Teens Then Vs. Teens Now
I’ve heard too many older people talking about the kids “these days” and how different they are than the kids from just the previous generation. From the kids’ bad attitudes to their choices and tastes of clothing, music, the entertainers they choose to revere, their hair, their makeup, and the fact that their lives revolve around technology and they can’t live without their cellphones, they make Gen Z sound like a new breed of alien. What they don’t seem to realize is that their parents and grandparents were saying the same thing about them. Being that I’m in my late thirties, everything I’ve heard people say about anyone under the age of twenty-five is practically identical to the things I heard older people say about my generation when we were teenagers. It’s all a cycle of seemingly never-ending disgust. I’m sure that back in the 1960s, the same revulsion the thirty- and forty-somethings were expressing towards people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two is mirrored to that of the revulsion we’re seeing in the 21st Century amongst the same age groups.
The interesting detail everyone seems to miss is that the turmoil is always over the same things: politics, morality (or lack thereof), environment, fashion, entertainment, and grooming habits. The newest item to the mix happens to be the technological advances within our society. I also find it interesting that while older groups of people tend to knock the youngest generations for being “addicted” to technology, they fail to call out the fact that many of their peers are as well, and even more, they’re the ones who facilitated the overuse of technology that most people can’t live without now. Even people who would rather lead lives with no tech, or minimal tech, find themselves immersed in tech because that’s what is required in everyday life now.
People also choose to overlook the fact that the same political plights that were being analyzed and fought one hundred years ago are still in rotation. The same arguments many people were having between the 1920s and the 1970s are still argued today — with no resolution in sight. The majority of people still have no idea who the “good guys” are as opposed to the “bad guys”, or they’re confused about it due to the output of the national and international media, yet they’re often choosing sides because they’re forced to. The people that do understand what they’ve chosen and why, try to explain it to the ones in the middle, but the ones in the middle tend to throw their hands in the air and proclaim they just want to make money and live, they don’t care what the others do. Although I have chosen my side, I have to admit that the people in the middle have a point, especially since it seems that regardless of what you do, the cycle has always continued.
But something is different now, and I think everyone knows it. The cycles used to continue because most of the records we used to have were hard to come by. When I say “records”, I mean many things that were a part of our history as human beings were either hidden, destroyed, easily overlooked, or dismissed. Other things that were found were only found because people knew exactly what they were looking for. That’s no longer the case because of the advances of tech that we have. Things that would have otherwise been lost or ignored are right here online for people to see if they choose to see it, and it’s easier to find today more than it ever was. I truly believe that those who remain ignorant or stagnant in certain patterns of behavior or thought are going to be left behind or discarded altogether in the future rather than be led to perpetuate it.
The average person’s opinions used to be ignored, especially those within the age ranges of Gen Z. Not too long ago, you had to be an important person for your point of view to gain any traction, and a person like me would never have had a way to convey my thoughts for other people to weigh them for themselves. Twenty years ago, the only way I would’ve been able to get at least fifty people to read anything I wrote would’ve been to be famous, in some way have some links to someone in the publishing industry so my work could be put in print in some publication or another, or…that’s about it. Rarely were people’s voices heard and had the opportunity to be amplified for any reason they pleased on any topic they chose.
Let’s be candid, no one wants to hear how flawed some older people’s ways of thinking are; the only thing people want to read about is how the newest generation is ruining everything so older people can feel better about where they come from, and that’s just one cycle that needs to be broken.
A good place to start is to analyze the way teens used to be back in the 1980s and 1990s since I’ve heard so many people lament about losing those two decades, the ’90s especially, and how much better things used to be.
I should start by pointing out that the average person usually tends to be able to look back at certain decades when they grew up through rose colored glasses. It tends to be true that not all of it was bad, but to be beholden to the idea that things were mostly all good because you didn’t feel the effects of certain (other) things that happened to other people is a naïve — and possibly dangerous — way to look back at your past. For instance, when I was growing up, everything I read about the 1960s and 1970s made the lives of every black person I knew sound horrifically tragic, especially when looking at poor black families. However, talking to my own family who are made up of nothing but black people, they speak on those two decades with fondness for one another and life, and when I bring up certain events in history, they were oblivious to them. They weren’t indifferent to all of them, of course, but certain things that seem major to us today they either knew nothing about them, or they’d only heard distant chatter of those events. That doesn’t mean that those events didn’t affect them in some way, but a lot of things that centered around their race, they either ignored them or was affected by them indirectly so that they didn’t link them to what had happened in their lives. If asked in detail, one of the worst things for them were the wages they were paid, which compared to their white counterparts, were practically pennies compared to dollars. The racism they experienced, they adjusted to it accordingly because of where they lived and got on with their lives. But just because the people I know weren’t directly entangled in history doesn’t make what happened irrelevant, and that’s what some people don’t understand.
