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Germany

Fun Is Out Among German Youths

German adolescents are taking on a more serious tone. With youth unemployment high and the future uncertain, the "fun society" is out.

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These kids are smiling, but German youth are more serious these days

A commercial for a German savings and loans is one of the current hits on television. In it, a father, obviously from the counterculture, and his young daughter are talking in what appears to be a shanty-like town. His daughter asks him a variety of questions about "normal" people and their desires, to which he always answers: They're "bourgeois."

At the end, to his amazement, she says, "I want to be bourgeois, too, when I grow up."

The ad zeros in on the current attitude of many youths in Germany right now. Unemployment is high among teens and young adults and almost 1.5 million children and adolescents are living off of welfare. The possibility of living prosperous lives like those of their parents and grandparents seems very distant for many young people.

Now, they are changing their expectations.

"In today's society, you can't get along without money," said 15-year-old Monti from Cologne. "I don't want to live on the street someday, not here in Germany. Maybe somewhere else, on an island or somewhere, but then there will be no money."

Modesty makes life easier

Wohncontainer für Studenten in München

A small abode is preferable for many youths

Monti's family is surviving off welfare payments, as are the families of one in five children in Germany. For him and others of his generation, the stress related to an apartment and the possessions to fill it is worth avoiding.

"I'd rather pay less for my apartment and have a little more money to live than buying a big flat where I have lots of space and great furniture," Monti said. "That is not as important as to be able to go out with friends."

The values and role models for him and his peers are "bourgeois" ones. Social contacts, social integration, and a spouse with children, possibly, are goals. They are striving for a "normal" life.

Yet for many children, particularly those living off of welfare, such a life is out of reach.

Paar am Obstmarkt Symbolbild

A close companion is one desire of many German adolescents

"What I hear in my professional as well as in my private life is that adolescents don't necessarily have an ideal or role model, but want a lifestyle that is more traditional," said Susanne Pareike of the University of Cologne, who has a 20-year-old daughter.

"Being together, having friends, a profession, to be subsistent if possible, having a spouse and children are important," she said. "The ideal is actually that of a run-of-the-mill citizen."

Morals play a role

While the baby-boomer generation always looked toward the newest trends and considered morality something akin to an expletive, for young people, morals have taken a more prominent role. The latest tennis shoes or goings on with Britney Spears have lost their importance with many.

"I don't want to run around looking a way that people can put me in a certain group," said 18-year-old Daniel. "Right now I wouldn't say that there's anything I really admire."

But such talk has a hint of hopelessness to it and educators are looking for ways to give children confidence and a feeling like they have a future to look forward to. For Barbara Sommer, education minister in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, there is only one way out of the trap.

Plattenbauten in Dresden

The persepective is a little better from a mound

"A career prospect would definitely motivate them because everyone wants to earn money," she said. "They have to have a career where they earn money. We have to offer them this opportunity."

In a Germany with an unemployment rate of up to 25 percent in some areas, that opportunity can be hard to come by.

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