In the words of the musical Bye Bye Birdie, “What’s the Matter With Kids Today?” They’ve been asking that question for ages, and in 1916 a boys’ school headmaster named Thomas S. Baker continued that storied tradition. He laid the blame for the modern boy at several primary culprits including the rise in popularity of sports and movies during the previous generation.
What effect is the indulgence in this form of imaginative debauch going to have upon the minds of American boys?… The boy gets his sentiment and his imaginative excitement in big ladlefuls from the moving pictures. They certainly are not stimulating to his mentality, although they may have a very exciting effect upon his emotions. The unrealities which are laid before him cannot fail to give him a distorted view of life.
I have been frequently asked what sort of things the boys of today like to read… The greatest element in their reading is the sporting pages of the newspapers. This is the boy’s favorite hunting ground. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of sports before he develops any interest in the other portions of the newspapers. If his school work demanded an examination in the biographies of athletes or the condition of contemporary athletics, he would receive a mark that would make a strong contrast to his other averages.
Alexandra Petri wrote a great humor column for the Washington Post a few years ago about how every generation thinks the subsequent generation is just the worst, going back to at least Ancient Greek times. Worth a read, if you want a laugh with a serious point:
What Is the Matter with the Modern Boy?: He Is Less of a Boy, But Not More of a Man, Than His Father Was — The Reason and Cure Outlined by One Who Knows Him
From September 24, 1916
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