Posted by: justawriter | August 13, 2009

Far Afield – The kids are going to be all right

I had the privilege of talking to a couple of fine young Beulah residents for stories this week. The conversations reinforced a feeling I have had for quite a few years now. If young people are the future of this country, we are in some pretty good hands.
This is a trend I have been noticing for about 10 years or so. I don’t remember my generation, or the one that followed being as actively engaged with their community and the wider world than the kids who were born in the late 1980s and 1990s. I will freely concede that this may be a case of my lack of observation than actual reality, but I can’t shake the feeling that something changed for young people in the last 10 or 15 years for the better.
I remember my youth as a time when if you had something other than cars, sports or parties as your primary interest you were looked at as something rather strange. Getting excited over something like an election was sure to make you a nerd. Maybe it was the times I lived in.
After the turmoil of the ’60s, my generation took refuge in disco and big hair and an unquenchable cynicism that things could never be changed. After all, the hippies were going to change the world and they failed, right? So there was an attitude that my generation should just have fun and take what life would hand us.
The cynicism of the late ’70s had a corrosive effect on the country and led to an attitude of “you can’t change things so I am going take what I can.” This “greed is good” mentality laid the foundation of repeated crises that we continue to deal with today.
Around the millennium, I started noticing a shift. As a reporter I attended a lot of community meetings. My standard observation about these meetings was “there was a lot of snow on the roof,” that is, nearly everyone in attendance had gray hair. But at some point I noticed more young people, 25 and younger showing up, asking questions and participating. In the years since I have watched this trend increase.
In the latest elections, both sides mobilized young people like never before. More 18- to 20-year-olds voted in 2008 than in any presidential election since the 1972 election, the first when they were allowed to vote.
Growing up, I often despaired of finding someone who would want to talk about things that were happening outside my small town. Back then, “the net” was something you used when you went fishing. Maybe one difference between now and then is that someone with unusual interests – whether it is science, history, art, music or whatever – can find a community of like minded people and feel that they are part of a community, rather than an isolated nut. Knowing that you’re not weird or strange is a powerful feeling for a kid. The pressure to conform at that time in your life is tremendous and it can lead gifted people to hide their talents under a basket.
I also see young people being more willing to take on the challenges of the society. Back in my day the tendency was to ignore or hide problems until someone got arrested, hurt or pregnant. After all, if you admit your kids have problems, all the other parents will talk about you after church because THEIR little angels would never do such a thing. Now I see it is often young people themselves taking the lead to talk about serious subjects with their peers and younger kids. Often they wind up educating the grownups around them too. And they are talking about difficult things, like substance abuse and sexuality and mental illness. These are things 50-year-olds find scary and hard to talk about.
Is the current generation of high school students perfect? Of course not and I would never put the burden of that kind of label on them. In any group of sufficient size, you will have the lazy and the motivated, the jocks and the scholars, the gifted and the struggling. Some, too many, will fall victim to the same temptations that have ruined the lives of families for generations. The kids are, by and large, still kids and are going to act like kids, both good and bad. Human nature, after all, doesn’t change that much.
What I am saying is that I believe we are producing a generation, for whatever reason, that will be more able to cope with the problems and complexities that they will face as they take our place. If that’s because they have easier access to tools or an expanded community of peers or whether parents and teachers have just gotten smarter in the last 30 years, it is a welcome development.
Every generation grows its own set of leaders. From what I can see, the class of 2010 and the ones that follow will have the tools and ideas to make the world a better place. I like talking to today’s young people. They give me hope, and I think hope is the greatest motivation in the world.
So, by and large, I don’t worry about the kids these days. I worry about my generation, the one that is running things now. But the kids today? Well, the kids are going to be all right.



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