So many different attitudes are projected onto young people, and always have been, positively and negatively. Speaking about young people during the classical era he lived in, Greek philosopher Socrates supposedly said,
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
Through my research on the sociology of youth I have found quotes and editorials from the 1600s lamenting lost youth, and that attitude generally continued onwards through the next century. Every generation seems to have been the downfall of society, and the rue of preceding generations. Young people have also represented hope, and have been the subject of cheery optimism, too. Their voices are romanticized and their culture is idealized, with entire industries built just to help adults acquire the seemingly unattainable glory of youth.
But all relationships are a mirror. What we see in other people is what is in ourselves, for better or worse. Youth are mirrors of adults, whether we like them or despise them. Adults tend to want to be around young people who have things about them we like but want more of in ourselves. We dislike young people – intensely – when we find traits in them that we dislike in ourselves.
A challenging activity for any adult is to spend time writing the qualities of young people they know who they actually like and enjoy being around. Then make a separate list of things about young people they don’t like. From that point it’s important to notice that that ambiguity – where all of those likes and dislikes are in others – are in ourselves, too. Then we can be more compassionate with the young people we’re around, because we can see that all relationships are a mirror, and that in that mirror comes hope.