Its a strange thing having spent 25 years of my life working with, for, and among young people, especially when I’m just inching up on 40 years old myself. One of the things this career has afforded me is perspective: With the long view in mind, I can see things differently than others who’ve been in and out of the work in small increments. But at my age, I’m not an old man who cannot see things in just one way. Instead, I cross boundaries a lot, seeing myself and others in a constant state of flux, transition, and transformation.
One of the skills I’ve honed is learning to see the future—not in a psychic mumbo jumbo way, but in a practical, scientifically driven sense. Using the insight my experience and reflection affords me, I want to share with you seven ways the future will be different for youth today.
However, before I do that I want to establish why there is a new future coming. As many of us agree, the present is unacceptable. However, we haven’t named why. I think a large part of the problem is that adults are constantly lying to young people, either inadvertantly or intentionally. Let me identify five lies adults tell youth today.
5 Lies Adults Tell Youth Today
Lie #1: There are jobs available for youth. In 2010, youth unemployment in the US topped out at 19.6%. Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that it had nudged down to 16.3%. When that’s compared to the historical average of 12.32% since 1955, with the low point at 7.80% in 1956, it shows that the job market still has a long ways to go to recover. The Federal Reserve has said that in the recession, adult workers took jobs youth had held for the previous decade at new rates.
Lie #2: Adults believe in youth. In large, youth today are being sent into a hostile, unwelcoming world. Adults generally neither see youth as assets, nor do they treat them as valuable citizens they could be. Once seen as The Future, young people are increasingly treated as interchangeable parts in a vast societal machine that disrespects everyone as humans, particularly young people. The reality of discrimination against young people is that the very same young people who are being prohibited from entering into stores in groups of 2 or more are being hired to staff those stores, while those store owners are taking their money. This happens in schools, at home, and throughout our communities.
Lie #3: Schools are changing to make youth better people. Politicians and parents want desperately to believe that all of the work being done to reform education today is being done to benefit students. However, at the end of the day large corporations are lining their pockets like never before. Privatized schools, standardized testing, teacher mastery programs, and many more arrows point in this direction, and none of it has to do anything with students’ hireability. Instead, school reform is largely motivated by profit and power, with thin veils of concern for students’ well-being in the future.
Lie #4: Youth just need to pull their jeans up and do what adults tell them to. I have heard many adults say, “If only a young person would come in here with a good haircut, their pants pulled up, and no tattoos showing, I’d give them a job in a minute!” The beneficent nature of this statement undermines the reality: Most adults don’t believe engaging young people will benefit them, so they don’t do it. If they do engage youth, its usually under such poor premise for such little return that it doesn’t justify the effort that youth to take to become engaged.
Lie #5: Things have always been this way, and they’ll always be this way. Lucky for the future, change is inevitable. While it can’t get here fast enough for many youth, the reality is that there’s a burgeoning movement that’s driving more young people than ever to become active agents of social change. Many people believe this is the answer to the lies youth have been told. More than ever, young people are building, devising, planning, scheming, strategizing, and mapping the future like never before. While the millennial generation was fast moving, youth today are even faster. The social transformation of today is being driven by The Masses, mobilized by ability and access like never before.
Hope for the future actually rests in the truth behind the fifth lie adults tell youth today. Creating their futures by working with truly supportive adults—including parents, educators, youth workers, and others—young people today are literally making the future they want to live in. Its not a utopia or some grandiose vision that all young people are working towards, and I’m not advocating that only youth create this future. However, I am suggesting that we all work together towards a realistic future that works for everyone.
Truth Changes: 7 Ways the Future Will Be Different for Youth Today
The ways that things are today are different from the ways they are going to be. Here are seven ways the future will be different.
- Engaging—The future will be engaging for anyone, anywhere they want to be engaged. This will happen at home, schools, throughout communities, in government, and the economy.
- Connecting—Tying together more intentionally both online and in-person, we’re going to experience a resurgence of The Commons in bold, bright new ways. These are the public spaces we all share, and more than ever, young people will be recognized as central to the health and well-being of The Commons.
- Empowering—Instead of isolated incidents benefiting a few people here and there, everyone will experience increasing amounts of ability and authority throughout the entirety of their lives. Starting when they’re infants, all people will become more educated, engaged, and empowered throughout their lives.
- Cooperating—Seeing the economic and social benefits of conscientious and mutual relationships with everyone around us, we will become more driven towards cooperative action benefiting everyone involved. The implicit and explicit ways we work together will be recognized more, and the value of all human interactions among every human will be seen with utmost importance, and everyone will learn how to cooperate more effectively.
- Processing—With constant emphasis on outcomes overwhelming more people more frequently, new stock will be given to processes with more services providing more people the pleasure of getting there, rather than just arriving.
- Diversifying—Entwined cultures will drive elevated social conditions affecting more people, effectively incentivizing integration anew.
- Liberating—Freed of the shackles of offices and bosses, more people will feel more capable of living easily, moving quickly, and collecting freely with others they’re genuinely interested in, rather than stuck with.
Our future is bound to become more embracing, more honest, and more hopeful than what young people face today. This is because children and youth right now will make the world they want to live in. We should do no less than fully empower them to make this future, if only because its our responsibility and not merely our privilege.
What are YOU doing to create the future, today?