Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

To be or not to be an adult: life choice of today's youth?


Indeed, at any moment in life age does make a difference, and therefore the challenge to grow up as faced by the youth of the 21st century is how to attain and retain a sense of equality while becoming able to survive in a rather hard and ruthless world?

Children of 108 th Municipal School in Athens    photo: Kostas Kartelias  2007

There is a difference in how ages are experienced when growing up. While children enjoy often until the ages 10 to 12 some care free times, the youth of today has by contrast a much more difficult time. Adjustments take place all the time. When a child manages to ride the bicycle all by itself, that is like reaching the moon for the first time. But in the case of youth, many go through such a tremendous transition until they reach full maturity and therefore adulthood, that they disappear often in silence, interrupted by sudden outbursts.

Youth group which painted the mural in Gent                         2010

In a global society basing its communication on internet, social media and all sorts of gadgets, politicians are beginning to wonder if the entry point into adulthood should be 18 or even lower instead of keeping it at 21? They admit that the youth knows faster and more readily on how to adapt to the new communication requirements than those who did not grow up with this communication technology.

Still, the youth of today is like every generation before them searching to find a way to cope with all the demands. However, too many of them remain without a job even when already past 30 years of age. The gap between whatever education they receive and job requirements has grown bigger as the overall cultural adaptation of society to new challenges results more in a mixed bag of tricks rather than being related to a structured approach to qualification through learning by doing and experience.

Age limitations do matter, but there is the worrying trend to elongating the time of being a youth beyond 30. Nevertheless various entry points into adulthood reflect the usual rituals of a society having neglected for too long to answer the question why reproduction is of often linked to abuse of power and therefore to abuse of children and youth. Besides child labour and child soldiers, there is the sex tourism industry which uses minors for a simple purpose. Interestingly enough even trade unionist put themselves into the dilemma when thinking removing a child from a hard job might risk leaving its entire family without an income. As if this coercive principle, namely the need to earn money, does not undermine the need to safeguard children and youth from any kind of coercion insofar as this would mean they are forced to do things against their own will and better understanding of human kindness and justice.

While in the past entry points into adult life were clearly marked, nowadays it seems as if these entry points are either completely gone or a stretched out due to an elongated transition from one phase to the next. Moreover, there are tremendous gaps between the times marked by leaving primary school and entering high school, since often delayed maturation processes are not noticed by either parents or teachers. And then again when departing for studies at university no one seems to notice how difficult a choice is the course of studies if there has not been any proper socialization nor a look beyond studies been provided, in order to give the children and youth a horizon under which it can unfold its imaginative power.

To cope with these time differentials, different practices reflect a variety of resolutions and innovative actions, but most of the time all of them end up being fragmented and only adapted to one kind of institution while not really transferrable to other settings and cultural contexts. There exists even confusion about goals and means within the family and extended families or communities as demonstrated alone by the reproduction of poverty or by children and youth being caught in a vicious cycle.

The prime context of socialization obliges both parents and children to attain a model of cultural adaptation by which a continuity of learning is guaranteed and therefore an open approach to the world and governing system is taken. For otherwise political deviations can mean all kinds of problems in integration and adaption to the system. Instead of working within the system the usual case is then a radicalization and rejection of the system with the outcome being more than just uncertain as to how the continuity of society and life on earth shall be secured by future generations.

When is it time to become an adult?

To be or not to be an adult: this seems to have become a choice of life style by the youth of today. At least this was the theme of an article written by Patricia Cohen and published in the International Herald Tribune, 14.June 2010 under the title: "Adulthood is stretching long past 21, scholars find". It extends the famous moratorium for the youth to give them time to grow up even further. It is argued more and more of the youth beyond 21 still live in one or another way in dependence of their parents, are not married nor have taken up a paying job which would allow them to enter what everyone took to be until now adult life.

One clear indication at policy level is the decision by the Obama administration to extend health coverage of a child by the parents until the age of 26. In Germany family support is granted for children until the age of 25 if they are still studying or in training. Altogether it seems that "people between 20 and 24 are taking longer to finish their education, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent." Patricia Cohen cites here Frank F. Fürstenberg, who leads the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood.

