actual caring and nurturing while dad brought home the paycheck and drank scotch.

Also, people who lived through the Great Depression were somewhat traumatized by it and if they actually suffered hunger as kids, had lifelong medical aftereffects.

I like Kids Today. I say this often. I like that they don't stick to the little boxes of my generation and the one before me. They're still kids, they still have shit to work out, but "whiny" is the last word I would use; actually, I can't remember hearing anything I would characterize as a whine from the folks in their 20s that I work with. They mostly work pretty hard, but have decent social lives, and worry about the same things I did at their age.

The old dudes in the offices, now, they do some whining, mostly about how they don't think the younger folks have the right attitude. I have to assume they mean "don't kiss my ass enough."
posted by emjaybee at 8:24 PM on November 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


So my generation isn't more fragile, it's just that the world is worse?

Well that's depressing.
posted by Ned G at 3:04 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


that most of them work at least 20 hours a week and many work 40

I'm around students off and on, and just anecdotally this seems to follow a severely bimodal distribution. Those with lots of family financial support work no or low hours (and can be strategic about where and when they work), and those with less support work 20-40 hours, usually at crappy jobs.

I really like the young people I am around -- they are smart and engaged, and are realistic about their futures in ways that I don't recall college friends being.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:01 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of 20 somethings in my office and they're almost all super-smart, motivated and excited to be working in tech. Sometimes it's a little trying but that's just because I'm an old grump who doesn't get excited about which docker engine to use or what the hottest functional language is today. I'm going to have to work hard to keep with with them in the next fifteen years of my employment.
posted by octothorpe at 5:07 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ladies and gentlemen, I'm just a caveman. I fell in some ice and later got thawed out by your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me. When I see your tall buildings and flashing neon signs I just want to get away as fast as I can to my place in Martha's Vineyard. And when I see a solar eclipse like the one I went to last year in Hawaii I think "oh no! is the moon eating the sun?" I don't know, because I'm a caveman, that's how I think. But there's one thing I do know, and that's that this generation is

lazy, incompetent, morally corrupt, stupid, fragile, weak-willed, lackluster, disrespectful, uncultured, and just generally worse in all available regards than the parents who raised them.

I agree with you. Arguments about how entitled and sensitive current college students are seem positively neolithic.
posted by GrapeApiary at 5:36 AM on November 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


The current wave of children are, in my opinion, some of the greatest ever. Mostly because they have survived the unrelenting world destroying society crumbling money grubbing entitled ladder destroying gas lighting assholery of their parents.

Also they are all way smarter than me and scare me a bit.
posted by srboisvert at 5:40 AM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Can we also accept that maybe deifying millennials already is a bad idea? We're feeling our way out through our own generational struggles and there's going to be plenty of fuckups along with the good. We can leave self mythology to baby boomers.
posted by Ferreous at 7:32 AM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


A few notes:

- I went back to school late in life and most of my classmates were, if not old enough to be my kids, close to it. One of my jobs out of college was an AmeriCorps Year of Service where I worked with kids about 15-20 years younger than me. I am currently working for a nonprofit focused on education accessibility. We employ and work in the field with a lot of millennials, especially young people from underrepresented backgrounds.

- A lot of the rhetoric around needing safe spaces, nondiscriminatory language, accessibility to education, etc., reminds me of the discussions surrounding why gay marriage is necessary. I don't see any of these students "asking for special privileges". So much of the system is a meritocracy rigged in favor of White men to begin with.

- I think SOME people are confusing "millennials" with "young people". Looking back on my youth, I know I had a sense of entitlement and a bad social filter, and almost all the people I knew suffered from the same problem. Being in your twenties means that you're going to make mistakes and abuse your independence, and this seems to happen to everyone across the board.

- I'm really impressed with how underrepresented populations of young women (Black and Latin@ women and women from working-class backgrounds) are engaging with feminism and social justice issues and doing real work that has a big impact on the world, and how they're using technology to accomplish that work. This is something I've seen firsthand in my day-to-day work, as well as on social media and in the news. I'm less impressed with how millennial White feminists from backgrounds you'd associate with feminism in years past have gotten hung up on unimportant details instead of doing the same kind of work. I don't know if it's because the system favors White girls from middle- to upper-class backgrounds or if they're defending their privilege or what, but as I'm getting older and being exposed to women from backgrounds that are not my own, I'm more likely to agree with and signal-boost them.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:32 AM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would like it if the male millennials in college would flush after they pee.
posted by uraniumwilly at 8:31 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I worked in higher education for about five years back in the early to mid 90s then again for around another five at the end of the 00s. My experience in both cases was that the kids - who I was only marginally older than in the first stint - were sometimes lazy and entitled and inflexible and unimaginative and I would often think "if you would put a few seconds into thinking about this before immediately turning to someone else to answer/solve your problem you could just deal with it yourself." So, basically about the same as folks I encountered there who were in the faculty or co-workers or customers during the periods of time I was in private industry.

