Why the Young Don’t Respect Adults

I was raised with as great an emphasis upon respecting my elders as you can have.  This is another way of saying I was raised in the south and in the southern way.  Though I am 43 years old, I am constitutionally unable to refer to older men in authority by their first names.  The scholar Ralph Wood recently invited me to call him by his first name, I had to beg off so as not to destroy my digestion.

Nevertheless, as a teenager my pride rose up within me and my respect for older persons plummeted.  I still remember with embarrassment the time when I told my sister that we had “surpassed” mom and dad.  Happily, it was a temporary effect, but I observe it today among other young people and have wondered what is the cause of it.  

After thinking about it for some time, I think I have the answer.  When young people look at adults, they see them as fixed in their positions.  You are a secretary.  You are a teacher.  You are a vice-principal who wears out of date French cuffs to the prom.  You are managing a restaurant.  It doesn’t matter what or who you are.  Your cake is baked.  At least that’s the way the young person tends to see it.  They, on the other hand, live in a world of possibility.  In your case, we have solved for x, but in their case x remains an open question.  The young still hold out billionaire, celebrity, American Idol, and Tony Stark as possible outcomes in their own lives.  

As a result, when many young people measure themselves against adults, they compare their x versus the adult’s x and find that unknown x largely trumps defined x.  In other words, if I may be greater than you, then I’ll assume I probably am greater than you.  And if that is so, why should I respect you, listen to you, accept your authority over me, etc.?  

Respect is a matter of algebra.

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2 thoughts on “Why the Young Don’t Respect Adults

  1. Perhaps you are correct Dr. Baker. As a baby boomer I remember being told, even by my parents, that we could accomplish “great things” if we only dreamed big enough and worked hard enough. I suppose that this statement carried the seeds of an implied self-criticism that the utterers either hadn’t dreamed big enough or hadn’t worked hard enough or that they were simply less than we. Were they not effectively telling us to be unlike them. Was this ‘advice to the young’ new to the last few generations? I don’t know. I now believe that we stand on the shoulders of giants and that not least among these giants are our own parents. I hope that the equivalent will be said of us.

  2. This observation certainly rings true. At 31, I am wedged between the generation that grew up with ever-evolving social media and those that did not. I’ve often marveled at the large and varied differences between these two generations. I believe that social media contributes to the dynamic you observed since it appears that, generally speaking, the volume and breadth of information an individual shares on social media is inversely proportional to the individual’s age. Many factors then motivate the relatively young people to be fascinated with each other and themselves and to maintain a two-dimensional view of people even slightly older than themselves.

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