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Janet Hicks Ph.D.
Janet Hicks Ph.D.

Why Do Today's Youth Seem So Different?

Understanding generational differences can improve family communication.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard an adult say that youth these days act irresponsibly or worse than their generation, I would be rich. It is definitely true that each generation has unique differences based on common experiences. Understanding these differences helps older generations understand and better empathize with their children and grandchildren. Often, this understanding helps bridge many gaps as it becomes clear that each generation has both strengths and weaknesses.

For this reason, I am offering information on various generations in the paragraphs that follow. This information may help you understand why your children and grandchildren respond to situations differently than you might expect. Read on to learn a little about yourself and your other family members.

Each generation develops values based on events that happened while they were growing up. These experiences include their parents’ teachings and exposures to technology. For example, the Traditionalists were born before 1945 and experienced the stock market crash and World War II. These experiences taught this generation that perseverance, determination, and hard work paid off. Their efforts resulted in a World War II victory and an economic transformation from poverty to prosperity. Not surprisingly, people from this generation value patriotism, education, courage, hard work, and perseverance. This generation loves to tell stories and, frankly, deserves a lot of credit and respect for the freedoms we all experience today.

The next generation, the Boomers, were born between approximately 1940 and 1964. This generation, while experiencing prosperity, also experienced the Vietnam War drafts, the Cold War, and the erection of the Berlin Wall. This group experienced attention as advertisers tried to make profits by selling to this large group. These experiences demonstrated that success and victory required more than simply education and hard work alone. They realized a need for social change through advocacy. As such, this generation witnessed and ushered in Civil Rights.

Generation X was born between approximately 1961 and 1981. Children born as part of this generation were exposed to television in the home and were left to fend for themselves as families became dual-career earners. Hence, this generation was called “latch key” children. Seeing the hard work, layoffs, and lack of happiness experienced by many of their parents, many in this generation decided to focus more on family and free time than career. Professional dress became less important to this group as their priorities were different than the boomers. This generation learned the importance of balancing family with career.

Millennials were born between 1980 and 2004. This group grew up with computers, social media, and technological advancement never seen during their parents’ and grandparents’ youth. They have witnessed terrorism and school shootings, and a large number came from divorced homes. Technology brings worldwide events into local consciousness and the Internet keeps them wired at all times. Given their experiences, it is understandable they would feel more fear and anxiety than their predecessors. At the same time, they have shown great courage as they advocated in the Me Too movement, marched for gay rights, gun control, and women's issues. They are a diverse group and are perceived as being more accepting of those who differ from the norm.

Generation Z was born between 1995 and 2004 (depending upon researcher) and is the most wired generation in history. They easily and quickly use technology to find information and are perceived as having little patience for older people who cannot use smartphones and apps. They also experience and/or witness violence daily. Researchers are still learning about this group but, as of now, they seem to be concerned about personal finances. This group may be our future entrepreneurs as they seem well versed in technological advancements their predecessors do not fully understand. This group easily multitasks, gathers information quickly, and likes to learn experientially.

I hope this short synopsis helps explain why the younger generation may not act or make decisions as you might. Combine these differences with hormones and differences in level of brain development and it explains why sometimes your children and grandchildren respond to situations differently. I think these kinds of conversations help put us in another’s shoes and improve family communications.

Just something to think about as you interact within your families this month!


Hicks, J., Waltz, M., & Riedy, C. (2018). Cross-Generational Counseling Strategies: Understanding Unique Needs of Each Generation. Journal of Counselor Practice, 6, 6-23.

About the Author
Janet Hicks Ph.D.

Janet Hicks, Ph.D., is a professor of counselor education at Belmont University and a licensed professional counselor who specializes in child and adolescent development.

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