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Opinion: Young and Thwarted

Margret Steffen (sp)August 12, 2004

August 12 is International Youth Day. Its aim is to put the spotlight on the problems of young people and involve them in political decision-making. Society has failed the young, a member of that generation comments.

Young people, everywhere, need perspectiveImage: AP

Young people don't have much to laugh about. It's not just a matter of hormonal overdrive and too little pocket money, but rather existential insecurity over questions of clothes, music and opinions. And all that when pimples are sprouting across your face, your parents are disinterested and the credit on your mobile phone has dried up just as your first love calls.

Scientists says that the whole brain is reconstructed during puberty. Everything -- sleep rhythms, the readiness to take risks, language, logic and sense -- is in turmoil.

The old want to play young

But it's also a huge opportunity: lack of experience drives young people to do things that a more mature person would never manage.

But hardly anyone wants to take advantage of that now. People don't fight for young people and children anymore, but rather against the obsession with youth, driven by fear of their own age. They're pressured to be hip and fresh. But those that are that way aren't allowed to take off.

Not to mention the pressure to perform at schoolImage: AP

A whole generation is in despair over the gap between "must do" and "can do." Class trips, sports, parties, Internet - there's enormous pressure on the young. Be smart, be on top of things, be ahead: many of us can't keep up anymore. The German Youth Protection Organization estimates there'll be even more who can't keep up once the new labor market reforms are implemented.

Rising poverty among the young

Youth poverty is not always visible. But isolation is, and it brings a new spiral of incompetence and loss of values. A generation without a lobby backing them up is in for a very hard fall.

Lehrlingeausbildung bei DaimlerChrysler
Young trainees are taught the ropes at DaimlerChryslerImage: AP

German industry should have long ago been forced by the government to lend a hand to the future losers and get them on board by threatening with a levy companies that fail to offer enough trainee jobs to young people. But that proposal has now been scrapped. Around 162,000 young people in Germany don't have a traineeship; The number of excluded young people has risen even higher than last year.

The new youth generation has grown up in an environment of powerlessness. Their parents -- dispirited in eastern Germany and cranky in the west -- are at the mercy of politics and the global economy.

It used to be that parents would build up a business, which their sons and daughters were left to tear apart. In the new century, youth rebellion has been replaced by brands and their powerful strategists. And anyway, adults have little worth demolishing. They have a second car, little time and a government that's failing in the face of an economic crisis.

Youth without a chance

Kindersoldaten in Kongo
Child soldiers in CongoImage: AP

Of course victims of globalization look different. South of the Sahara, almost every third child works for his family, in Asia every fifth. Estimates say 300,000 child soldiers fight worldwide. The UN Convention on Child Rights is hardly of any use to them or to the 20 million refugee children around the world. They have no right to safety, education, relaxation, a normal life with their parents.

Skewed perspectives from the very beginning are equally horrible everywhere and in every context.

The new EU member states in the south and east, however, are doing things differently: A generation of upcoming young people there are involved, even in the government. Young politics for young countries -- brave and full of perspective.

Polish author Adolf Nowaczynski said at the beginning of the last century: "Poor is not the person who didn't fulfill a childhood dream, but rather the person who didn't dream at all during his youth."

Young people everywhere aren't poor on dreams and goals. But there are mortgages on their wealth. It doesn't look like we can help them pay them off.

Find your own perspectives

The University of Mannheim's recent study "Youth. Values. Future!" reveals that young people are better than their reputation. They strive for classical values, carefully plan their future. And they aren't inconsiderate and egoistic, rather interested in fairness and social responsibility.

They can't have gotten those qualities from the adults but from their friends, the study says. Finding their own perspectives like that amounts to a youth rebellion -- at least a silent one. They'll show us the way sooner or later.