Young people in America don't seem to be held in a very high regard these days. They're accused of a veritable rap sheet of bad attitudes and bad behaviors. We constantly hear about the impending Armageddon when the next generations take over our country. Some of the less-than-admirable qualities that are attributed to young people these days include:
- Lacking empathy
- Poorly educated
- Addicted to technology
Such a litany doesn't speak well of the future of our country. But I'm actually going to push back on this perception. I would suggest that young people these days have an image problem. The real issue is less how they are than how they are perceived. The fact is that, in our media-saturated world, good kids don't sell. When was the last time you saw a TV show or movie that portrayed young people doing good in the world? That is so boring! Just look at reality TV and the latest young adult books and films to see where most people get their ideas about young people these days. Kids are either overly muscled and faux tanned partiers or vampires (Katniss is a rare exception, but that's pure fantasy).
It is well-documented that people base their judgment on the most available information. And the most available information that the majority of Americans get about young people doesn't paint a pretty picture of them. Here's the problem, though: That picture is a gross distortion of the reality of young people these days. Sure, there are plenty of kids who fit the above list to a T, but it is by no means representative of the population of young people in America today.
In fact, I would suggest that there are a lot of good kids (I can say that now that I have children) out there and I think that America will do just fine in their hands. But to find these decent young people, you have to look away from your television and computer and actually watch and talk to real kids.
I travel around the U.S. meeting, speaking to, and working with young people of diverse backgrounds in many settings. And my overall impressions are positive. What I see are young people who are:
- Caring of others
- Wanting to make a positive difference
- Hard working
- Value driven
- Deep in feeling and thought
- Pretty addicted to technology, but they'll get a handle on that as they mature
I for one have a great deal of empathy for the next few generations. They are faced with and will be confronted by challenges that previous generations just didn't have. Consider how the economic, geopolitical, cultural, educational, and technological landscapes have changed over the last 30 years. What was once stable and predictable is no longer. What was once certain is now anything but. Imagine what it's like for young people who have to make it in a world that is in a regular state of flux, a constant moving target. Unsettling? Yes. Stressful? For sure. Scary? Definitely! And because of these dramatic changes, many don't feel they can readily turn to parents, teachers, and others who can relate to their predicament and offer credible encouragement and advice.
I think we need to cut young people a little slack. It's easy to be a Chicken Little ("the sky is falling!") and expect the worst from recent generations especially when you get to be of a certain age. How can they possibly compete against "the best and the brightest" and the Greatest Generation?
But doesn't every generation carry the burden of high expectation and low opinion by their supposedly wise elders? Didn't we, in retrospect, seem pretty self-absorbed, unmotivated, and too cool for our own good? I don't think that many of our generation were looking like the leaders of tomorrow when we were in our teens and twenties. But somehow, a bunch of us stepped up, took the reins, and seemed to keep our country moving forward (with plenty of fits and starts, to be sure, but that's another blog post).
My suggestion is that next time you get the chance, instead of jumping to conclusions and dissing the younger generations, give them your support and guidance and even go a step further: Give them your respect and appreciation.