Challenging the narrative around today’s youth as a smartphone-obsessed, insecure generation, Bexy Cameron argues that, in fact, they foster the type of innovation, balance and progressiveness to shape a brighter future
It’s a story we have heard before: the youth of today are a cohort of ‘screenagers’, ‘enfeebled youngsters’ and ‘couch potatoes’. Time magazine even labelled their cohort the ‘Me Me Me Generation. Ubiquitous technology and digital platforms are reducing our humanity, connection and spirituality. For this new generation, what does the future hold? The planet and the people on it have a bleak future.
Or do we?
As the first generation to grow up alongside always-on social media and smartphones, today’s young people are carriers of significant changes in social and cultural behaviour. They have had to face pressures like we’ve never seen before and it’s why study after study reports disheartening developments, such as the finding that one in four girls are clinically depressed by the time they hit 14.
But behind the fearful and often hyperbolic reactions of parents, the media and society, there are positives to be celebrated. And while technology might be at the heart of many of the perceived problems of the world today, it’s not the full picture. Technology can also provide pathways to balance, creativity, health confidence and progressiveness.
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The data is right. Young people do spend a lot of time on their smartphones; long-term memory does seem to be reducing; their sexual media diet is on the rise; they’re living with parents for longer; and they’re seriously lacking in meaningful employment. But the story’s not complete until we acknowledge things like the fact their parents also spend lot of time on their phones. Young people can’t live independently because home ownership is a luxury that belongs to previous generations. And as for jobs, “it’s the economy, stupid”. This generation is living in the world that their parents handed down to them, and yet we seem to blame them for it. It’s a disempowering narrative.
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From a health perspective, we’re living in a time of dramatically reduced underage drinking and teenage pregnancy. Could it be that these young people are forging new paths of responsible behaviour?
A defining characteristic, though of course it’s impossible to generalise, that’s emerging from the younger generation today is their belief in themselves. As we’ve progressed from the ‘stiff upper lip’ school of parenting to a more holistic and thoughtful model, we’re seeing the welcomed emergence of a strata of society that has an innate and healthy confidence.
When I look at young people, I see a smarter generation, with more progressive outlooks and a better work-life balance
A study that I’ve been involved with – Young Blood – explores modern British youth culture and its results confirm that emerging adults have much to offer the world. For a start, 44 per cent of respondents reported that happiness is what defines success: it looks like we’re moving away from the empty materialism that characterised their parents’ youth. What’s more, health is the new cool, with these youngsters having the confidence to say no to booze, drugs and underage sex. Though much work remains to be done, they also feel more able to speak out about mental health, breaking existing taboos alongside icons of their age – the DJ Black Madonna, producer Motor City Drum Ensemble and DJ and producer Ben Pearce – all of whom have been very open about depression and anxiety.
They’re fluid in their identities and put an emphasis on carving out a way of being that suits them, not their parents. They’re sick of seeing antiquated gender stereotypes in the media. With 68 per cent believing that clothes should not be gender specific, it looks like John Lewis made a savvy move in recently removing ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ labels from children’s clothing.
With climate crisis, animal welfare and ethical consumerism high up on young peoples’ agendas, it’s clear that they are about things other than themselves – not just devoting their lives to self-indulgence and the perfect selfie. And they understand that their online behaviours and wallets have given them a power that they need to wield responsibly.
Though this generation may have to battle against the difficulties of life being enmeshed with technology, let’s embrace the bright side of their burgeoning self-belief and responsibility. Not brash, not rebellious, they have carved out confidence for themselves in a wider world that gave them little. It’s why, when I look at young people, I see a smarter generation, with more progressive outlooks and a better work-life balance. And a time of extreme political polarity, this gives me hope.
Once dismissed as politically apathetic, Brexit, Trump and Corbynism have turned this ‘yoof’ stereotype on its head. What could be the result of a new generation surging through the ranks, heralding a fresh breed of wisdom combined with an acute sense of responsibility? Maybe more progressive governments; new forms of education and entrepreneurialism; a kiss goodbye to gender discrimination; and the pursuit of happiness over materialism. Not bad for a bunch of ineffectual, screen-addicted wasters.
Bexy Cameron is head of insight at marketing agency Amplify