Old Teachers Share The Difference Between Kids Now Vs. Then

A decade ago, life as a teacher was drastically different. There was no need to yank phones out of kids’ hands, beg them to ask questions, or kindle their curiosity. Children of the 21st century are majorly guilty of gluing their eyes to their screens and disconnecting from the rest of the world. That, along with several other little things that will be discussed in this article, comprise some of the significant differences between kids now and then.

Although kids nowadays seem to be much more tolerable, plenty of chaos still occurs in the modern classroom. Would you be willing to put up with a room full of kids with iPads? Would you have the patience to deal with their snobby, neglectful parents or the heart to help the anxious, overworked students try to pass? Teachers face these challenges every day, and many can remember a much simpler time in teaching. These long-term educators took to the internet to share the most notable differences in their students across the years!

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#1 The Shift In Stability Is Astounding

Mental health. Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen a significant increase in kids that seem mentally unstable in regular classrooms settings. There’s very little support for them, too. What is really hard to handle is the number of kids who demonstrate very explosive anger at school—trashing classrooms, screaming foul language, throwing objects, breaking things and harming themselves. This is a very common occurrence in my experience as a teacher. I really fear for the mental health of kids who have to deal with this. I feel like they are being put into an abusive situation. I’m always on edge that something might set these kids off.


#2 Shoot, They Need Some Time Off


I hate it. Since I now have internet, I’m now expected to be available 24/7.

I guess being at school from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., then going home to grade papers and prepare for the next day isn’t enough.


#3 Man, Little Kids Have It Super Rough

Younger kids have older kids problems. Kids aged eight to ten today have the problems that kids aged 14 and 16 had two decades ago. This permeates every facet of their lives.

Societal norms, life education, laws, education systems, typical parenting styles, etc. have not kept up with the ultra-rapid evolution of the internet and the ability for anyone to have access to anything instantly; anywhere.


#4 They’re Just There For The Degree, Dude

I have been teaching at universities for decades. There is now a lack of intellectual curiosity. Students nowadays just ask themselves, “What is the minimum grade I need to achieve to get my ticket punched?” The number one thing I get asked about is what’s on the exam. They are so grade focused that it is ruining education. I had some students complain that my class was too hard and the vice provost even told me to dumb my class down.

We have parents calling up the president of the university to complain when a kid fails a class. I’ve dealt with parents and lawyers after giving a bad grade. I now must be so careful and not hurt anyone’s feelings.


#5 Yeah, Some People Miss The RAZR

Eleven years of experience. When I started teaching, having a RAZR with unlimited texting was cool. Now, most elementary-aged kids in my school have iPhones that allow them to access virtual classrooms any time they want. The ubiquity of internet-capable technology is the biggest difference I notice, even for families living in poverty.


#6 You’ve Read A Book Since High School, Right?

Reading. I teach in post-graduate professional school and look after kids 22 to 26 years old. Generally, they do not know how to extract information from reading. They skim rather than read. Also, they claim to be visual or auditory learners rather than readers.


#7 Come On, People, Put Up Your Phones

Cell phones are the biggest problem. We can not get them out of their hands. As a school, we tried to ban the phones altogether, but it was the parents who fought it! I can only take the student’s phone for the lesson, rather than for the full school day as we once did. On the playground, the kids check their phones, text, Snapchat, play games—they’re hardly talking to each other. I get bumped into daily and sometimes knocked over because students do not look while waking. Their faces are in their screens. Nothing phases them. I can call them up to my desk for a chat (if they misbehaved) and they casually glide up, smirking. Five years ago, they would be rattled to be spoken to by the teacher. Parent support and involvement in the school have gone down.


#8 At Least They’re More Socially Aware…

I’ve been teaching high school since 1993. Kids are less much less homophobic, much heavier, much more aware of things in the world, thanks to the internet. They’re also more open about their mental health, particularly if they are sad or depressed. Also, pessimism about the future is much more pronounced than 20 years ago.

Illicit substances use is just as much of a problem as 20 years ago, but the types of substances used these days are more dangerous.

There are have always been lovely, fun, and enjoyable students and that has not changed.


