I’ve just read a series of articles about, first, the astronomical suckiness of college students, and, second, the plethora of reasons for it. Then, I heard about a website solely dedicated to the wretchedness failures of young people and why they deserve our collective ire. I’m not so sure that I can still consider myself a young person (especially given my creaky knees and the unwelcome layer of fat showing up around my waist), but I feel offended and sad. I do, however, freely attest that there are some drawbacks to youth. Chief among those drawbacks is the way in which we really don’t know what we think we know. It’s a cruel joke of the universe because young adulthood is the time when we begin to feel that we have things figured out. We think we know how this life thing works and have a list of the answers to life’s questions. Of course, time has an (un)funny way of teaching us that there are footnotes to nearly all the answers, qualifiers that throw off our neatly drawn portraits of life. The fine print is impossibly small and young people don’t bother to read fine print anyway; they’re too busy squandering sleep and doing fun things with their flat stomachs and flexible knees. That said, being a young adult is like being a toddler. They feel the need to remind people that they are not babies and they know how to do lots of things all by themselves and don’t want your help. Then they fall down or put their shoes on the wrong feet. But it doesn’t really matter to them because they are in the process of figuring it out. That’s what young adulthood is about, too.
I’m putting my money on the fact that young people “today” are very much like young people of days gone by. They act without thinking, they pursue what makes them feel good, and they can’t see past the noses on their faces. In many ways, the stakes today are higher; sex can kill you, and there are thousands of ways to be distracted from the business of adulthood. Youtube and myspace won’t let anyone forget about our youthful stupidity. Still, it’s not okay to forget that, as Malcolm X said, young people change things. Old people don’t. The problem is that some of us are already old when we’re still young.
Don’t get me wrong, now. Young people get on my nerves, too. I wish almost every day that students would bring their behinds to class—on time—and actually complete assignments without spending an hour coming up with a sob story. I wish that they would say “please” and be grateful for other people’s time and attention. But, for me, it’s too depressing to leave the discussion there. Youth is only the beginning of the evolution. They might deserve our disgust sometimes, but they also deserve our mercy and—sometimes—our pity. They’ll get past this all too brief moment in their lives and turn into the fabulous caregivers, workers, or jerks they intend to be. It’s a process. And it’s fun to watch because, eventually, they’ll probably hate young people, too.