Young People Today: Civilization’s Downfall or the Hope of the World?

One of the presumed liberties of growing old is critiquing the next generation.  When a new innovation comes out and the young take to it voraciously, you can easily predict the backlash following close on its heels led by middle-aged and retired members of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, be it a new app, a new music style, or a lifestyle habit:

“Look what it’s doing to them!”

“How can that be healthy?”

“A new survey shows that [some awful mental health consequence]”

“It will be their generation’s demise!”

For example, study after study has shown the negative effects of social media on teenagers.  Are there any positive effects?  Greater connection among teens?  A greater awareness of the world around them?  Better access to peer counseling?  Stronger aptitude for computer programming?  More familiarity with a digital world, one which presumably will define their future much more than ours?  If there were such positive effects, don’t look for statistics to back them up – not because there aren’t any, but because why would we conduct such research?  We  approach the next generation’s peculiarities with prejudice, not science.

If perchance we started with the premise that the next generation just might be better than ours, I wonder what our research might uncover?  I look around me and I meet kids – OK, teenagers and young adults – who are smart, ambitious, very engaged with their world, very aware of the threats to civilization as we know it, and many of them pursuing careers to address these!  As a generation, do they exhibit certain ailments or hangups?  Certainly.  So did mine!

When I was growing up, the television – at the time, a mere 3-channel broadcasting tool and little more! – was thought to be a menace to society, devouring kids’ childhoods and putting all sorts of evil and dangerous thoughts into their heads.  Rarely mentioned in the same sentence were the landing on the moon, the Olympic games, and sit-coms and dramas with some of the most insightful social and political commentary (think MASH or Star Trek).  Whatever the case, we’re still here, and we survived.  Something tells me the Gen Z folks will too!

Should we be cautious about any new invention?  Should we be asking ourselves about possible ill effects upon our young?  Yes, and yes.  But we can do so without denigrating the generation as a whole.  Each generation has their own challenges and struggles.  The question is not: “what will befall them?”  The question is: “what will they overcome?”

My tradition says: “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Ps. 100: 5)  Do we trust that to be the case for Generations X, Y, and Z as well as our own?

The next time you meet a young person, talk to them as if they will be one of the leaders who cools the planet, tames A.I., and brings us out of the WWIII we cause.  They just might!

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