Growing up during the 1980s and ’90s, I knew of plenty things happening, especially in the entertainment world and politics, but those things ultimately had nothing to do with me. I was a child watching the world unfold during those years, relying on adults to make decisions, right or wrong, for better or for worse. Yet somehow, a couple of years ago on Twitter, I was reading through someone’s tweet thread about how messed up the ’90s were and how my generation was in denial of it now. To a degree, I agree with that person, but they also don’t understand the difference between their reality and the way our reality was back then. For one thing, we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have social media to share our thoughts and experiences the way they do now, and believe me, that makes a huge difference. Another thing is, the majority of us weren’t involved in those events the way so many young people get to be involved today, partly because of tech. Young adults between the years of 2016 up until now have had more opportunities to be productive in their communities and in society as a whole if they choose to be, more so than we could have been twenty or thirty years ago. Another truth that the (younger) person fails to realize is that for many of us, we do have genuinely fond memories of those two decades because we weren’t bogged down by tech. When someone older brings that up online, people from the younger generations become defensive almost immediately, without any understanding of what someone like me is trying to tell them.
Our childhoods weren’t ruled by tech, and I see the major differences because of my young nieces, nephews, and cousins. I could say that back in the day we used to go outside and play in the dirt, used to use our imaginations, and actually played with toys rather than tech, but everyone’s heard all of that before. Some kids still do go outside and play, and they still play with toys, they just play with tech, too. Besides, trying to weaponize our tech-free younger years doesn’t do anything but make younger people detest us more since all we’re trying to do when we bring it up is convince them, as well as ourselves, that we’re somehow, someway, better than them, which isn’t true.
When we were growing up some twenty, thirty years ago, we often heard about how ungrateful we were for practically everything. Many of us were raised by Boomers, meaning people who were born during the 1940s and ’50s, and their upbringings had been comprised of different elements than our own. Our parents complained about everything we did, everything we didn’t do, what we wore, the way we behaved, just everything. Once we grew up and this newest generation came along, those same Boomers looked at us and went, “You guys weren’t so bad after all.” Too little, too late. Practically our entire lives they’d belittled us. They didn’t have any air conditioning growing up, but since we did and we quite obviously liked it during the summers and got used to it, we were “bad” people. When I was in a middle school, or sometime around that time, a trend started where girls started wearing crop tops with belly chains on display, and all the older women I knew hated it. They thought girls were the absolute worst for showing their mid-drifts in public. They said that our music was nothing but sex and noise and we should be ashamed for listening to it. We didn’t work hard enough in school; we didn’t work as hard as they did when they were our age. One of the things we often had to hear about was how they were made to pick cotton in the fields, or drop out of school early to help take care of their families, meanwhile, compared to what they went through, we were lazy.
It’s easy to see the differences between teens today as opposed to teens back when I was growing up. Teens today have it better than we ever did, even living in the conditions of this pandemic. Had this same pandemic swept the continents in 1999, we would’ve been screwed so much worse. At least teens have a way to communicate with others; we wouldn’t have. We had regular telephones back then, two- or three-way if we were lucky, and even better if we had our own phone lines. But all our calls had to be local, or we’d have been looking at an astronomical bill every month that nobody would’ve been able to pay it. Forget having a FaceTime session or anything remotely like it back then. Texting wasn’t a thing at all. Most people were also lucky if they had cable, otherwise they would’ve had to settle for three or four channels on their TV — maybe a fifth or sixth channel if you knew how to maneuver your antenna. Yes, antennas were still a thing for some of us at that time. Our entertainment was severely limited back then, as were our means of communications. Teens and younger adults don’t have that problem since a basic cell phone can achieve more than our old televisions, radios, and handset phones combined ever could back in the ‘90s.
Because of the advances in tech, teens have more access to, well…everything. If I could’ve gotten my hands on any of the tech that we use today back when I was in high school, I still wouldn’t have been a straight-A student (I’m just being honest, here), but I would’ve been the happiest little clam you would’ve ever set your eyes on. I used to have to go above and beyond just to listen to the songs I wanted to hear without having to buy an artist’s entire album; it wasn’t because I didn’t want to buy it, it was because I was beyond poor and couldn’t afford things like that. Thing is, I was always a movie and TV buff, and I never would’ve dreamt as a teenager that as an adult I would’ve been able to stream whatever show or movie I wanted at the drop of a dime, whether it was on a TV, a desktop PC, a laptop, or a phone. Whereas I’ve always been the type of person to take a paperback novel with me whenever I know I have to sit in a waiting area somewhere, now I have the option of taking out my phone and playing a game.
Something I think a lot of people my age would deny — and I’ve heard some of them deny this vehemently, which didn’t convince me that I was wrong — is that they’re jealous that this generation has so many opportunities that they didn’t have. Forget being able to access the internet anytime you please, or calling anybody you want whenever you want without having to look for a pay phone, kids these days are making real money by having access to things like social media. I’ve seen so many young people gain well over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, enabling them to quit their regular jobs since they were making more money by recording and uploading videos to their YouTube account. The fact that some people in their early twenties are making more than the average living wage by doing YouTube videos hasn’t gone unnoticed. While many people are supportive, others are pissed because they see it as the younger generation being “lazy” yet reaping more financial benefits than they ever did when they were working their butts off at the same age. You can probably shut them up if you mention the fact that there are some older people making money from online platforms like YouTube and Instagram, too. Or maybe you won’t. Some older people just want to be angry about certain things and it doesn’t matter what facts you point out, or how much logic you bring into the discussion; if they want to be pissed, they’ll be pissed.
