The British media over the past couple of weeks has painted a very negative picture of teenage life and youth culture.
Brits have been reminded yet again about problems associated with ASBOs*, youth gangs, teen alcoholism and rising teen pregnancy rates. What’s more, a recent survey seems to suggest that many Britons actually fear young people.
The head of MI5 recently said, with support of the Prime Minister, that the threat of suicide bombers – who are most often young people – will be with us for a generation.
Put all that together and the picture looks bleak. Yet the mainstream of British Millennial young people, the silent majority, are positive about the future and looking forward to big challenges.
It’s right that we should speak and write about the needs of the troubled youth in our cities. Yet we need to balance our concern for minorities with a proactive engagement with the majority. Otherwise we encourage a growing victim mentality in groups at the edge of society – a mindset that leads to despair and often to violence – and we lose the opportunity to bring out the best in mainstream youth culture.
The most urgent question many of us can ask is this: ‘What kind of city do I want to live in ten years from now and what will I do now to set that in motion?’
The Millennial generation, aged in their teens and early twenties, are the future of our cities. We can shape a positive tomorrow for society if we build on the natural strengths of this generation who will carry the future on their shoulders.
My own research and anecdotal experience suggests that as Millennials emerge into social influence over the next decade or so, we can expect to see several changes in community life.
For example, we will probably see a more energetic and proactive approach to solving social problems, because Millennials are generally optimistic (certainly moreso than the Generation-Xers who preceded them).
We will also see an aggressive push for greater (free) education opportunities, because Millennials celebrate learning. We can expect to see a different approach to politics, with more emphasis on projects then ideologies. Millennials by and large are not institutional.
Greater emphasis will be put on long-term causes than short term projects, because Millennials consider themselves to be future-friendly. We’ll also see a larger involvement in global issues, as Millennials express their citizenship of the world.
The next decade or so will also see a greater respect for public officers, provided they are authentic, because Millennials respect leadership. Leadership structures will change, though, becoming less hierarchical. Millennials generally prefer more evenly distributed democratic structures.
We’ll see great leaps in the development of new technologies. Millennials see technology as a positive force for change rather than a threat. And we will see a desire for involvement in big projects with ownership, because Millennials like to be on ‘the team’.
This latter point is probably the greatest strength of this emerging generation.
When Millennials get together, they don’t seek nurture from their peers in the same way that Gen-Xers did at their age. They get together to talk about what they can do together, to plan.
Theirs is the Wikipedia generation, where everyone gets to contribute. It’s the YouTube generation, where everyone gets to be heard. It’s the MySpace generation, where my space is shared with everyone else.
In short, it’s ‘WE’ generation. Millennials are team-players; and they’re more civic-minded than either Generation X or the Boomer generation that went before.
Teams need captains. As it emerges into its period of social influence, the Millennial generation will be looking within itself to find people who can head up great projects.
Rather than being downcast about the problems of youth culture, we should concentrate on preparing those leaders, equipping the generation for influence.
This begins with fostering an atmosphere around young people where success and excellence are normal.
There is so much acceptance of mediocrity, so much worship of the average in British life. We need to pass on to the young a generosity of spirit that pushes them beyond the norm; so that they will do the surprising and the unexpected.
We need to set a higher standard of expectation for the young, too. After around 30 years of working, at one level or another, with younger generations, it makes me angry to learn that the British government is finally encouraging teenagers to delay their first sexual encounter until they’re ‘at least 16 years of age’.
The government has tried everything else; now, only as a last resort, it wants to give saying ‘no’ a chance! And only until they’re sixteen – after all, we can’t expect them to practice self-control.
We’re telling our kids they’ll never achieve the willpower to stay celibate, simply because many of us have failed at it so miserably.
Finally, we need to encourage the Millennial generation to relate their future goals to present-tense realities.
I’ve had the priviledge if seeing nine books published. But my first book was in many ways the most enjoyable. It was a novel, or novellete, written when I was in the fifth grade at the urging of my teacher, Miss Paige.
I owe a lot to that teacher. She created in me a new gestaldt, a new vision of reality. She made the promise of my future real in the present.
When we do this for young people, we give them a new paradigm for reality, which then leads to a fresh culture and a positive way of behaving.
James Freeman Clarke wrote: ‘A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.’ We need statespeople in business, education, the media, the political world and the home; people who will celebrate and help shape the positive side of youth culture.
ASBO: Anti-Social Behaviour Order.