#9 That’s What Google Is For…

Math ability has declined tremendously. There are several reasons for it:

1) The most important is the “No Child Left Behind” mentality so teachers are pressured to get people to memorize tricks without understanding why. By the time they get to college, they understand almost nothing, but our mentality is becoming similar. Kids are just being jammed through memorizing arbitrary steps. That defeats the whole point and power of math and science.

2) Access to the internet, cell phones, WolframAlpha, etc. means as soon as kids get stuck on a problem, they look it up and get the answer. There’s no more hard work out into developing a critical understanding of the material.

3) Not understanding that studying is about effort, not time. Memorizing and reverse engineering solutions for three hours is far less useful than STRUGGLING for an hour creatively trying to reason through a few difficult problems yourself.

Despite this, the top 1 to 5% is still the same incredible top 1 to 5%.


#10 Life Is High-Speed, And The Classroom Is Not

I’ve been teaching martial arts for almost 20 years, and it seems to me that it’s the focus of these kids that’s changed. There are always kids who can focus naturally and some who can’t, but it seems nowadays there are way more kids who just cannot get themselves to give their undivided attention. I believe it has to do with the fact that life is lived at very high speeds now, i.e., internet, news, social media, games. So now, kids and adults seem to have a bigger struggle focusing on a single thing for any real period of time.


#11 Wait…Kids Can Get Bored? Really?

I’m a preschool teacher, and I work at the same school as my mother who is an award-winning voluntary pre-kindergarten teacher. She has a true gift with children. I’ve never seen anything like it.

This school year, she came over to my classroom during lunch and told me that for the first time in 25 years she had a child come up to her and say that she was bored during center time. She was pretty shocked. We talk a lot about how children recently run their families. The parents let children walk all over them and give them iPads to keep them entertained. She’s very worried about this generation because they have no respect and can’t keep themselves entertained.


#12 Technology Is Its Own Special Beast

I had a student recently who spent the whole term in my class on his phone. We had no phone policy, so when I told him to put it away he said, “Or what?” He was right because I had zero power to force him to put it away. So, the whole term, he didn’t listen to a word I said. He ended up failing my class by 1%. His parents contacted me every day for a week after I posted grades. He had an F since day one.

They argued that: 1) he wouldn’t be able to play sports if I failed him, so I needed to reconsider, 2) it’s my job to make him pay attention by making the class more interesting, 3) it’s only 1%, so it’s not a big deal to round him up to passing, and 4) that because I was a new teacher, I didn’t understand the “rules” behind teaching athletes.

I was so mad I was shaking. Over the phone, they admitted they failed as parents multiple times, but wouldn’t do anything to remedy it. So instead they wanted me just to pass him because “What harm would it do just to let him through?”.


#13 Well, Peers Are Much More Supportive

I’ve only been a teacher for a few years, but one very positive difference that I’ve noticed from when I was in school is that the kids are a lot more understanding toward neuropsychiatric disorders than we were. When I was in school, kids with dyslexia were sometimes called “retards,” and kids with ADHD were social outcasts.

My students, on the other hand, are super supportive and cool with their peers’ different disorders. No one ever questions when we accommodate the classroom for certain students, and everyone patiently helps out when they have to work with students with special needs. Very cool!


#14 Children Need To Step Up Their Game

I’ve only been teaching preschool for ten years now, and while I don’t know the reasons behind this phenomenon, I’ve noticed that my four-year-olds were so much more mature ten years ago. Now, they are developmentally like two- and three-year-olds: no fine motor skills, parallel play, emotionally all over the place. Everything needed to be watered down and slowed down.


#15 My Goodness, Take A Chill-Pill And Relax

Twenty years experience. I find the biggest difference is the inability to self-regulate. Some kids struggle with the word “wait.” Some kids struggle when their emotions get too big—they don’t have coping mechanisms. Some kids aren’t able to interpret the emotions of others. However, many kids are just fine.

I think it is related to changes in parenting and technology. The instant gratification of technology combined with parents who don’t create boundaries create kids who can’t self-regulate.

I also think that kids spend less time outside unsupervised. The natural processes of learning and social interactions is not happening for some kids.

Most kids are genuinely pretty good. Every year, I have kids that restore my faith in humanity. But that 10% who trash the classroom, scream, and freak out are getting worse. The difference between the top and the bottom is only getting larger.


