Are Teens Failing To Pick Up The Vocabulary Of Their Parents?

One last post on the new book by James Flynn, the political scientist who identified the Flynn Effect—rising IQ scores over the past century. This is a particularly fascinating nugget from his interview with Smithsonian magazine, in which Flynn talks about a growing gap between the vocabularies of adults and their children:

“You look between 1953 and 2006 on the adult Wechsler IQ test, and its vocabulary subtest, and the gains have been 17.4 points. The gains for schoolchildren during a similar period have been only 4 points. That is a spreading difference of 13 IQ points. That’s huge.

[Why has this gap emerged?] In 1950, something like 12 percent of Americans had experienced at least some tertiary, or post-high school, education; today it is up to 52 percent. More people go into cognitively and verbally demanding professions, like law, school teaching, counseling, psychology and journalism. This has had an effect on adult vocabulary.

The IQ gains of our children have been much more muted. You might say, well, the children haven’t been to university. But children are socialized by the adults that speak around them every day. The question is why are parents less capable of socializing their children into their own vocabulary than they were 50 years ago? I can only imagine that some cultural barrier has built up that insulates the speech of children from the speech of adults . . .

In 1950, teenagers could not only understand their parents, but they could also mimic their speech. Today, teenagers can still understand their parents. Their passive vocabularies are good enough. But when it comes to the words they actively use, they are much less capable of adult speak. That is also true of what they would write on an essay.” (Read more here.)

What do you think is behind this phenomenon? Do children and teenagers have their own culture and vocabulary now, making them less interested in adopting that of their parents?

3 Responses to “Are Teens Failing To Pick Up The Vocabulary Of Their Parents?”

  1. Linden Barrick says:

    One of the hardest aspects of writing (and reading) for my 8th grade students is vocabulary. In this “I want it now” era of instant information, many students claim they shouldn’t have to learn advanced vocabulary because they can “look it up” whenever they encounter an unknown word. Unfortunately, the same “I want it now” belief leads them to skip over the unknown word because it takes too much time to seek out a definition. Proofreading and editing, in their minds, consists of correcting grammatical errors, not improving their writing with strong word choice and sentence variety. Using context clues for understanding while reading also takes time, something they aren’t willing to spend in exchange for knowledge. This is a battle I fight daily, and I believe the technological age has created this issue in education. It’s my job to use that technology to change their mindsets and increase their desire for the knowledge. And like my students, sometimes I want a “quick fix” that doesn’t exist.

  2. Great post and thought-prokoking. I’ve wondered similar things before, whether the advent and evolution of texting language would ruin the grammar and vocabularies of schoolchildren. I grew to appreciate the evolution of a new form of language/communication.
    I think language, like anything else, evolves over time, and the lack of adopting our parents’ vocabularies isn’t necessarily negative: it’s just evolution. We don’t speak as our parents or grandparents did, and so on through time.

  3. Michael says:

    There is an excess of freedom in the sense that society is too permissive. Any kind of restriction is “against their rights”, “they have the right to have fun 24-7″, which is absurd. We are not preparing kids for their future by letting them be.
    What’s gonna happen when today’s kids grow up? They will have to learn a “new language”.
    Today’s education is too permissive.
    Thanks

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