It seems like one of the rules of life is that each generation has to lament the next generation and its utter lack of morals and values. “These kids today!” is often the refrain. This also seems true in the Church, where we’re sometimes presented with a vision of how life used to be straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and if only it could still be so. I frankly think this is largely nonsense. Here’s why.
First and foremost, most studies show that crime, including violent crime, has remained at similar levels over the past fifty years. Coverage of crime on the other hand, with our 24 hour news world, is several times greater than it used to be. But my own impression comes as I’ve spent the last few months reading Church leaders’ diaries, the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune from 1890-1953, and perusing the Journal History of the Church. “Miners Blown to Bits in Explosion!” screamed one Deseret News headline in 1908. In 1901, a man was charged with sexually assaulting a twelve-year old girl. A group of young teenage girls beats an elderly couple and robs them in 1952. If you think the headlines are sensational today, just peruse the paper under Charles W. Penrose’s (an apostle) editorship.
Anthon Lund and Rudger Clawson both express shock at learning masturbation is a common “problem” among the youth at the turn of the century. Lund often records visits from young women and their parents, “ruined” by a man who seduced them.
Obviously, my impressions while doing research for other topics is hardly scientific (and these headlines and stories are all from memory – there’s plenty more). But I do come away with a sense that things aren’t nearly as different as we like to portray them. Perhaps we’re just not as good at keeping secrets today? Or am I just dead wrong — is it really much worse today than it used to be?