A study by German sociologists has investigated the attitudes of 14-to-17-year-olds towards work, leisure, relationships and politics. This generation wants competence and transparency from politicians.
Researching society and its values is chiefly the job of sociologists. In Germany, the Sinus Institute is particularly well known for the study of social trends that it publishes every five years. It recently released a special edition focusing on young people between 14 and 17 years of age - the second of its kind since the first version in 2007. According to its publishers, this age group is of particular interest because young people are the "pioneers" of societal trends.
New group: the "Expediters"
The newest and most modern social cluster in Germany is the so-called "Expediters." According to Sinus, around 20 percent of young men and women belong to this group. They are regarded as socially avant-garde because they manage to satisfy the high demands of today's performance-oriented society while at the same time maintaining a hedonistic approach to daily life. They are well-adjusted without being dull, constantly searching for new opportunities and challenges but not neglecting their academic and social commitments.
Anna-Fee (16) and Lukas (15) belong to this group. Both were raised in financially stable households and get above-average grades in school. Their circumstances are ideal for exploring new paths. Both are dressed in an individual way, neither standing out too much nor looking too mainstream. Although Anna-Fee lives in a boarding school in the North Sea region and Lukas in Berlin, they expressed similar opinions in an online interview with DW.
Interested in politics, unhappy with politicians
Both are interested in politics but consider it to be static and are critical of politicians. Lukas writes: "Politicians should be competent and listen to the people. There are too many politicians who consider their personal careers to be more important than the opinions and needs of those they represent." He also believes that politicians should be able to guarantee a good life to people. The Pirate Party and the Greens have a lot of good opinions and ideas, he thinks.
Anna-Fee believes that politicians need to be smart. "But to be honest, I find many of them are out of place in politics. They are there to advocate something or change something, but in the end nothing happens."
Anna-Fee regularly reads a prominent national newspaper, Lukas watches political satire on television, and both of them regularly read about politics on the Internet. Anna-Fee sees a lack of transparency in political reporting. "On this point I agree with the Pirate Party," she writes. "More transparency is needed to get young people excited about politics." Many of her peers see politics as something "boring and for adults" - but it is this generation's future that politics is shaping, she adds.
The Internet is nothing special
The "Expediters" have developed an easy relationship with the Internet. Raised in the digital age, the medium is nothing special to them. Unlike their parents, they do not say they will go online to find something. Instead, they are constantly connected to the virtual world via smartphones and computers.
Due to this perception of the Internet as something normal, non-digital activities are experiencing a revival. 97 percent of the young people in the Sinus study list "spending time with friends" as the most important leisure activity. 98 percent of respondents also enjoy television. It is therefore not surprising that Lukas finds online petitions less meaningful than real-life demonstrations: "It's easier to click on something than to go on the street and demonstrate." However, such petitions are "a good way to spread ideas as quickly as possible."
Anna-Fee thinks in a similar way: "When there's a demonstration, the government can see how angry the people really are. A petition is a petition, and not very emotional." She is also skeptical about the scope for reaction. "You have to wonder how many petitions have an effect - maybe a million are submitted each year and only 1,000 get through to someone."
The tendency towards non-digital activities is seen by sociologists as "re-grounding." Friendships and family are becoming important again - in response to the new meritocracy in which the young generation lives. Social involvement in terms of co-existence, helping and creating is part of this trend. The teenagers see their immediate environment as the best place to make a difference. Their world views do not play a major role here - it is about being pragmatic.
Lukas is the head of a scout group, consisting of eight boys aged between 12 and 14. "Here I plan smaller activities for every Friday, but also longer trips." He finds social commitments good because they involve helping others and learning something "useful and fun" at the same time.
Anna-Fee was a school representative for two and a half years. "It's very important to me to take into account the interests of others and do something for them." Social involvement is not only satisfying but also creates "a somewhat better world."
Fun and independence
The young people do not want their future life to revolve solely around work. Lukas wants to "work not only to earn money, but do something meaningful" that is also fun. Anna-Fee expresses an even stronger desire to do something new. She wants to "break away from everything that's old," create a life for herself without help from others and enjoy doing it. Independence is also crucial for Lukas: "In the short term, independence is more important than success." He does not want a detailed plan for his life.
Typically for the young avant-garde, Anna-Fee and Lukas seem optimistic and confident about their future, in which they want to do something new. They want to test themselves, taking the values they have acquired with them on their life journey. Anna-Fee wants to be independent, but not alone - she needs her friends to be there for her.
Author: Kay-Alexander Scholz / ew
Editor: Simon Bone