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September 24, 2012 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Kids These Days

The Age Old Problem With Today’s Corrupted Youth

Turn to any letters page of a newspaper and you may chance upon some complaint directed towards youth. If today’s young people aren’t being attacked for their noise and recklessness, it is for the opposite—their laziness and apathy. Students and young people are easily framed as being heavy drinkers, drug takers and sexual deviants. It’s a seemingly bottomless pool of criticism, and a timeless one. 

But is it surprising? With every social encounter and personal mishap being recorded for posterity, it is easy to witness the manifestations of our elder’s contempt. Are our Facebook profiles—stamped by the hallmarks of hedonism—merely the proof that today’s young adults are more debauched, disenfranchised or debased than ever?


“There was a time when we’d be pulling all- nighters. We didn’t take ecstasy or speed, but that was because it wasn’t available then.” Compare this candid confession of a 57-year-old Paekakariki resident to the words of a 21-year-old Vic student: “Drugs make it more difficult to enjoy things without them. They desensitise, like women who overuse their vibrators.”

Of course, drink and drugs have always supplemented social interactions. Show me a Dickens novel that doesn’t make reference to them, or an adult that has not got sodden drunk or high at least once in their life. If anything, landing paralytic in the gutter at age 20 is an endearing foible of youth. The same behaviour from a forty-year-old would surely entice a more pointed response.

In the 1920s, the spread of dance halls in New Zealand’s towns and cities prompted mass alarm. Clerics and other well-intentioned citizens rounded on these establishments, believing them to be facilitators of drunkenness, drug-use and illicit sexual activity.

The era’s trumping standard, jazz music, and the dance halls’ ill-lit corners were widely purported as veiling the more debasing activities of the hedonistic youth. The decade may have been roaring, but perhaps with as much incredulity as with triumph and style.

Mildly intoxicated foot shuffling to the tunes of a jazz quintet and prostrating wildly at 2am in Hope Bros whilst off-your-face on coke are really only variations on a theme. In a historical perspective, neither is less justifiable than the other.

Eventually it will be the reaction of our internal organs which offer the most truthful judgement on our behaviour. If current medical advice be acknowledged, our weekend occupations will give tomorrow’s youth something to consider as they witness their parents’ livers failing with increased regularity.

The government recently tried to pre-empt our biology with a proposal to raise the alcohol purchase age. It was a strategy that was blind to that other timeless capacity of youth: rule breaking. If young people are so hell-bent on cutting loose, their reasons are firmly ingrained in society itself.


“We’re a bit bloody puritanical” suggests one Owhiro Bay mother of three, “we use sex to sell everything but we tell young people that they can’t do it.” As one young professional in his mid-twenties sees it, today’s young people are simply “less veiled” in their sexuality. “The kids have stopped trying to act like they’re not doing it.”

The statistics confirm this; young people are hitting puberty sooner and becoming sexually active sooner, but they are also more proactive at seeking-out and using protection. Of those who use family planning facilities in New Zealand, 50 per cent are under 22.

Weren’t our elders responsible for liberating sex anyway? Interviewed by The Truth newspaper in 1969, an 18-year-old ‘Sandra’ was frank about how casual sex has come to be seen by a certain sector of the country’s youth. “I didn’t feel immoral after I slept with him,” she told a reporter, “There is nothing really wrong with it. Look at marriage. Most people have slept with each other before. There’s no need to get hung up over sex.”

Few would batter an eyelid at ‘Sandra’s’ disclosures today. As the steady liberalisation of sexual mores during the last hundred years proves, each generation builds upon the successes of the past.

rock & roll

“It is the manifestation of the old tom-tom jungle cult—the beat sends the immature mind into ecstasies merely by repetition.” You’d be forgiven  for thinking that the speaker of these words     is addressing dirty acid house music or the inane—yet highly contagious—output of David Guetta or Calvin Harris. They were however the words of a concerned citizen in 1964, responding to the youth’s fervour at the arrival of The Beatles at Wellington airport.

In what were unprecedented scenes, young screaming fans overwhelmed police at the airport’s fence, injuring two. Long serving police officer Bill Brien later commented that the hysteria of Beatles fans was matched only by the mass protests against the Springbok tour in ’81.

As a graphic illustration of Marx’s most-quoted observation—history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce—whereas a crowd of seven thousand met the fab four off the plane in ’64, only fifty felt compelled to greet One Direction at the gate in April.

Time will tell if the songs of 1D can emulate the lasting appeal of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ or ‘Hey Jude’. New research has given clout to the opinion that 21st century pop music pales in comparison. A recent study by the Spanish National Research Council makes a grand claim: contemporary music is both louder and blander than music recorded half a century ago.

Researchers used computers to break down the patterns and content of almost half a million Western popular music recordings made between 1955 and 2010. The results suggested that the diversity of transitions between note combinations has consistently diminished in the last 50 years, meaning that—in strictly technical terms—today’s pop music output is significantly less diverse than it was during our parents’ and grandparents’ youth.

Quick to deflect the judgement of their findings, a spokesperson suggested that “if today’s music still satisfies listeners the same way pop music did 50 years before, then maybe its creators are simply better at crafting pleasing songs.” All of which doesn’t (and can’t) answer the question of which is better.

Every generation will, at one stage or other, judge a successive one in quizzical terms. More often than not, uncertainty will give rise to a harsher assessment and general disdain. This is not a one- sided conversation however. Equally presumptive notions are made of the old by the young. That common phrase “it wasn’t like that in our day” is uttered more as crass imitation of septuagenarians than actually spoken by many of them.

It turns out that a lot of old people are very reasonable—one distinct value of age. “Are 18-year- olds responsible for the social architecture they live in?” asked one Wellingtonian in her late 60s, “When I hear my friends complaining about their nephews or grandkids, I just feel like asking them ‘Well who do you think raised them?’” Acceptance is a relative thing, and time-bound in its own right.

“I have great hope for the future based on the many young people I know,” said another—a Miramar grandparent in her late 50s—“but what displeases me is the focus on electronic social media and telephones instead of face-to-face encounters. People are not learning social cues.” Doesn’t the same apply to the printing press, carrier pigeons and the postal service? Proof, then, that the dividing lines are forever to be etched, whether consciously or not. ▲


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