top of page

Mind the gap: What shapes you the most? Your generation or your family?

From “OK, Boomer” to “Kids these days don’t know how to communicate,” people certainly are quick to assume that differences exist in the way that various generations think and act—solely based on the generation they are born into.

Most of the hype around issues, such as cell phone use, swearing and humor, are normally classified as “generational differences.” But I think they also could be attributed to the way people are raised—not just when they were born.

Most college students today are members of either Millennials, defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, and Generation Z, those born between 1997 and the early 2010s.

Cell Phones

Millennials and Gen Zers are generally thought to be addicted to the cell phones in their hands. After all, they were young or not even born yet when the cell phone became available, so these generations quickly adapted to this new technology. Gen Z, especially, grew up playing games on phones and being tech savvy because this was common for their age groups.

But Dr. Mel Blohm, director of the School of Education, doesn’t believe that only younger people are addicted to their smart phones. “I think that when an ‘older’ person realizes the value and usefulness of social media/cell phones, they are as much addicted to them as a younger person,” he said. “The issue is that social media was not part of their growing-up experience which shaped their way of thinking and therefore less receptive to becoming addicted to its use.”


Another issue where we might see generational differences is with swearing. It seems that younger generations are frequent users of swear words in everyday language or when voicing casual anecdotes. While with many older people, they tend to use curse words for when they are angry. They don’t swear quite as casually as some young people do. I think this should be attributed to learning from our families and from those we grow up around.

For example, if someone grows up around people who curse frequently, then they are more likely to view swearing as acceptable. And someone who grew up being told that swearing is not OK will have a different opinion on it.

Sharia Hayes, dean of students, said she believes the use of curse words are unnecessary. “They make people sound unintelligent. I think there are so many other words we can use to express our feelings, a moment or situation. I was raised in a household where swearing wasn’t tolerated, allowed or used. When I began interacting with people that chose to use such language, I was turned off by it.”

Eventually you have to decide for yourself. Nathaniel Lightstein, freshman ministry major, said, “I feel swear words shouldn’t be used and I don’t swear. I have these opinions mainly due to what I was taught growing up, but I also have thought about it myself and agree with those teachings.”


Generational differences when it comes to humor are also present—both in what is OK to laugh at and how the humor is shared.

Anne Nichols, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “Crude humor has been around at least since Chaucer published Canterbury Tales in 1392, so in some ways I don’t see a major difference. However, humor has gotten more ‘politically correct.’ Sometimes people seem overly sensitive, like they’re on the lookout for offense, but I am glad that the politically correct turn has made racist and sexist jokes taboo.”

These days, young people also use memes to express humor. Memes are specific because you have to know the context in which the picture is used, so they can be difficult for some to understand.

Elizabeth Fahling, junior accounting major, said, “There does seem to be, as time goes on, more cut-and-paste humor, like memes, that are only really funny if you know the greater context in which everyone is using them. On their own, these things don’t seem very funny.”

So, you can see that these issues might be attributed to when you are born or who you grow up around, but the most important aspect is to realize that we are all different and we need to reach out and try to understand each other.



bottom of page