On Friday (Oct 1/09) I was in Fort McMurray, Alberta (lots of trucks and denim there) singing for a couple hundred Catholic school teachers as part of their annual Faith Day. I’ve sung at several Faith Day conferences over the years and they are always a riot. Typically the teachers are so thrilled to get a singer rather than lecturer – I can do no wrong.
But the keynote speaker first thing in the morning was sociologist/author Reginald Bibby whose recent book, The Emerging Millennials | How Canada’s Newest Generation is Responding to Change and Choice, chronicles and interprets his findings from several recent national youth surveys.
Bibby was a very engaging speaker and the findings were fascinating. He started by saying that the elderly have always been anxious about the youth and then offered this quote from 400 B.C.:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise… They contradict their parents, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” -Plato quoting Socrates
Imagine! Children crossing their legs. Shame.
Anyway, Bibbey went on to report the disappointing news that the surveys indicate: this current generation of teenagers are actually a pretty good bunch – certainly better looking than their parents were.
Below are the 11 general findings from the research. I can’t remember much of the supporting details – you’ll have to get the book. Remember, these are general trends. There are many concerns, and plenty of kids who fall through the cracks, but the over-all report is encouraging.
Are decent: the surveys indicate a fairly high level of respect for authority, friendship loyalty, regard for parents, civic responsibility, acceptance of difference.
Love their friends and music: no surprise here. But statistically, teens report having more significant friendships than previous generations.
Tech toys – new means to old ends: concern about teens use of technology may not be well founded. Teens use of technology has made them more, not less, socially connected with a resulting sense of well-being that comes from knowing and being known. Curiously, drug, alcohol and tobacco use are down. Research indicates that kids have so many good interests (partially as a result of technology) that they simply have less time for the more destructive ones.
Have said ‘goodbye’ to monoculture: teens have great respect for difference and nuance. More likely to pursue genuine interest rather than following trends. Have healthy tolerance and genuine curiosity for cultural/ ideological idiosyncrasies other than their own.
Teen/parent relations are the best in decades: Most teens report friendship with parents and see them as worthy guides.
Enjoy school: This surprised me. Teens report liking teachers, enjoying learning and end enjoying school years.
Quality of life: there is significant drop in reports of depression and violence. Most teens report that core needs, (relational, health and safety) are met and many feel there is opportunity to pursue dreams and wishes.
Are into relationships more than sex: friendship is paramount to this generation. Sexual activity is pretty much where it has been for decades but profoundly more responsible than say… the 60’s and 70’s. Teens feel more empowered to engage or not at their own will – less pressure than previous decades.
Are morally flexible but have definite no-nos: most teens regard sex between those in a caring relationship to be okay. But tend to look down on casual sex, and definitely condemn extra-marital sex. Teens feel fairly negative about divorce. Child abuse and racial discrimination rank among the highest in terms of what teens consider morally unacceptable.
Post-religious / pre-spiritual: teens report less religious/institutional affiliation and commitment but keen interest in spirituality. (understood that spirituality is pretty hard to define)
Teens are buoyant about the future: teens report bright hopes and dreams in their future. Generally positive and even enthusiastic.
So there you have it. Bibby says there is lots to legitimately worry about – for those of us so inclined. But he encouraged us to give credit where it is due. These kids are great he says. Let’s keep calling out and enabling their best.
You can check out Bibby’s books at his website: http://www.reginaldbibby.com/
or find his recent book “The Emerging Millennials” HERE