#16 Show Some Respect, You Punks

I have noticed a marked change in how students treat their peers and teachers. I feel that parents are not holding their kids accountable for their actions nearly as much anymore, and it’s being reflected in their behavior in the classroom.


#17 Are The 9 Hours They Spend In My Classroom Not Enough?

I typically get the kids working independently, then take photos of their work and ask questions about what they are working on. I’m a parent and a teacher, so I can see why parents like it. Honestly, though, it just feels like another hoop to jump through. I have to prove that I’m actually teaching the kids, although you would think that the work that is hung in the classroom, the work coming home, and the weekly progress reports would attest to all of the things I am teaching. No, please also post on the Internet. Sigh. I teach 1st grade, by the way. I’ve been teaching for 11 years.

Also, the weekend and dinnertime emails are a nuisance, but it’s worse when the parents figure out your personal phone number and start texting you any time they have a question.


#18 It’s Not The Kids’ Faults…

To me, technology has become the babysitter to many kids. Social media and unfiltered content is exposing kids to many things most current adults were never exposed to at their age. Parents either don’t care and want the quiet that an iPad or cell phone brings, or they’re working their butts off just to put food on the table.


#19 I’m Not Your Parent, Guys

The frustrating thing is that teachers are blamed for so many things while being expected to actually raise the kids too.

I was teaching a dual-enrollment course, and I had the daughter of the school board president in my class. When she earned a C (her first ever non-A grade), her mom called me, and told me that “A student’s grade is a reflection of how well they are being taught.” Really?


#20 No, Your Kid Isn’t An Angel

The kids are different now versus then because their parents are also different.

They are more annoying and overly protective.

If a kid did something wrong in the past, they would get consequences at home.

Nowadays, parents complain if I tell them what their kids did wrong. Their kids are all so perfect and flawless. They never do something wrong.


#21 No One Gives A Crap Anymore

I’m happy to carry a lecture theater of 145 students doing the minimum to pass, as long as the other five are curious and excited to learn. But lately, that small group of five has been shrinking even smaller—this year, it became four, then next year it could be three, then one, and then “I’m out.”

Whenever someone asked, “Can you just tell us what the formula we need to know for the exam is?” I used to tell them that if there is a formula, there’ll be software somewhere that already does the job, and they’ve chosen a career path that is redundant before they even graduate, so maybe they should pick a new degree. Or instead, focus on methods and why we’re solving the problem.


#22 Have You Never Seen A Computer?

My mom was a nursery teacher for over 30 years and her classroom had a computer in it. Most kids would be familiar with the screen, mouse, and keyboard when they arrived, even at their young age. When she taught in the 2000s, it became normal for families to have a home computer. In the last few years before she retired, she noticed a trend of kids coming in and not knowing how to use the mouse or keyboard because they were so used to iPads and touch screens.


#23 Someone Needs To Love On These Kids

My classes now are pretty much as they were when I started. The difference I’ve noticed (and this could just be that I’m more aware of it now) is a decline in mental health. As kids are permanently in communication with each other, bullying never stops, and kids feel judged 24/7. The pressure on kids to do well is high, but this has always been the case. It’s the pressure from peers that has increased, and it’s doing real, lasting damage.


#24 Dang, No Wonder They’re So Anxious

Forget the achievement gap, it’s the prevalence of anxiety, depression, and emotional instability across all student demographics. Last year, I worked with at least 20 students (out of 90 or so in my classes) who were dealing with some sort of anxiety. It didn’t matter if the student had two parents, one parent, middle- or low-income… Students were seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I think there are, anecdotally, many reasons why this is the case, but for the purposes of his thread, I’ll just say that it has altered the way I prepare students for quizzes, share results afterwards, etc. I spend more time ensuring that my student feedback (written or otherwise) is gentler, encouraging, and growth-mindset-oriented. It’s hard to be constructively critical without any rough edges at all, and everything is carefully contextualized so as not to get them to quit.

Parents are just as quick to judge, as well. How do you guard against enabling helicopter parents when you have students on the verge of tears in your classroom? This is difficult to balance because failure is a part of learning, but trying to convince kids of that is getting more and more difficult each year.


#25 These Parents Better Start Behaving…

My mom’s been a kindergarten teacher for more than 20 years, and she’s noticed a shift in the parents’ attitudes.

