From the Principal

Guilty of Being Young

History has a long record of judging young people harshly.

  • “They have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things — and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning — all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything — they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.” (attrib. Aristotle).
  • The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress.” Peter the Hermit in A.D. 1274.
  • “Never has youth been exposed to such dangers of both perversion and arrest as in our own land and day. Increasing urban life with its temptations, prematurities, sedentary occupations, and passive stimuli just when an active life is most needed, early emancipation and a lessening sense for both duty and discipline…” The Psychology of Adolescence, Granville Stanley Hall, 1904

My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years. (1,2.)

Even Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet , decried the impulsive and dangerous behaviour of young people.

Were Romeo and Juliet really in love?

 They met at a party and got married the next day.

They both ended up dead a few days after meeting (along with a number of their friends).

And so it goes on……The ongoing generalisation that the young are guilty of being….. young.

The news media loves a good story of the misadventures and failings of some young people and use these as generalisations to condemn whole generations.  Take this example of the myths surrounding young people (USA) today:

  • Teenagers are uniquely violent and crime-prone. [ False. In terms of crime volume, youths and adults contribute roughly equal rates for their respective populations.]
  • Teenagers are the most at-risk group for HIV infection and AIDS. False. Teens rank third by age group when HIV infection was acquired. When teens are infected with HIV, it is usually transmitted from adult partners or exploiters.
  • Teenagers are high risk for suicide. False. Teens are a relatively low risk for suicide. Suicide rates for high school-age youths are half those of adults.
  • Teenagers are the most at-risk group of drug abusers False. Teenagers as a whole are one of the groups least likely to abuse drugs, though in recent years we see a slight increase in self-reported, occasional marijuana use by adolescents. Very few teens use harder drugs or indulge frequently.
  • Teenagers smoke because of immaturity, peer pressure and tobacco ads. False. Other factors besides young age contribute to the decision to smoke. For example, youth with parents who smoke are three times as likely to smoke than others.

All of these statements are false. They are the common “myths” we tend to believe about young people.

Young people are often portrayed as violent, reckless in their sexuality, out of control and devoid of positive values.

The generalisation continues into the workplace: “Some business owners and managers hold a dismal view of Gen Z workers, shocking new research has revealed….Managers and owners commonly cited entitlement and a lack of effort, motivation and productivity….Respondents declared it difficult to work with Gen Z “all or most of the time,” while a staggering 79 per cent said they find them the most difficult generation to have in the workplace. Some said the so-called “snowflake generation” was “too easily offended” and cited that as another reason to get rid of them.”Andrew Court – New York Post. 2023

Note: Gen Z workers are currently aged 26 and under, meaning that much of their working life has occurred amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

I’m sorry, but watching our students with their passion for learning, sense of social responsibility I am puzzled.

 Seeing them supporting their friends and those who need help in our society, I am amazed at the caricatures, generalisations and myths that are spread about “young people today”.

Hearing the stories of the hard work and success of our graduates makes me wonder exactly what crimes against society “young people of today” we know have committed.

Or is it just the tradition of adults condemning the young, feeling compelled to repeat these myths, even though they were so often judged the same way by their elders:

“It’s not time to make a change
Just relax, take it easy
You’re still young, that’s your fault…”
Yusef/Cat Stevens

Admittedly, not everybody in history has chosen to harshly judge young people:

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16

Amen?

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at principal@scas.nsw.edu.au

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