“What’s the Matter with Kids Today?”

“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.”        — Attributed to Socrates (469-399 BC)

Whether you are managing kids in your command or kids on the street, it appears your frustration is nothing new.

It is likely that since the first homo sapiens had children, the adult generation has been complaining about its offspring’s generation. Your challenge, as a supervisor in both your leadership role and policing role, is to be aware of bias that can be built on generational differences.

Today we offer two excellent resources for sorting it all out.  The first is from a great book, Rising Through the Ranks, by Chief Mike Wynn of the Pittsfield MA Police.  The second and equally great resource in Lisa Thurau’s Strategies for Youth program, available at their web site, strategiesforyouth.org.

Adapted from Chief Wynn:

The following paragraphs list the things that are “the matter with” the kids — younger subordinates you lead and manage.  See the differences as opportunities.  Craft leadership and policing strategies to make the most of them.

Generation X

Generation X encompasses the 44 to 50 million Americans born between 1965 and 1980.  This generation marks the period of birth decline after the baby boom and is significantly smaller than the previous and succeeding generations. Members of Generation X are largely in their 30’s and early 40’s.

After witnessing the burnout or layoff of their hardworking parents, Generation X entered the workplace with different work ethic and culture than previous generations. Unlike the Boomers, Generation X places a premium on family time and has a different attitude about work. They are ambitious and hardworking but value work/life balance.

In the workplace, Generation X dislikes rigid work requirements.  Generation X has an entrepreneurial spirit. This generation thrives on diversity, challenge, responsibility and creative input.  Members of Generation X value freedom and autonomy to achieve desired goals and often prefer to work alone rather than in teams. They dislike “meetings about meetings” and don’t want face time.  Challenging assignments will motivate this generation.

Generation Y professionals are in their 20s and are just entering the workforce. With numbers estimated as high as 70 million, Generation Y  is the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce.  This new generation holds entry level positions.

Generation Y

Generation Y is smart, creative, optimistic, achievement-oriented and tech-savvy. This young generation seeks out creative challenges, personal growth and meaningful careers. They seek supervisors and mentors who are highly engaged in their professional development.

Generation Y are excellent multi-taskers and prefer communications through e-mail and text messaging over face-to-face interaction. Their attitude is “don’t waste my time making me come to your office.”  They would rather send an e-mail so they can multi-task at the same time . Cybertraining and lectures through web-based delivery systems may be more effective than traditional lectures.

As Generation Y demands work/life balance, employers will need to accommodate them by creating a culture of flexibility. E-mail, laptops, Blackberrys, and other technology tools will help Generation Y work remotely and remain connected 24/7.

When working with or supervising Generation Y, it’s wise to impose structure and stability and cultivate a team-oriented environment. Immediate feedback and praise will help motivate and reassure this young generation. Frequent communication and reassurance will help keep members of Generation Y eager and involved.

On the Street

Adapted from Strategies for Youth


I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!

Kids!/Who can understand anything they say?

Kids!/They are so ridiculous and immature!

I don’t see why anybody wants ’em!

Just you wait and see


Kids! They are just impossible to control..

What the devil’s wrong with these kids today?”[1]

According to The Society for Neuroscience, “Teenagers and adults often don’t see eye to eye, but new brain research is shedding light on why. Although adolescence is often characterized by increased independence and a desire for knowledge and exploration, it is also a time when brain changes can result in high-risk behaviors, addiction vulnerability, and mental illness, as different parts of the brain mature at different rates.

“Scientists once thought the brain’s key development ended within the first few years of life. Now, thanks to advanced brain imaging technology and adolescent research, scientists are learning more about the teenage brain both in health and in disease. They know now that the brain continues to develop at least into a person’s twenties.

“Parts of the brain associated with behavior undergo refinement during the teen years. Areas associated with more basic functions, including the motor and sensory areas, mature early. Areas involved in planning and decision-making, including the prefrontal cortex — the cognitive or reasoning area of the brain important for controlling impulses and emotions — appear not to have yet reached adult dimension during the early twenties. The brain’s reward center, the ventral striatum, also is more active during adolescence than in adulthood, and the adolescent brain still is strengthening connections between its reasoning- and emotion-related regions.

“Scientists believe these collective findings may indicate that cognitive control over high-risk behaviors is still maturing during adolescence, making teens more apt to engage in risky behaviors. Also, with the brain’s emotion-related areas and connections still maturing, adolescents may be more vulnerable to psychological disorders. 

Lt. Mark Gillespie, of the MBTA Transit Police in Boston, describes a recent interaction with youth where he used a calm and interactive approach that led to a good outcome rather than an arrest.  Strategies for Youth trains police in understanding the “teen brain.”

Lt. Gillespie speaks about the effectiveness of the training he received using this example.      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1jInnM1Lhs

And never forget: we raised them…


[1] from “Bye, bye, Birdie,” 1960


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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