Commentary: June 2010 Archives

Those Kids Today....

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Tony Bates pointed out a new research article indicating that college students are less empathetic today than a few decades ago. Tony Bates is skeptical, and frankly so am I.

Here's my favorite headline:

Today's college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

followed by

"Many people see the current group of college students -- sometimes called 'Generation Me' -- as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.

"It's not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others," O'Brien said.

I had to laugh because back when I was an actual college student in the 1980s, adults were making the exact same complaint about us. After all we were the generation that made Risky Business a blockbuster and brought the classic Yuppie poster "Poverty Sucks". Our teachers were really worried that we were listening to too many hair bands, rap songs and Madonna instead of more meaningful songs like they made in the 60s.

And lest we forget, the generation just ahead of us (the ones who had graduated and were entering business) were discovering fine wine and fine stock options and embracing the hedonistic delights of Dynasty and Dallas. A lot of people were worried about the collapse of civilization.

Today of course, we have reality TV and 24-hour cable, but the truth is I really don't think that much has changed since my college days. Students today are still partying, drinking, wearing inappropriate outfits and watching silly TV, but they're also making snarky comments about what they see and probably doing more charity work than my peers ever did. The 2000s were the Penn State generation that built THON to the largest student philanthropic student organization ever.

A lot of instructors and researchers like to complain about "today's students" or "today's youth," but who are we kidding? College kids have been goofing off for generations - it's, like, part of their job. I suspect that today's youth may even be goofing on the survey a bit (or they got tripped up on a confusing set of survey options with a lot of double negatives).

There can be true generational differences, but I also feel that some things remain the same. I do remember one comment that explained a little about what college is supposed to teach - "You know, The Terminator is really a very good movie." In other words, we are supposed to be having new experiences, even the "stupid" ones, and learning to judge for ourselves.