It’s that time of year when "the youth" can expect that a number of people will be having a series of conversations about them, to wit: 1. The youth are our future. 2. The youth are in trouble. 3. The youth are lazy and apathetic and entitled.
We are having the wrong conversation.
The youth are our future, yes. So how can we, the generations currently making up the status quo, change the world they’re going to inherit for the better?
How are we helping them to prepare for adulthood, for the things that are frightening and difficult? How are we treating our youth, our children?
We can learn something, I believe, from the experience of millennials.
I am part of a generation that has been heavily criticised for supposedly being indolent and expecting everything to be handed to them.
I have always found this confusing, because nearly all the millennials I know work their butts off and manage to function under incredible, near-constant stress (to the point where a number of my friends have had nervous breakdowns).
Under these circumstances, encountering yet another thinkpiece explaining why we’re so entitled tends to get under your skin.
Of course, just because my friends are hardworking doesn’t mean the same goes for my entire generation, but if you are in possession of statistics proving that we as a group are slacking off, please do bring it under my attention.
Now that my generation are entering our thirties, I suppose we are definitely no longer part of "the youth". (Although, to be fair, I still sometimes forget that I am an adult who has to make adult decisions.
I keep expecting that adulthood means you feel different. Turns out you don’t, not really.) We’re not running the world yet – the Boomers are still in charge, and they’re often not doing the greatest job; then it’s Generation X’s turn – but we’re old enough to be part of the conversation.
We have grown up in a world that has seen massive shifts. 9/11 was one of the formative events of my teenage years; it has changed the way we travel, our experience of terrorism, everything.
Technology has evolved faster than anyone could have predicted (cell phones, the internet, the iPad, social media) and it has completely changed the way we live our lives.
Adjusting to change is our particular skill, and it is something that will become even more important for the generations to follow.
So what, then, do we need to do for "the youth"?
If we want them to help us create a better world, they need more education, decent education, and less speeches and proselytising. They need to know about their rights and their privileges.
They need access to proper food and safe housing, to sanitation and classrooms that are not falling apart. They need to know how important technology is and how they can use it.
They need to live in a country that cares about keeping its children safe, and that has a functioning justice system that will protect them even when their parents don’t.
They need adults that are aware of climate change and the fact that if we don’t do something about it right now, the damage will be irreparable.
They need opportunities to make something of themselves, whether it’s through university or an apprenticeship or something else that will help them lead meaningful lives.
They need to know that while they deserve all of these things and more, often they will not receive them. That is when they need to fight.
And we need to fight with them.