She says there is less investment from parents and they completely disregard her rules and requests.

Kids are kids, but parents should know better.


#26 I Mean, The World Has Gotten Pretty Crazy…

Twenty years ago when I was in high school, my freshman English teacher who had been teaching for 30 years said, “The only difference I notice between kids today and kids from when I started teaching is that the kids today are a lot less optimistic about the world they are inheriting.”

I’ve been a teacher for 15 years, and the difference I notice lies in what the kids like. You don’t realize how quickly pop-culture turns over until you find out a four-year-old reference is dated for kids.


#27 So What You’re Saying Is That They’re Lazy

I have taught in mostly affluent areas where either only one parent needs to work and the other can stay at home, or they both work 9-5 jobs. I have noticed that my students have pretty unlimited access to electronics which, when monitored, is awesome. The problem is that parents are fully capable of actually parenting but are choosing to be lazy and throw a screen in front of their child’s face. This is a huge problem because then the kids learn that if they whine enough they will get what they want.


#28 In-Person Bullying Has Definitely Wound Down

The level of bully violence seems to have gone way down since the 90s. You don’t see nearly as much clique activity, and it is no longer a thing where athletes pick on the nerds for example. Being mean to people seems to actually have a harmful effect on their popularity, whereas the most popular kids seem to be those who are friends with everybody. You won’t lose points because one of your friends is in the band.


#29 As It Turns Out, You Can Actually Fail

Grades. Students and parents expect only A’s and B’s on report cards. The amount of paperwork and meetings needed to give a child a D or an F is insane. If a student does receive an F, they just have to sit in front of a computer on Saturdays until their grade changes.


#30 They’re Seriously Walking On Eggshells

Teachers are almost powerless to do anything. You can’t punish the kids; you can’t discipline the kids. A crime that would normally warrant police investigation outside of a school is now something you’ll just have to deal with. Anything short of blood or a physical assault means you really can’t do anything. The kids are instead assigned to counselors to talk about their feelings.


#31 Motivation Is At An All Time Low

Thirteen years of experience here. China, technical institute teacher.

So much has changed for China. Teaching now is very different now compared to before. The main problem is motivation. Back then, students who started to struggle midway (everybody gets like that at some point) usually snapped back with a bit of encouragement. Nowadays, once they are gone, it is incredibly difficult to get them back to learning.

The main problem is mobile phones. It provides instant distraction and gratification. Also, I suspect that many games are designed to cause a psychological addiction, which means some students cannot help themselves anymore. This is coupled with a culture of “My parents are rich!” In their minds, they don’t really need to find a job for themselves.

Once the students fall, they generally don’t get back up. Its really sad. We have better classrooms, amazing teaching tech, air conditioning, and the partial knowledge of humanity on our fingertips via the internet.

This causes classes to slog along more.


#32 Please, For The Love Of God, Ask Some Questions

I don’t know why it is happening, but it is definitely happening. Kids are less curious. School is not really about learning; it is about getting a grade. When I first started teaching, a lecture would take two to three classes because of answering questions that the lecture brought up. Not clarification questions, curiosity questions. Now, even when I try to force it, the kids don’t ask questions. I could be lecturing about the most interesting topic in the world, and making overly-provocative statements and they still just sit there and numbly stare at me. When I ask why they don’t ask questions, they tell me: “Because we understood it all.”


#33 Ah, The Dreaded Phones Again

The phones. I’m not that much older than my students, so I get it. I love my phone. But some of them are addicted to it. Most of the teachers in my program have an over-the-door shoe organizer that we make the students put their phones in, but there are always students who have two phones and can’t stay disconnected for an hour and a half class.


#34 Let’s Be Real, The Teachers Probably Know Best

Kids are nearly the same. I do, however, see a lot more acceptance about other people’s sexual orientation and lifestyle choices.

The parents are a big change. Your kid will be wrong sometimes, and we are professionals. You can believe us over your naughty child.


#35 At The End Of The Day…

Teacher of 24 years. Not much difference. Kids are kids. Bundles of joy, anxiety, achievement, fears, hopefulness, self-loathing, energy, laziness, humor, sarcasm and, most importantly, their individual spark that makes each of them precious.