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Germany

Germany's youth - stuck in endless adolescence?

Overprotected, pampered and lacking much of a work ethic: why experts worry about today's youth. The struggle between parents and children is crucial to raising responsible adults, one psychologist told DW.

In his New York Times bestselling book "The Vanishing American Adult," Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse warned of a youth in crisis, increasingly less willing and able to take on responsibility for their lives.

Germany has been seeing a similar development. The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) reported that young trainees are less disciplined and able to work under pressure. Josef Kraus, longtime president of the German Teachers Federation (DL), has repeatedly pointed out that Germans are raising an immature, "incapable generation" lacking in perseverance.

German psychologist, education expert and book author Albert Wunsch - who has two sons and three grandchildren - has also been watching this trend with growing concern.

DW: In your book "The Pampering Trap," you pointed out years ago that Germany's youngsters were increasingly immature, increasingly unable to manage stressful situations - and spoiled. What has changed since then?

Dr. Albert Wunsch (Private photo)

Young people are confronted with fewer and fewer of life's realities

Albert Wunsch: For the past 20 years, we have been observing that children are increasingly not confronted with life's realities. Children and adolescents are still, for the most part, spared, which then leads to the problem that one day, when real life does inevitably set in, they don't know how to deal with it.

The parents are to blame, then - what is their main mistake?

The parents shy away from conflict. They appear to have factored out their duty of being the people their children must chafe against, must confront, and of guiding them into reality. Parents wanted to avoid conflicts and not take a stand because they were so worried they might come across as taking an authoritarian position. Many worry that if they act as authorities - which we, the adults, should do - that could be taken to mean authoritarian, and that in turn is equated with the far-right and Nazi ideology, so it is something to be avoided.

Today's parents orient themselves much more strongly to their children than vice versa, they want to be their sons' and daughters' friends, which defeats the purpose.

What are children, teenagers and even young adults often incapable of that should be self-evident?

They don't know how to persevere, and they want to have a lot of fun. They give up if they don't see instant success: in tests at school and college, in math, science or music class, and in the field of sports. Children are increasingly pampered, hurdles are cleared out of the way all the time to make their lives easy. But when they reach a point where they have to face a challenge, they lack the ability and strength to deal with it. If people are underchallenged for a long time, they later feel objectively and subjectively overwhelmed.

"I made it:" The feeling when you have actually succeeded, you feel exhausted but happy - this is something they miss out on.

A teenage girl stand in the foreground while a group of four other girls is in the background - all have their arms crossed over their chests (picture alliance/blickwinkel/M. Begsteiger)

Girls tend to study harder than boys, Wunsch said

Is this true for boys and girls alike?

Perhaps a bit more for boys. Girls' social behavior differs, and they tend to study harder.

When young adults finally leave home - and many still live at home, more than their parent's generation did - they must be truly overwhelmed?

When they do leave home, they often despair. My students tell me there are three major problems: the fridge doesn't stock itself, the garbage doesn't empty itself - and clothes don't wash themselves. They have no idea about what things cost. People drop out of college, they get depressed: it can be really tough. Studies have shown that in Germany, 25 to 33 percent of college students drop out.

Isn't the older generation always critical of the younger folks?

Sure, and that is an essential process. If the older and the younger generations are in conflict, the former must ask itself: are we doing this because we are older, and want to hang on to our ways, or can we actually "sell" what we think is important? A society has a good chance at survival if that skirmish works out well.

But many young people are permanently oriented mainly to their peers, so this debate between young and old and vice versa is no longer happening, there is no longer a transfer of values, which in turn leads to a widening gap between old and young.

That sounds like the threat of eternal adolescence.

Two adults help a kid cross over stones in a stream while hiking in the Alps (picture-alliance/blickwinkel/P. Royer)

Parents shouldn't aim to be their kids' friends, Wunsch said

Yes, there is that tendency. Another thing: young people today don't like to make decisions, firm commitments. When invited, a youngster is likely to hedge and say, I'll see whether I can make it - because something better might crop up. They won't commit, because then, they still, supposedly, have every option.

But that is not how life works. If you are constantly keeping open options, you can never do your present job satisfactorily. And despite all that, they feel self-sufficient and well-equipped for life. Self-perception and how others perceive them are worlds apart.

What do parents need to do to raise responsible, mature young men and women who don't simply feel entitled?

Parents must truly acknowledge that it doesn't take long to bring a child into this world, but that today, in a pluralistic society that is strongly influenced from the outside, it takes a lot to do a good job as a parent. You must concentrate on it! In order for them to realize what life is all about, children should be made to face the realities of life at a younger age. They must understand that you have to earn money before you can spend it, and that they can't simply while away the day.

Albert Wunsch is a German psychologist and a social education specialist. He teaches at the University of Applied Sciences (FOM) in Essen / Neuss and at the University of Düsseldorf. He is active as a coach for couples, parents and teachers, in conflict management and supervision. Wunsch has published numerous books, articles and interviews on parenting and education.

Interview conducted by Dagmar Breitenbach.

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