Climate Change

5 things we get wrong about young people, according to a US study

Teenagers participate in a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia, November 2, 2019. REUTERS/David Mercado - RC1940543F60

Teenagers in a protest in Bolivia - Gen Z are no strangers to social activism. Image: REUTERS/David Mercado

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“Kids these days!” It’s a phrase that’s been bandied around since ancient times, usually accompanied by a sorrowful shake of the head.

In the 4th century BCE, the great philosopher Plato is said to have remarked: “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”

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In fact, this notion is rooted in personal perspective: authoritarian people think youngsters are less respectful of their elders, intelligent people think they are less intelligent, and well-read people think that they enjoy reading less.

Though older generations have grumbled about young people for millennia, it turns out that they may be wrong – at least, when it comes to today’s teenagers, otherwise known as Generation Z.

Criticism of young people today is based on personal perspective, rather than fact.
Image: Science Advances

An American analysis of several studies debunks the idea that the youth of today are on a downward spiral. Here are 5 things you should know:

1. They still like books...

The views of those who believe today’s young people are not well read are filtered by their own fond memories of how much they enjoyed reading as a child.

If you have fond memories of reading as a child, you’re more likely to believe young people today are less well read.
Image: Richard Leeming

2. And they're probably smarter than you...

The same philosophy applies when it comes to the perception of intelligence, even though intelligence levels have been increasing for decades.

3. But they're not risk-takers...

In the US, today’s teens take far fewer risks than their elders did. They’re less likely to drink, smoke, take drugs, or fight; and mirroring the global picture, teenage pregnancies have also fallen.

4. Even though they are looking to get ahead...

Gen Zers are driven by ambition. More than half of American teens see personal success as the most important thing in life – 10% higher than Millennials.

Young people also see hard work as the route to achieving that success: 69% of teens believe that becoming successful has little or nothing to do with luck.

5. ... without hurting the planet or others

They also care deeply about corporate social responsibility: 85% of Greta Thunberg’s generation expect companies to help solve social problems, with 57% saying their personal belief in the cause a brand supports is important to them, compared to 25% of Millennials.

Overall, the picture now is of a generation that is taking a more considered approach to life.

The descendants of Plato can rest easy.

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