Sometimes people just want to blame somebody else for their disappointments and failures. Unfortunately, most of the people who pride themselves in being hard working individuals and having “real jobs” are the ones who have found themselves out of work during this pandemic, and those who chose the unconventional routes went about virtually unscathed financially. I’ve heard some people say that everyone has been hit hard financially by this pandemic, but that’s not true. Everybody didn’t lose money; some people made money because they weren’t just tech savvy, they’re online savvy. There are seventeen-year-olds right now who know how to take advantage of things like social media and its offshoots and they’re making more money than they ever would have with a summer job that their parents would’ve had at their age. There are some people in their early twenties who didn’t opt for college or a conventional job, and instead they started making money pre-pandemic and have continued to do so throughout.
On Instagram a while back, I saw a woman make a post with a caption that said: “How I Looked in High School Vs. How Girls Today Look in High School”, and the picture above the caption was split with one young girl looking average on the left, while the other young girl on the right had what looked like professionally done makeup and hair. Thinking that the average girl today goes to school like that definitely means that whatever adult made that Instagram post has forgotten what it was like in middle school and high school.
I think every school had those girls who were always trying too hard. Back then it didn’t seem that way, and most of us “average” girls were jealous of them, but as an adult, it just seems sad that they felt they had to do so much to themselves — and for what? It wasn’t just simple grooming standards either. Feeling as if it’s a necessity to have your hair, nails, and makeup done all the time, as well as choosing the right outfit with coordinating accessories and you can never relax with that sort of stuff has to be exhausting. In fact, one of my roommates in college was what you would have called high maintenance (she even described herself as such), and she admitted that keeping up that sort of lifestyle, along with the coinciding “look”, was tiring. What’s your childhood, or young adulthood, if you can’t relax? You have the rest of your life to be an adult, so why rush it? I know some people say that the extra grooming can and will make some people feel better, but there’s a difference between doing things to feel good about yourself, as opposed to doing things to impress other people, and for a lot of people, it’s the latter. They care about what other people think of them to the point where they feel that everything must be perfect, and that entails hair, nails, makeup, outfit, and accessories. Don’t forget that it’s not only time-consuming, it’s very expensive.
The difference between some girls going above and beyond with hair and makeup in the 1990s as opposed to the 2010s and 2020s is the girls in the latter years have access to high quality makeup at their fingertips and the major added bonus: YouTube makeup tutorials. There are sixteen and seventeen year old girls with conventional jobs as well as young women the same age who have online ventures, therefore they can afford the makeup they want themselves, and on top of that, apply it like a pro since they have practically over a hundred makeup gurus to choose from online. We didn’t have those things during the 1990s, so comparing a girl who probably didn’t even care about wearing makeup or extra hair back then to a girl who does care about that stuff in today’s climate isn’t even fair and doesn’t even make any sense. And saying that because the girls twenty-some odd years ago didn’t really know how to do their makeup properly like a lot of girls do today, isn’t earning you any brownie points with anybody except the same women in your age group who are bitter about what they didn’t get to experience when they were younger.
Lastly, complaining about the way our youth “overuses” tech is one of the most hypocritical things ever. What are they supposed to do when they were, and still are, required to use tech when they attend school? When a person goes to school now, using tech isn’t an option. Requiring students to use tech during school as well as out of school in order to complete their class assignments started not too long after I graduated high school, and I’m glad I missed that wave, personally. I’m one of those people who would love the option of not having to rely on tech so much, but it’s no longer an option unless you forego life’s many advancements and go live in the woods, or mountains, somewhere and live like you’re orthodox Amish.
You can’t bash the younger generation for using their phones, iPads, and laptops all the time when those things were shoved in their faces and down their throats and they were told they had no choice but to use them or get left behind in life.
I just wish the recycling of the same old rhetoric would stop. I wish that my generation would open their eyes and see that they’re doing the same things to the younger generation that was done to them. I wish the younger generation will be cognizant about improving the world, and therefore putting an end to the cycle of the age-old same-old where they bash the younger people for having more, and better, than they did. Mostly, I wish that instead of snippily telling younger people that they have it so good, that they’re lazy, and that they’ll be the doom of us all, that we could say to young people that it’s good they have it better, and that we hope they do better. We don’t have to compare ourselves to them in a way to try to make them feel inadequate or to futilely make ourselves feel better, but we should compare our past to their present and appreciate the improvements.
Are things different today than they were two, three, four decades ago? Yes, and that’s good. There are a few cons, as it tends to be with most things, but in this case, the pros far outweigh the cons, and that much I can definitely appreciate.
Another thing to note is that I’m not saying I will never complain about certain things the younger generations do that piss me off, but I refuse to harp on things and put them down unfairly, or for no reason, just because I have a chip on my shoulder like so many older people obviously do.