The Kids Are Alright

The kids today! They’re spoiled, ill-mannered, immature dunderheads!

If you relate to this (exaggerated) sentiment about today’s youth, you’re not alone. Ever since the first adult witnessed pubescent immaturity, great thinkers have dismissed the younger generation: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Or so wrote Aristophanes in one of his plays.

Well, it turns out that the greatest generation didn’t defeat Hitler or invent the transistor. Today’s youth are the greatest generation. In a recent Washington Post article, David Finkelhor uses data to lay bare how great our children are. They’re less likely to commit crimes, bully others, commit suicide, engage in premarital sex, drink, and engage in risky behavior. And because of the Flynn Effect, which shows no signs of going away, each generation is smarter than the previous (at least as measured on IQ tests).

And if the world keeps doing what it’s doing, this generation’s children will be the next greatest generation.

Are We Getting Smarter? Duh!

Hi friends, happy to be sharing the good news again. Today I’d like to talk about one of the coolest trends in science, something that has been noticed and very well studied for some time–the Flynn Effect.

What’s the Flynn Effect? To quote the post-postmodern version of the OED, Wikipedia, it is “the substantial and long-sustained increase in … intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day.”

Are you kidding me? I thought kids were getting dumber due to their video games and smart phones.*

Yep, we’re getting smarter, and it’s been studied thoroughly. Possible reasons? Many are given, including our more stimulating environment and the substantial decrease of lead–a nasty neurotoxin–in our homes. James Flynn himself gives a good summation of his Effect in a TED Talk.

So remember the Flynn Effect when the inane mumblings of nearby adolescents make you fear the future of humanity. They’re much smarter than they sound.

*One of my next reads is Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson.