I’m guessing that when most of us read or hear the word, youth, we think of that time in our life when we belonged to that social category. If you are currently a youth, right now is a defining, powerful time of your life. Because the United Nations General Assembly has designated today as International Youth Day, I decided to reflect on a few of the challenges that youth of today face. That is, from my own limited point of view.
First of all, who can be rightfully called a youth? The definition varies from culture to culture. The parameters also vary within many cultures. Some countries define youth as the ages at which someone is given equal treatment under the law. In developed nations, that age is either 18 or 21, with a few variations within that range. According to the World Bank, people between the ages of 15 and 24 are defined as youth. The British Commonwealth members consider the age range of youth to be from 15 to 29.
According to ancient civilizations, and currently some of the more tradition bound cultures, youth dawned at the time of puberty. Hormones and physical changes influenced by early adolescence are the physical signs that a boy or girl is becoming a man or a woman. The important word here is “becoming”. This is the reason that the definition of youth is so subjective and fluid. Youth is the time of transition.
Personally, I think the 15 to 24 years-old range is the best definition. This is because the transition from childhood to adulthood takes place during these years. We are given the opportunity to learn how to drive a motor vehicle after 15. We become more focused on our careers and final years of formal schooling. More seriously, following high school there is either voluntary or mandatory military service. Plus, in democratic nations, older youth qualify for voting privilages.
I also differentiate between actual youth and the pop psychology, feel-good opinion regarding older “youth”. That is the notion that we’re only as old as we think we are. Certainly I can believe that I’m still an 18-year-old at heart, but the moment I see myself in a mirror, that notion vanishes. This subjective opinion can be useful, in that we adults can generate empathy for actual youths by thinking this way. This is best done when we remember that we usually color our own memories of youth unrealistically, over time.
Each generation of youth faces a set of large social issues that they hope to solve. When I was a youth, the major issues included the war in Vietnam, civil rights, and the environment.
We can see that only one of those specific problems found resolution–the Vietnam conflict. It can be argued that the question of war, has not been solved, but has become more problematic. The same can be said of civil rights. There have been advances, but overall, global acceptance and respect for the civil rights of various races, women, LGBT people, children, religious affiliations and other minorities has a long ways to go. Plus, in my opinion, the environmental struggle has been largely an overall failure, so far. While new efforts and technolgies are dawning, they are not yet the norm.
It appears that the big three issues of earlier youth have been carried over to today’s youth. They are added on to additional burdens that have become apparent to contemporary youth.
Youth is also the time many of us experience our first existential crisis. We question the teachings of our parents and instructors handed down to us. We experience and observe that people in the real world say and do things that are downright wrong. Things are not the way they should be. We must somehow fit into this mess and find a satisfactory way to live.
This is the time when suicide is sometimes contemplated. Some young people cannot see where they fit into society and other youths are rejected and ostracized. We see this problem in today’s headlines. At least there is a concerted effort to prevent kids from killing themselves.
Sometimes existential crises are relieved through social unrest. We can see that young people are the largest share of people demonstrating in protest movements. These days we see it manifested in the 99-Percent Movement. Just as past generations have wanted to solve social ills, so do the youth of today.
The youth often feel like they’ve been backed into a corner not of their own making. They are being schooled in or have graduated from colleges that have not prepared them for work and life. They face student loans that will be difficult or impossible to pay off. Jobs are quickly evaporating because of massive outsourcing and swift conversion to automation. At just the time when they are expected to strike out on their own to build a life, they are blocked at nearly every turn. Many are forced to return home to live with their parents.
Others suffer from feelings of alienation, estrangement, and isolation. The eternal problems of youth finding themselves uncared about and unsolicited accentuates the situations of youth. We often dismiss youth for their inexperience.
Some of these situations are complicated by more entrenched youth oriented problems. The biggest ones include the proliferation of single-parent households. Raising a kid is hard enough for two parents, but the difficulties compound when there’s only a mom or a dad alone.
Unfortunately, many young people think they can express how grown-up they feel by indulging in alcoholic drinks. This is an ages old situation. Whether they think they’re being “cool” or if they’re escaping problems, drinking becomes another problem overlaying lives. Much the same can be said about other drugs, too.
One of the most troubling aspects of youth is that of attending school. I’m not refering to the coursework itself. I’m thinking about the atmosphere of schools. In many schools, violence is a major problem. The current epidemic of bullying, fighting, and overt violence are much more serious than ever before. The problem of youthful violence is a real sticking point that must be addressed and solved immediately.
The fatness of adults and youth is a worldwide worry these days. Our chunkiness has consequences on the youth such as health concerns, low self-esteem, and ridicule. This problem can be addressed by stressing more physical activity and the consumption of more wholesome foods. Our youth will be faced with finding and utilizing new solutions to this pressing problem.
Because of some of the previously mentioned problems, there is also the issue of education disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Because of financial ability and minority status, many young people find themselves deprived of higher education. This lack of opportunity also lessens the probablity of finding suitable, fulfilling work.
All of these distill to the largest challenge facing youth today. The condition of poverty is set to increase across the World and in the West. Poverty impedes progress and learning.
It contributes overwhelmingly to social and behavioral difficulties. Poverty arrests efforts to address the other problems. Hence, we find poverty increasing the occurance of struggle and warfare. It also reduces efforts to address civil rights inequalities. Undoubtedly, poverty increases environmental degradation, too.
These problems were our inheritance from previous generations. In turn, they will be passed from us down to the youth of today. These are good reasons to pay attention to the concerns of youth. These are also urgent reasons for us to encourage and help to develop the abilities, talents, and energy that are ever present in our youth.
Just as we have had to tackle difficult problems, the youth of today have a hard row to hoe. Today is the time to renew our attention to the issues of youth. If you have young people in your life, now is the time to remember our commitments to them.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this pithy saying from Friedrich Nietzche: “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”