Opinion: Perpetual adolescents

POSTED: 01/8/14 5:04 AM

The young generation is a problem. Hmm, does that sound familiar? That is what our parents’ parents must have thought, and that is certainly what our parents must have thought about the sixties generation. Now we are fifty years later and we are still singing the same song. It is tempting to conclude that the problem does not lie with the youth, but with their parents – and with their perception of the current crop of human beings.

Niels van den Dungen, who is studying to become a teacher after completing his philosophy study, analyzed the crisis and the position of youngsters in today’s society. It is an interesting journey that also touches upon the problems we encounter in St. Maarten’s communities.

“In a blog post entitled Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy Tim Urban deals with the question why the new generation is unhappy. Urban is the writer of the weblog Wait But Why. His position: generation Y, born between 1980 and 1985, expects many too grand things in a much too short period of time, and lives under the illusion to be unique. Is this analysis correct? Not entirely.

When one approaches ten young adults between 20 and 25 years of age in the street and asks them what they want with their lives, the majority will come up with a rather blasé answer: I don’t know. It is the core problem of my generation. This generation is often indicated with terms as generation Y, X, Einstein, WiFi, nix, or in the old-fashioned way as the French fries-generation. This generation does not know what it wants; she/he lives from one day to the next and has no long-term vision. She/he lives like an unguided missile.

There are several causes behind this somewhat indifferent attitude, but I want to limit myself to what is the most important issue: having a solid comfort zone. With this, I mean a safe haven of which the continued existence is never put in doubt. Think for instance about the role of the parents. They pay school or college fees, study books, healthcare insurance, clothing and sometimes even the complete rent for a house (while the young adult receives study financing). A certain way of student-like living could also be a comfort zone – living without real responsibilities, an easy life as a perpetual adolescent.

Because of this comfort zone, students are hardly ever challenged to think about the future. The question about what they want with their life is experienced as a nuisance. They prefer to avoid them and to store them for a different moment. Serious business is for later. Fundamental life-choices are being postponed, postponed again and then postponed for a third time. The reason is the fear for the consequences of these choices. Because as soon as choices have been made, the comfort zone must be left behind. Sociologists and psychologists speak in this context on occasion of an extended adolescence.

However, this comfort zone is not obvious at all. It is the result of a significant increase in prosperity, as Tim Urban justly points out. This prosperity comes back in the primary selection criterion for the follow up study: is it fun? The questions about job-opportunities, a meaningful profession, value for the society and the development as a human being are secondary.

What exactly the usefulness is of yet another graduate communication-expert on HBO-level disappears into the background. As long as it is fun. Previous generations still made choices based on economic certainties, but my generation continues to find that economic certainty obvious. But this it is not.

The problem is not that this generation expects far too much. The problem is that he/she has forgotten that their comfort zone is not obvious; They have forgotten that this comfort zone is the result of protective and wealthy parents and of the postponement of important life-choices.

My advice to the older generation is therefore to drop the protection of their children and to let them experience that the comfort zone you created is not obvious. That is the way to create resilient individuals. My advice for my generation is: kick yourself in the ass, become really (financially) independent, make choices, take decisions and start thinking about what is really a meaningful existence for you. Set yourself achievable, realistic and meaningful targets in life and act accordingly. You will not remain an adolescent forever.”

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