Here’s what kids really think about adults

What advice do you think the 11-year old version of yourself would tell the adult you today? Everyone remembers their childhood and adolescence to a certain degree, but at the same time, a whole lot has happened since then. Consequently, it’s quite difficult for the average adult to truly recall how they viewed the world as a child.

Now, an innovative new study from the University of Portsmouth is providing a glimpse into what the youth of today really think about the adults all around them. Suffice to say, what participating kids had to say was eye-opening.

Despite being just 11 years old, children involved in the study displayed astounding insight and understanding. To start, many of the study’s young participants said that adults tend to spend far too much time worrying about knowing the answers to everything. According to the kids, adults think that children expect them to know everything about anything, but in reality, that just isn’t true.

In fact, this entire project started when lead study author Dr. Emma Maynard’s son Oscar told his mom: “Grown-ups don’t always get it right, you know.” Just that simple sentence inspired Dr. Maynard to conduct this research on child perceptions of adult knowledge and decision-making.

Another aspect of what makes this study so special is how it was conducted. The research itself consisted of asking a group of kids their opinions on adults. However, Dr. Maynard and her colleagues decided to flip the script a bit and allow Oscar (her 11-year old son) and his friends to write the questions for the study.

That last point is really quite extraordinary. This is the first time that a group of children had a legitimate role in a peer-reviewed and published research project. Oscar and his friends are even formally listed as co-authors of the study.

Anyway, besides their point about adults worrying far too often about being correct, the kids also had a few more things to say.

One opinion that all participating children agreed with was that adults these days are too hard on kids regarding the use of technology and devices like smartphones and tablets. While the children said they understand where adults are coming from, they also pointed out that older generations have no idea what it’s like to grow up surrounded by modern technology. Some kids even expressed a desire to avoid gadgets like smartphones, but said they feel powerless to do so because then they would “feel left out.”

“The children presented the concept of phones and social media as being ‘just there’, so now they have to use them. We interpreted this as the adult generation having created the assessment pressures, and the presence of social media and mobile phone-based communication. Children did not invent these things. This led us to think that in this context, criticisms of children and young people being attached to their phones is somewhat unfair,” Dr. Maynard explains in a release.

It’s easy for a 30-year-old to say a 10-year-old shouldn’t have a smartphone, but these responses show how it isn’t necessarily that simple. Kids growing up in 2020 are having a very different childhood experience than someone born in 1985 or even 1995. All of this isn’t to say that kids should be glued to their phones all day, but it’s still worth considering the problem from a modern child’s perspective.

Additionally, while the interviewed children didn’t seem to think adults should have all the answers, they did place a great deal of importance on being recognized by adults. Many children said they’re often frustrated by knowing the right answer yet not being able to show off that knowledge. The most frequent example given for this problem was teachers picking another student to answer a question in class.

At first, that last finding may seem like nothing more than children’s natural desire to do well in life. Interestingly, though, the interviewed kids said they feel enormous pressure to live up to the high expectations placed on them by television/movies, schools, and society itself. Prevailing culture tells kids they should look a certain way, reach specific achievements by certain ages, and learn at the same pace as their peers. When an adult acknowledges a child as doing something right or correctly answering a question, it reassures the adolescent that they’re on the right path.

In total, these findings represent an unprecedented peek into how modern children see and understand the world around them. Ironically, while kids today are more than happy to accept adults as imperfect, they’re still quite hard on themselves when it comes to learning and meeting expectations.

From an adult perspective, this study should serve as a reminder not to beat oneself up over simple mistakes or not knowing a particular fact or skill. As adults, we often feel like we should know it all; “I’m an adult now, I should know this stuff!”

The truth is no one knows everything – and even kids know that.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Qualitative Research in Psychology.