Is the Generation Gap Gone?

Originally published August 15, 2010.

Times-are-a-changing.  Experts are declaring that the generation gap is gone.

Wikipedia defines the generation gap as “the differences between people of a younger generation and their elders, especially between a child and their parent’s generation.  Although some generational differences have existed throughout history, because of more rapid cultural change during the modern era differences between the two generations increased in comparison to previous times, particularly with respect to such matters as musical tastes, fashion, culture and politics.  …This was coined during the 1960s as the generation gap became so prominent most likely due to the unprecedented size of the young generation during the 1960s which gave it unprecedented power and willingness to rebel against societal norms.”

The world did turn upside down over those years.  Our culture today is reaping the fruit of those years.  So if the generation gap is now being declared as gone, is the world turning upside down again?  The right side up again?  Can this really be happening?

Nancy Gibbs of Time wrote about it this way:  “Come back with me 40 years to the rabid spring of 1970. President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, and campuses exploded. Kids who had never picked up a rock in their lives were occupying the classrooms they used to study in. When National Guardsmen shot four unarmed students at Kent State, virtually the entire system of higher education shuddered and stopped. The fabric of the country seemed to be tearing; everything about the older generation was contaminated, corrupt. Asked in a Gallup poll if there was a generation gap, 74 percent of the young people of that era said yes.

“And now? Today’s kids aren’t taking up arms against their parents; they’re too busy texting them. The members of the millennial generation, ages 18 to 29, are so close to their parents that college students typically check in about 10 times a week, and they are all Facebook friends. Kids and parents dress alike, listen to the same music and fight less than previous generations, and Millennials assert that older people’s moral values are generally superior to their own.”

To further make this point, an unpredicted observation was discovered after a middle school took up challenge to live without text messaging for 2 days.  To quote: “The experiment left Kayla Waterman, a 12-year old sixth grader, with a new appreciation for the convenience of texting over calling.  On Monday morning, instead of texting, she called her mom to let her know there were ‘a gazillion fire trucks at school.’  Then she called right back: false alarm–fire drill.  ‘I could tell she was getting annoyed because I kept calling,’ Kayla said.  How many times during the school day does she usually text her mom?  About 10, Kayla said; a friend nodded in agreement.  Boundaries between work and home have long since fallen, so maybe it should not be surprising that the same is true for school and home.  But what middle school student 20 years ago would have voluntarily reached out to her mother 10 times between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.?”  (New York Times, April 27, 2010)

True, huh?

A 1969 Gallup Survey did find that 74 percent of the public believed there was a “generation gap” in American society.  In 2009 a Pew Research Center survey found that 79 percent say there is a generation gap.  But this gap is different.  This gap is not over morals and social issues.  This one is over technology.  And very few people see this as a source of conflict.   Ah, so we can still say there is a generation gap but that phrase does not have the negative connotation of yesteryears.   Generations are not gapping any more over morals and social issues.

Do you see it?

Beatlemania was the possession of the Baby Boomers.  Not so for Bierbermania.  As Billboard has noted in quoting a tween girl, “He (Justin Beiber) causes riots everywhere he goes, and my Mom loves him almost as much as I do.”  (Billboard.com, March 19, 2010)

Neil Howe, the historian and demographer who was first to coin Generation X and named every generation since then, has this to say about the now myth of the generation gap:   “A lot of Boomers just think that’s the way it is. They think, ‘We live in a declining civilization. We live in a time of rising youth decadence. That’s just the trend.’ Everything they hear on TV and everything they hear on the radio magnifies that or rather, magnifies that impression. One of the things I often bring up to people, and I cite data that shows this very clearly, is that Millennials as a generation are pushing all of these indicators in the opposite direction. We’ve seen a tremendous decline (65-70%) in serious violent crime among teenagers over the past 15 years, a decline in teen pregnancy, decline in teen abortion, decline in the use of alcohol and cigarettes. Also, we’ve seen a rise in many indicators of educational achievement. And I find that when I lay these out, and when I talk about them in the context of the new generation and why this is happening, they’re genuinely surprised. This is how you demolish myths.’”  (Neil Howe, Ypulse.com, March 18, 2010)

Are you beginning to believe that the generation gap is a myth of another generation?  This is all the more reason to do away with that old school way of thinking that teens don’t want their parents involved with the youth ministry.  That reason is simply not there anymore.

The greatly respected Dr. Christian Smith had this to say about parents and teens in his newer book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults: “Most adolescents in fact still very badly want the loving input and engagement of their parents—more, in fact, than most parents ever realize.

You can help parents to realize this.  You can help demolish the myth of a negative generation gap to the parents and the rest of the adults in your church family.