As an adult, it can sometimes be difficult to resist the temptation to look at younger generations with a mix of envy and cynicism. One only has to spend a few moments on social media or watching rolling news to hear a story about how, supposedly, modern teenagers are the “snowflake” generation – while the list of industries that have supposedly been “killed” by millennials grows by the day. If an alien were to land on Earth tomorrow and get their information from the average cable news channel, they’d be forgiven for wondering what modern youngsters were up to, given the way they are portrayed in the media.
However, for those of us who have enough years under our belts to be able to look back on adolescence with some detachment, it’s wise to be a bit more forgiving. For one thing, every generation that has passed has, at one stage, been subject to the same cynicism from older generations. Everyone who has ever been a teenager has heard similar criticisms ringing in their ears and lamented that grown-ups “just don’t understand”. There is more than a grain of truth in that complaint. While adults may be envious of the opportunities and freedoms available to younger generations, we can never really understand the pressures that are placed on them.
If you doubt this for a moment, read on below to see why there are plenty of reasons why being a teenager or young adult in the present day is harder than it’s ever been.
1. Growing up in the digital age is scary
Anyone who grew up in the 20th century, or even the earlier years of the 21st, will have faced mostly the same pressures during their school days. Peer pressure, bullying and puberty all made adolescence a minefield – whether you were a teen in the 1950s or the 1990s. However, at no time have the stakes been quite as high as they are for someone who is at school in the present day. Thanks to the development of technology, we’ve moved quickly from being the internet age to the smartphone age.
While there is no denying that technology has offered us no end of opportunities, it has also brought with it an equally large number of headaches, and there is no doubt that it has brought a new dimension to bullying. Malicious rumours, unflattering photos and cruel videos are all much easier to share and can spread much more widely now than even a decade ago. Think back to how tough your school days were. Now imagine how much harder they would have been if everybody in your school had a multimedia editing suite in their pocket.
2. The world is in a period of flux
There has long been an unspoken contract between generations that dictates that the younger one will inherit the world from its seniors in a better condition than when the latter received it. Through advances in the fields of medicine, technology and more besides, this has generally been the case, particularly financially. However, as we stand on the cusp of a new decade, it’s impossible for this generation to say that they will be able to keep the aforementioned contract.
The millennial and post-millennial generations are set to be the first in centuries to receive a world in worse shape than the generation before. Today’s young people are likely to be poorer than the previous cohorts. The average wage in the US has risen by 67% since 1970, which is great. Over the same period, however, the majority of basic living expenses have increased by more than that – in some cases multiplying many times over. That’s the world our young people are getting ready for.
Not only this, the young are inheriting a planet which is, by the agreement of a majority of scientists, entering a period of climate emergency. All of this, and they’re constantly being told that all of this is somehow their fault. It’s no wonder that the need for teen anxiety treatment is growing, when you look at it that way. It’s on older generations to better understand the pressures teenagers face.
3. More is expected of teens nowadays
Much is made of the increased opportunities on offer for today’s children, and with good reason. A teenager in 2019 will have access to information, initiatives and organisations that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of their parents or grandparents at the same age. There’s no doubt that this is something that goes in the “advantage” column for a modern teenager.
There is, of course, a “but” attached to this point, which is that with this greater level of opportunity comes more responsibility. By the time a modern teenager graduates from college, they are likely to be saddled with debt that could take them decades to pay back – and facing a cost of living that far exceeds what their grandparents experienced. In addition, to compete for the college places they want, teenagers may have to do unpaid voluntary work and add more extracurricular activities to stay ahead of the pack.
4. They’re expected to enjoy all of this
Amid the need to look out for cyberbullying, save more money and live a greener lifestyle, one thing that hasn’t changed about being a teenager is the general attitude of adults towards their younger counterparts. Now, this may sound like a criticism of adults, but it really isn’t. The way we look at the world changes as we get older, and it makes sense that when you are a gainfully-employed adult paying taxes in the “real” world, the concerns of teenagers will seem quite minor by comparison.
The thing is, it’s only through experience that we can make that comparison – so it’s a little unfair to expect teenagers to have that same perspective when they’ve had so much less time to get that experience. There are so many demands on them to grow up faster than we ever had to, and we’re expecting them to be grateful for a world that is more expensive, more intrusive and facing more pronounced changes than any other recent generation faced.
So if you find yourself any time soon looking at younger people with that mix of envy and cynicism, it’s worth remembering the above and giving them the leeway you wanted when you were their age.
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