The Good Old Days

Do you long for the good old days? Where children were seen but not heard, where chutzpah was kept at a minimum, when children did as they were told?

How very different were we from the children of today. Read the following descriptions and see what I mean.

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders….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…and tyrannize their teachers.


What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents…Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?


Well, it might surprise you to know that both these quotes are from over two thousand years ago –from the 4th-5th century BC! [The first was attributed to Socrates; the second was by Plato himself.] According to historian Abigail Wills at Oxford University, “Each successive historical age has believed that an unprecedented ‘crisis’ in youth behavior is taking place. We are not unique; our fears do not differ significantly from those of our predecessors.”

Those of us who are honest [or still have our memory] may actually remember our own parents and/ or teachers bemoaning our behavior and telling us how disappointing we were. And, many of us may recall thinking - once we left a school- that the quality of students went down. And, who among us is not guilty of telling our children how things used to be ‘when I was a child.’ All these are not new thoughts, but rather universally held ideas- through different ages and varying cultures-that there is a serious decline in the morals and behavior of the youth of the new generation.

How do we understand this thinking of the older generation? Perhaps it is the tendency to romanticize the past, as many do with shtetl life – remembering only its glory and conveniently forgetting the grinding poverty and the pogroms. Or, maybe it is the result of idealization – the kind that says that the old ways are always better than the new ways. Or, maybe it’s simply memory lapse – can we really remember the details of that early morning rush with homework to sign, breakfast to make, and buses to catch? In any case, whatever the basis for these  beliefs, they are reinforced by cronies and peers who are similarly concerned with the degeneration of youth today.

But, our developing the understanding that raising our youth has always been – and will always be- challenging allows us to maintain perspective. It’s not that today’s youth are so much more difficult than in previous generations, but rather that such is the nature of the young. Youth are often brash, ‘out there’, questioning, and not fully civilized.

But, realizing that standards of behavior vary from generation may help you view today’s children’s behavior with greater equanimity. So, while you may have choked on your Bubby’s carrot candy rather than tell her how awful it was, today’s kids have no problem with refusing because ‘it’s not my taste.’ Whether today’s style is better or worse is not the issue. What is important is that this behavior is not considered rude, but merely reflective the mores of our time.

I want to conclude with a suggestion. Instead of viewing the next generation through the prism of the past, make the effort to use the lens- imperfect as it may be- of the present. That is where our youth reside, and we’d do best to meet them there.