Changing world reflects changing generational expectations


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If the teacher ever said, “I need to speak to you about your child”, I would immediately panic: “What has he done now?”

Something has changed. ‘Modern’ parents (of which I am obviously not one) now must choose between two default reactions – either Johnny has been bad, or, the teacher is a b***h.

There is no longer any middle ground – you must pick a side. Either, “Johnny can’t be to blame; That teacher always picks on him, he says so; B***h”, or, “If the teacher is taking the time to call me, there is an issue and I should listen.”

In much the same way that, despite the facts, many Americans believe the election was stolen, so, many parents believe, despite the facts, that the teacher is a b***h.

Sure, Johnny may have suggested the teacher was an idiot [actual words substituted] and said, “Get f****d”, but as mum notes, “Johnny wouldn’t say that unless the teacher is an [idiot – actual words substituted] and has provoked him.”

Lesson learned – not just by Johnny, but also by the teacher: Don‘t criticise Johnny!

My point is not that the teacher cannot be an ‘idiot’ – of course he or she may be – but rather the default position now is so often that the teacher is somehow the enemy.

As far as many mums and dads are concerned now, if Johnny says, “The teacher is picking on me,” then the teacher is a ‘b***h’ – there is no ‘innocent until proven guilty’, no rite of reply afforded the teacher. The die is cast.

As an employer, I now regularly see such attitudes in the workplace.

Sure, there are teachers who will get it wrong, who may be socially inept, or who may simply be having a bad day – but in all other respects, are regular adults.

So please, please, let’s give them, as trained, fully developed, professional adult humans, some benefit of doubt when called to account by often belligerent ‘not-fully-baked’ adolescents who often have a naturally rebellious teenage instinct to ‘stick it to the man’. That’s not a put-down of adolescents, simply a balancing of the facts and an objective observation of developmental instincts at play.

Be clear, not for one moment will I ever defend bullying, rudeness, infliction of harm or lack of respect and decency by any adult to any other human of any age. And consistently poor behaviour by adults, be they teachers, doctors or bosses must be rooted out and dealt with.

But, if the teacher insists for example that students not be disruptive in class, and they not use smart phones and ear buds while in class, I will always back the teacher who physically removes the earbuds and admonishes offending students – no excuses. I will never condone the response of a student who then calls the teacher a ‘[deleted expletive]’ – such disproportionately offensive responses and aggressive, disruptive behaviours are never okay.

It’s not because I’m ‘old school’, but because I believe an important part of our education should be learning that respect for others and appropriate behaviour is required in social contexts: We do not expect Republicans to protest loudly at the Queen’s funeral; We do not tell the IRD to go away because we’ve decided not to pay tax this year; It is not okay that school pupils swear at their adult teachers, irrespective of how they might be feeling slighted, or feeling that the teacher is a ‘b***h’, or because they are tired.

Am I comfortable giving 15-year-olds the right to vote, as called for by various commentators?

No, for the same reason I don’t give my 15-year-old free access to the family car keys and my credit card: he doesn’t appreciate the full consequences of his decisions. He’s not ‘bad’, he just still has some learning to do. In the meantime, he just wants to have fun; Giving him the keys and my credit card would be like giving a toddler a loaded gun to play with – freedom of choice 10/10; Good outcome possibility 0/10.

In my opinion, socially inappropriate behaviours are being enabled through ‘hands-off’ policies – Steal a car: police can’t chase you if you don’t want to stop, because ‘they’re not allowed to pick on you … that’s a ‘no, no’ … Mum said so.’

Gone are the expectations of contextually appropriate behaviour we were once taught, eg ‘If the police ask you to stop, you must stop’, now seems ‘open to interpretation’ for many teens.

If you do a ‘runner’ and crash the car, it’s inevitably painted as the fault of the police for insisting you stop – rarely the fault of the offending driver who didn’t actually stop and then crashed – When did ‘fair cop’ become, ‘the cops are unfair’?

The epidemic of ram-raids currently concerning shopkeepers and the public-at-large epitomises the lack of social conscience amongst many young people. The consequences of stealing cars, destroying property, scaring people and stealing goods in groups – then posting the exploits on social channels – do not resonate with the young people who have not learned respect for others and what behaviours are socially inappropriate.

While broader social problems fuelling outbreaks of lawlessness will take time and focus to address, in the meantime do we simply sit on our hands and say, “There’s nothing we can do.” I believe it’s a slippery slope if we do nothing.

Throw in an unhealthy dose of Gen Z attitude: ‘I don’t need to go to class; I don’t need to go to work; The boss is a ‘bitch’’, and our society appears to be becoming increasingly polarised between those who learn respectful behaviours, and those who don’t.

Next time I’m employing a young person in my business, I’m going to start by asking to interview the mum. I will ask her to name her favourite Chuck Berry song – if she says, ”Johnny be good”, the job’s his.

Related: Cash or Credit?

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Alan Neben
Alan Neben
Alan Neben is a Mount Maunganui local and experienced New Zealand publisher. His columns provide a light-hearted perspective on social changes effecting New Zealanders

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