I recently came across comments from a prominent preacher regarding the deplorable condition of young people. He complained that they were characterized by “inexperience, indiscretion, immature judgment, uncurbed curiosity, undisciplined appetites and misunderstood passion.” He went on to say that they despised revered traditions and engaged in “vulgar dances, shameful parties, suggestive songs and obsession with sex.” Their motto is “try anything once.”
I found these statements in a book of sermons my wife brought home from one of her excursions to garage sales. The book was published in 1923. The youth about whom he spoke later survived the Great Depression and led our nation through World War II.
The youth of his day are gone, buried in the graves that populate our cemeteries. A 16-year-old in 1923 would be 109 today. They lived out their life-span, as we all shall do, and four generations of youth have come and gone since.
Every older generation, it seems, assumes the young are on a path to destruction, dragging civilization into the pit. And every new generation assumes they are unique to all of human history, making discoveries no one has ever known before, especially when it comes to sex.
Sociologists have tried to categorize generations by their common historical context. The generations overlap and are inexact.
Most start with the “Lost Generation,” those born between 1890 and 1915. They were born as the industrial revolution revved up. They drove the first automobiles and flew the first airplanes. Many of them fought and died in the War to End All Wars.
“The Greatest Generation” (1910 – 1925) is rapidly passing from the earth. They fought WW II, the definitive war that still shapes our world. They stormed Normandy, launched the space race and landed a man on the moon.
“The Silent Generation” (1923-1944) was a smaller group due to the Great Depression and WW II. But “Silent” seems a misnomer. Many of this generation left their mark: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Robert Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood and Bernie Sanders.
“Baby Boomers” (1945-1964) have dominated the landscape. They got their name from the “boom” that followed WW II. They left a wide wake. They were the Hippy generation who later developed PCs that connected the world. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump were all born in 1946. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are also members of this generation.
“Generation X” (1961-1981), also called the “Whatever” or “Neglected” generation, fell between two larger generation groups. Often dismissed in their youth, they have earned a reputation for entrepreneurship. The New York Times more recently called them the “1099 Generation.” In 2002 three out of four companies were started by Gen Xers. The founders of Facebook and Google are Gen Xers.
“Millennials” (1975-1995) are digital natives, the first generation to grow up with computers and cell phones. Many describe millennials as being optimistic with a high social consciousness. Bernie Sanders found a strong following among millennials.
It might be too early to tell about “Generation Z” (1995-2015). But we know that social media and the internet are integral to their identity. They represent 25% of the U.S. population.
Every generation must pass the baton. Every new generation must run their race.
When the Apostle Paul addressed the youth of his day, he said, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity show yourself an example of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:12).