The whole argument about whether Academia or The Workplace is more difficult or more "real" is only so much screeching about who has to walk further in the snow uphill both ways. Yeah, they are both demanding and yeah, some of the demands are the same and some are different .... moving on.
Students who don't take classes seriously annoy me as much as anyone. I try not to get my personal sense of honor involved, and that keeps my blood pressure lower than it would be otherwise. "Not Everyone, Not Me" has some good points, and I'd amplify a couple of them.
1) Some of us are teaching students who do have it harder in some ways than we did. It may be part of having gotten a job at a school a rung down from the one you attended yourself. I was not a first-generation college student, but some of my students are. I was privileged enough not to have to work the kind of hours they do at jobs outside of school. I'm sympathetic, and when they drift off in class from sheer exhaustion, I tap the bottoms of their feet with the end of my shoe and smile as their eyes flutter open. Mind you, when they flip their hair, roll their eyes, and put their heads down on their arms in a grand performance of boredom and intent to sleep I make their lives very unpleasant indeed.
2) Yes, yes, life is hectic all the way through, and responsibilities and demands do not grow any fewer once one enters the so-called Real World. But undergraduates are just beginning to learn how to tackle the ones they have in college. They aren't as good at balancing all of it as we, older and wiser, have become. They're just figuring out how to use that less-structured time they suddenly have. Many of them -- most! -- are just figuring out what it means to be away from home. There's a learning curve for this real-life stuff. Not that we should coddle them. They do have to learn it, and our holding them responsible for learning it makes it happen, but a little understanding couldn't hurt.
3) I'll add this too. Any of us can suddenly be socked with, say, a major family crisis during the term, but think about the 19-year-old whose parent is dying while she's at college. You, the adult with two kids with colds and power of attorney, may have sooooooo many more responsibilities than she, but you probably also have a better emotional support network. Unless you just moved there, you know, to start your first job. Remember your first year? Everything was new, you lost all that dissertation weight in the first two weeks, and you thought you were going to die. Remember? I'm guessing those four brand-new courses you worked up and taught that year did not constitute your best work.
Firm but kind, people. Firm but kind. I'm counting on meeting enough truly obnoxious, shameless, entitled students to be able to work my frustrations out on them rather on the well-meaning mob bumbling along the path of knowledge. I try to hold the mob accountable without holding it in contempt.