Hating Teenagers

Like atheists, young people are one of these groups it’s okay to hate. It’s perfectly acceptable in every country I’ve lived in, and in many others I haven’t but know the politics of, for people to talk about how annoying, lazy, or degenerate people under 25 are.

Now Coturnix directs me to an article by one Taylor Armerding arguing that society’s troubles come from the fact that teenagers go to bed relatively late. Apparently the author would like people to start working at age 10, just like they did in the golden age that was the Industrial Revolution.

In previous centuries, adolescents in an agrarian society got up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. with their parents to milk the cows or do any other of a long list of chores. Did growth hormones pass them by? Where were the “studies” that showed they really needed to go to bed after midnight and sleep until 10? And why weren’t their parents all being reported to the DSS? Oh, that’s right, there was no DSS. How did that generation survive?

He assumes that in times before electricity, teenagers used to wake up and fall asleep at the same time adults did. Well, they did not. Studies of sleep patterns in primitive tribes show that adolescents are the last ones to wake up (and nobody bashes them for it – it is the New Primitives with access to media that do that) and the last ones to fall asleep – they serve as first-shift sentries during the night watch.

Even in this, the 21st century, kids who enter the military at 17 find that they can fall asleep easily at 9:30 or 10, because they know they’re going to be getting up at 4:30 or 5. Apparently the Army hasn’t read the study on circadian rhythms.

Actually, the military being the most worried by this problem is funding a lot of research on circadian rhythms and sleep and has been for decades. Because they know, first hand, how big a problem it is and that yelling sargeants do not make alert soldiers.

Whenever someone talks about the good old days, it’s generally out of ignorance. People who write about how great life was in 1950s America generally ignore details such as the teen pregnancy and poverty rates (both almost double those of today).

Armerding’s talk about the golden age in which everybody woke up at the same time is not particularly true, as Coturnix explains. What’s just as false is the idea that the medieval world had enlightened ideas about children. Despite the impression you’ll get from reading epic fantasy, pediatric care was horrific at the time; whenever there was famine, the adults let children starve and just had more the next year.

Ageism is based on a fairly unadulterated version of conservatism, one that even conservative intellectuals try to run away from, namely the ideas that all change is bad and that all modernity is decadent. If something worked a certain way on the farms of 1600, it must be good, and everyone who points out it wasn’t must be silenced.

Of course, since youth is associated with change, ranting about how annoying young people are is a natural consequence of that view. If the mainstream views of 18-to-25 year olds are different from those of 40-to-55 year olds, the younger cohort must be in the wrong, and to prove that it’s wrong, every myth about generational attitudes is a legitimate weapon. If young people dispute the 80-hour-workweek ethos that’s taken root in the US, it means young people are lazy; if college graduates try to get good entry-level jobs, it just means they hate working hard; if teenagers sleep the amount of hours that fits 15-year-olds rather than 30-year-olds, it just means they’re pampered.

9 Responses to Hating Teenagers

  1. coturnix says:

    Excellent points! I tried to remain, to some extent at least, within the topic of adolescent sleep where I am comfortable with the available science. I am glad you extended it further.

  2. Aerik says:

    Armerding is really a pathetic coward. In that article, he’s actually trying to convince us (or more likely, himself) that he actually never had a childhood – he wants to convey the image that he was born with a briefcase. Clearly this denial of his own childhood is a sign of just how bad it really was. And for him to advocate it as the good ol’ days, that the next generation should go through the same shit, is just like a high school bully (or tradition) that says the freshman should go through a hazing ritual. It’s bullying 101: I did it, now you have to, too.

    Psh. Asshole.

  3. coturnix says:

    I have written a short addendum to my post…

  4. Alon Levy says:

    Thanks, Bora.

    It’s usually very enlightening to look at a flawed article’s social circumstances to see what made it wrong. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake; usually, as in this case, it’s a totalitarian social agenda that needs to be identified, publicized, and refuted.

    Plus, I never pass up the opportunity to refute myths about golden ages, or about the importance of initiation rites, or about the value of hardship.

  5. C. L. Hanson says:

    I think there’s value in some amount of hardship — there are things one can learn from it that can’t be learned without it. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this point though since it’s not the focus of your essay.

    I agree that a shift in a society’s ideology often requires a shift in generations, and for that reason the young are threatening and it becomes okay to vilify them.

    One of the principal complaints I get about my novel is that I wrote most of the teenage characters as being smarter than their parents. What can I say? I just wrote it that way because I’m an incorrigible optimist. ;^)

    But seriously, I think it’s funny that I would get complaints about giving a bad message for portraying an intergenerational conflict and failing to include a stern rebuke to the teens telling them that they’re in the wrong…

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Well, it’s one thing to acknowledge that hardship can produce many things that are later fruitful. A trip to the local museum will quickly confirm that. It’s a whole other thing to posit that making people miserable is good. I don’t see anyone say that it’s good to keep a significant population of educated people poor in order to produce great art.

    Are the people who complain about your novel’s teenagers being smarter than their parents Mormons, who have a stake in having the Mormon parents be smarter? Or are they just people who can’t fathom any kind of reversion of traditional roles?

  7. Aerik says:


    I think there’s value in some amount of hardship —

    Hey! There’s a difference between challenge and hardship. If parents can prevent hardships, then they’ve done their jobs. That is their job. Challenge is another thing entirely.

  8. C. L. Hanson says:

    No, not Mormons — I still haven’t persuaded any believing Mormons to read the whole thing. I’ve had two get halfway through it and stop…

    Maybe I’m exaggerating to say it’s a lot of comments. Really it was just a few stray remarks plus this review.

    To be honest, I kind of hate to go out of my way to link to this review as it is by far the most negative I’ve received in any blog, forum, or email. I don’t want to pick on this guy because I like his blog and I obviously don’t want to discourage people from reviewing my novel (even critical reviews), however his comment about teens isn’t the only issue I have with the review. I’m not going to dispute his complaints about my writing style ;-), but there are a number of points he finds unrealistic that were taken straight out of real life. I guess truth is stranger than fiction…

  9. C. L. Hanson says:

    p.s. to Aerik:

    I understand the difference between challenge and hardship. I agree that parents should do everything in their power to prevent actual hardship for their kids, and that surviving horrors such as war, famine, and slavery are rarely positive influences on a person’s development. Yet it seems like people who have survived and pulled thelselves out of medium-level hardship have an added perspective that sheltered people (like me!) will never fully understand.

    Of course, since I’m not exactly volunteering to try it out, I’m probably just saying nonsense here…

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