It's incontrovertible that different generations have some sweeping trends, some good and some bad. It's also pretty clear that some of those trends look better or worse to us based on our own generational filters. But overall worse? Come on.
posted by phearlez at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Economist (Nov 14, 2015), "The Right to Fright - An obsession with safe spaces is not just bad for education: it also diminishes worthwhile campus protests"
Like many bad ideas, the notion of safe spaces at universities has its roots in a good one. Gay people once used the term to refer to bars and clubs where they could gather without fear, at a time when many states still had laws against sodomy.

In the worst cases, though, an idea that began by denoting a place where people could assemble without being prosecuted has been reinvented by students to serve as a justification for shutting out ideas.
This was a leader; someone at the newspaper thought this opinion piece was important enough to go up front.
posted by psoas at 1:48 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've worked among, for, and with a whole host of younger Gen-Y and Millenials throughout the last decade, both in a job at the local university, and as a sport coach. I concur that as a cohort, they are no better, and no worse, than my own peers were in our late teens / early 20s, and moreover I genuinely appreciate working amongst them because they are smart, tech savvy and on the whole, seem to enjoy sharing knowledge.

One of the most signal traits I've noticed of the under-30 clan of the '00s/'10s is actually their open mindedness, willingness to share information, and enthusiasm in embracing friendships across the typical barriers of race / class / age, etc. I am sure my old ass is uncool as hell, but I've never felt dismissed for it by my younger colleagues or students. I look back on me and my peers in the late 80s and early 90s and compared to the youth culture of today we were a whole lot more withdrawn and unfriendly by and large could have just been my peer group but because no social media microscope was constantly trained upon us, I'll never really know for sure.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:01 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


what do you say to yourself when you are getting an engineering degree from Sort-of-crappy State U

You say "I'm doing this because it'll allow me access to the upper-middle-class lifestyle my parents assumed I could achieve with a useless liberal arts degree".

I'm going back to school for engineering at UNC at 30 and I have to echo a lot of the commenters above. My classmates (who are about 10 years my junior) are at least the same if not better than people were when I was an awkward 17-year-old freshman: some driven, some confused, most trying hard to succeed.

One thing I gotta say though is that this notion in America of "you can be ANYTHING if you just TRY HARD ENOUGH!" is mostly dead in the sub-30 generations. The students around me are here to get stable jobs, and nobody really gives a flying fuck about whether they work for Google or the local nozzle manufacturer as long as they can get a living wage and benefits and enough time off to have some semblance of a personal life.

I mean, who cares about whether your state school has the best rep when the government aid covers most of your costs and you graduate with solid local job offers?
Why take on 100k debt going to a prestige school for the sake of an Amazon career, when you'll learn the same science and math, graduate with a vastly smaller debt burden, and still make a good (and probably less stressful) living afterward?

Our choices these days are:

1) Do what you love (and work at Starbucks for life)
2) Go to a state school for a STEM degree & eventually be able to afford a house, family, vacations, etc. (Plus be able to work at prestige companies with some experience anyway)
3) Be born into the 1%

And I get the strong sense that the vast majority of millenials, at least the ones I'm surrounded by, understand this on a deep level while older adults don't, at all.
posted by azuresunday at 9:50 PM on November 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


or the local nozzle manufacturer

It's odd that this is getting used as an example, since I've known people working at two of the better-known companies that design and manufacture irrigation and spray products, and those jobs pay really well. (Not as well as Google, though possibly better when you adjust for housing costs.) The engineers and designers talk about the satisfactions and challenges of the work in very positive terms, and the profit margins are still high enough to pay the line/assembly workers living wages. I'm sure there are terrible nozzle manufacturers, too, and I don't know what the overall industry is like at all.

One thing I gotta say though is that this notion in America of "you can be ANYTHING if you just TRY HARD ENOUGH!" is mostly dead in the sub-30 generations.

Like the bimodal distribution of hours worked, this is going to follow a clear class breakdown. The students I meet from more elite backgrounds still have that sense of the world's horizons opening in front of them, but pretty much everyone else is making very realistic and hard-nosed decisions aimed precisely at a stable foothold in the middle class.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 AM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Today, it happened that a couple of my younger colleagues didn't know what Sgt. Pepper was, and weren't sure it was the Beatles that did "Yesterday."

Not long ago, I would have flipped, but today, I felt a great sense of peace about it. I happen to know how extremely knowledgeable they are about things that matter, how motivated and how invested in their futures. They've taught me a lot already. It's okay to watch certain things recede in the distance, even if we valued them.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:23 PM on November 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


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