I recently ran a meeting specifically for people age 16-24 to ask them their views of the world and what they wish adults better understood about their generation. The few adults in the room were sworn to silence; there to listen. The young people in the room said some things that broke my heart.
Here’s what I heard.
Old solutions don’t work for today’s problems
Older folks see “problem behaviors” among younger people and think they know the causes and therefore the solutions. They don’t. The causes are different today and a solution like kicking a kid off a team because of substance use disorder is entirely unhelpful for the kid and utterly ineffective at preventing substance use disorder.
These things (cell phone in hand) are robbing us of the life we could be having
The stuff on our cell phones is addictive and everyone knows it and greedy corporations are taking advantage of us. Not only are cell phones a huge distraction from “real life,” they enable isolation and cause us to fear actual human interactions. Sure, cell phones have some positive attributes, but only some.
Artificial processed food is adversely affecting us physically and mentally
We are a generation raised on highly synthetic food and there have been warnings for years about the harmful effects of too many chemicals in our diets. Is it any wonder that our mental and physical health seems to be in decline? Duh.
We are afraid of strangers and of institutions
We are a generation whose parents put fear into us. Someone might try to abduct you. Anyone could have a gun. Stranger danger. We avoid confrontation. Not only that, we have witnessed blatant injustices and double standards in our legal system and don’t trust that institutions will protect us.
We need realistic images of what we could become
Body images portrayed in the media, including social media, are crippling to those with most types of bodies. Most role models have unrealistic and idealistic lifestyles. Show me a path that I can take to success, given my body, my gender, and where I live. Young people in Sagadahoc County want Sagadahoc County role models; who look like them.
The world is crumbling
I asked, “What do you mean by that?” Here’s the list: 24 hour news cycle, trans genocide, climate change, retirement age moving up (“we’re going to be working until we die”), inflation, cost of rent, the US is going bankrupt, politics, COVID was SO isolating. “There’s an expectation on us to participate and be a young adult out there in a world that’s literally crumbling.” “We don’t have a bright future to look forward to.”
Labels and stigmas are so dated, and unhelpful
Young people don’t care about labels. Drop ‘em. We are developing a culture of no labels. No stigmas. Acceptance of all. It’s much better that way.
We are in a state of youth mental health crisis
Mental healthcare should be normalized. Getting therapy is a good thing. There’s no reason to look down on it. Mental health therapy should be available in the schools and after school and in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places. Just like an annual check-up with your medical provider, we should ALL have an annual check-up with a mental health provider.
These are the things that hit me. These things are not representative of all those who were present, or of all the things that were said. The point is, I tried to listen. I did not minimize or discount or deny what I heard. I let these things into my head and into my heart. I can’t instantly fix the world for young people, but I can listen to what it’s like for them and do what I can to be helpful. Or at least stay out of their way.
By the way, the meeting was convened by the Midcoast Youth Center on behalf of the Sagadahoc County Working Communities Challenge, a project to decrease rates of hopelessness among youth and young adults. A week after the meeting just for youth, we had another meeting for the general public at which we reported what we had heard. I was hired to facilitate the two meetings. It was an honor and a privilege.
The photograph is not from one of the recent meetings but from another meeting I facilitated years ago.