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Together But Not The Same: Tensions between an older and younger generation, and how they need each other

I wouldn’t consider myself old, as I am only approaching my 30’s, but having a brother that is 13 years younger and a 9th grader makes my feelings of youth somehow disappear. It’s all too easy to look at the youth and adolescents in our world today and not really think much of them. Maybe it’s even more likely that we look at young people and think or say they are “too young” or “only children”; not considering the autonomy and social agency that each one has. Why do we marginalize youth rather than seeing them as persons with inherent value and people to be taken seriously, knowing that one generation needs the other equally as much? While there are many lenses through which we can look at youth (poverty, education, parenting, ability/disability, etc.), for the sake of this post I have decided to speak generally about the attitude our society perpetuates upon youth and young people in the development of our society and culture. 

Here are some negative attitudes we harbor towards a younger generation:

1.-Entitlement: We believe that the younger generation has this large chip on their shoulder. We perceive them as a group that wants everything without any real way of earning it. But let’s be honest, wasn’t every generation there at one point in time? 

2.-Rebellious: This word goes hand-in-hand with young people; the absolute epitome of ones youth. Honestly this is true for some, but not for all. However, I think it’s fair to say that often what we view as rebellion is really a search for identity. 

3.-Age: It’s easy to disregard the credibility of young people because of their age. They “don’t know enough”, “aren’t old enough”, “haven’t lived long enough”. However, age is not a limit to strengths or needs. Rather than integrating them into society we limit their participation. 

4.-Intimidating: To most of the older generation, the younger generation is a complete unknown. They are something new, yet scary, like uncharted territory. It’s possible we’re afraid because we don’t want to be judged by those who are “too cool”. That’s scary to us. Inevitable, but scary. Let’s face it, older generations need the boldness, passion, and maybe even fearlessness, of the younger generation(s).

Being a leader in two youth groups, I often find myself wondering where is the line between reminding them who is in charge and realizing that they are also in one form leaders too. However, America is very much a ephebiphobic culture. In the U.S. persons under 18 make up 22.9% of our society. We fear the youth in our society because we have conjured up this distorted perception that these hooligans are just that, hooligans, and can only help themselves if they want to be helped; not realizing these pestilent beings are incredibly vulnerable.

Here’s what we can do to bridge the gap:

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1.-Make it personal. The responsibility is ours, as an older generation, to cultivate the passions in the upcoming generation. Hear their stories, know what they’re passionate about, and make the connection.  

2.-Be willing. Willing to have your perspective change. Willing to invest your time in the generation(s) after you. Willing to realize the infinite value in who young people are and what they “bring to the table”. Most important, be willing to learn from each other.  Younger generations need to know that they are not seen as incompetent beings but rather persons of value. 

3.-Be authentic. There are far too many fake people in the world. As a growing generation, young people don’t need authority figures to pretend to care. They need people to speak life into their chaotic lives, adding value to them as a person.

4.-Don’t discipline. Young people don’t need another person to discipline them–they already have parents (unless they don’t have parents and need someone to discipline them). Our youth need a support system. People encouraging and empowering them as agents for change. 

Remember this: “The youth are often at the front line to stand against discrimination, inequality, and marginalization. The youth are a force for transformation.” Ban Ki-Moon

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