Today's youth

'Today' reminds more of Max Frisch who described the intellectual as wondering what he could write about his contemporary world than about Erikson's 'Young man Luther' driven into collective confessoins to purify himself i.e. To get rid as a monk of any thoughts about sexual pleasures. In today's world riddled by countless child abuse cases, it matters whether or not the youth gets even past this hurdle. There are many others.

Crucial seems to be to the youth how to outline for themselves a plan for the future while recognizing well ahead of time what lies ahead for them. Many are disgusted by the kind of environment this world has brought about. Beaches are downgraded while there are hardly forests left to experience what Heidegger had described as a kind of miracle when stepping out of the silence and darkness of the trees into a sudden clearance.

How light, or more clearly attention falls upon the youth, that is certainly of importance,metaphorically speaking. It seems a lot are still affected by someone like Nietzsche but it would be difficult to gauge which philosophers still speaks to them. To have a language by which they can come to terms with what they are grasping for, that is often beyond the imagination.

Obviously they wish to retain a basic notion of the goodness of mankind without being blind to all the corruption and cowardice around them. They have come to reject not only categorically but conceptually speaking the political system based on hierarchy which gives to certain people all the authority. They see even law not as mediation between two conflicting parties, but as a part of the system designed to protect and to favor those who are in power rather than those who find themselves literally in the streets. That is why this youth identifies itself readily with all the immigrants who they see as fugitives like themselves with no home, but also no friendly world anywhere. No place, nowhere could be re-written by Christa Wolf who treated in her novel about Cassandra in Troy the women as being ignored by historians and therefore they have no other place to flee to but into caves where they can scratch their pains onto the walls. That form of keeping records, a testimony as to what took place and who suffered pain because of whom, that passes by as well the youth who are determined as much as undecided in how to go forward.

They realize time is not on their side. That is one of the most terrible truth. While society in general and older generations envy them for having a whole life ahead of them, they do not share this sense. Life is not to them a gift but most of the time a heavy burden because in real time they feel to restricted to develop an authentic feeling of freedom.

Naturally they are happy when going with a friend on a bicycle ride through the park or else if invited to a foreign family on an exchange visit. But not so many take advantage of the ERASMUS program as hoped for by the European Union. Two factors speak against spending even six months outside the own context: the difficulty of finding a place to stay and upon returning to resolve the problem of re-integration. For one thing the youth is most sensitive about is not so much loyalty but staying authentic and therefore in tune with what most of the youth identifies itself with at the moment.

That moment can be circumscribed as human solidarity. It goes hand in hand with this belief in the goodness of mankind. Everyone can be that provided they have been spoiled by the system, that is by education, parents who are more interested in consumption than in what they are doing and by the kind of things the media offers.

Many of them have gone into something like a consumer strike. They do not buy those luxury items as if they would make you not better but give you the appearance of being successful in society. That fake success they disdain. They control, however, their emotions as they know they have a long way to go before they can even put a dent into this system based on consumption and power.

If anything is more important than anything else, then the way they want to organise themselves, namely  free of any hierarchy. They practice as much as they can in the spirit of Anarchism and Zapatistas the notion of collective responsibility. It means all share things and everyone is ready to mediate whenever there is conflict or a difference of opinions.

Naturally money exists for them but at the same time many of them have to deal with life without money. They find ways around it by sitting instead in cafes where a cup of coffee is expensive on a bench in the park after having bought drinks in a shop.

Gaining public spaces to meet in urban centres

They learn to use public spaces in many, often curious ways and create ever more of them wherever possible. In Athens, they converted a parking spot into a park which includes a children's corner, a garden filled with donated trees from neighbors and friends, and other locations to either sit down for a chat or else to host a little concert since the place has an elevated spot as stage.



That park was build where there was before a parking place and plans existed already to have there yet another high rise office building. Once the pavement of the parking lot was torn up, they made room for the earth to plant trees, including olive trees donated by friends, neighbors and just passer-bys.



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