What's really wrong with young people today: Juvenoia

Juvenoia, a term usually credited to sociologist David Finkelhor, refers to the fear of juveniles by older adults. Juvenoia is manifest in a multitude of ways, including the belief that today’s youth are worse behaved than ever before, despite much evidence to the contrary. Many older adults continue to think that youth violence is the worst ever, for instance, despite the fact that it stands now at only about 12% of what it was just two decades before. But in the current case, many comments have focused on how “entitled” Rachel Canning is, implying that this is part of a greater trend in the current generation of youth…

Juvenoia also exerts itself in a variety of moral panics focused on youth. We constantly hear about how teens are up to new forms of mischief our older generations would never have thought of. Most of these tales end up being false. Recent examples include the “rainbow party” in which teen girls supposedly provided oral sex to multiple boys and the “knockout king” game in which young (usually minority) males supposedly target random people for assaults. Certainly in a country of over 300 million, some teens do dangerous and risky things (as do some adults), but evidence for any new mass trends in teen sex or violence is absent. These tales of wayward youth are the stuff of urban legend, not fact.

Juvenoia also manifests in the routine disparagement of youth culture. From Elvis Presley to rap music to video games, older adults are quick to blame youth culture for perceived social problems, often forgetting that the media valued in their own youth was similarly disparaged. I call this the “Goldilocks Effect” — every generation’s belief that the generation before was too rigid and conservative, and the generation after too wild and out-of-control. Each generation thinks it got culture “just right.”