the kids are alright

The Communitarian Network posed the following question to everyone on its email list:

Many people complain about the “younger generation,” which may be seen as selfish, out of control, not interested in public life, and so on. Of course it is difficult to generalize, especially across socio-economic lines, but how do you find those young people in your social environment? If they are not quite all that they should be, what is the main source of the problem and what might be done about it?

I’m looking forward to seeing all the responses that people send in. Meanwhile, this is what I wrote:

I find it amazing that young people are turning out so well, given the often poor values and priorities displayed by the mass media, political leaders, and school systems. According to Child Trends’ collection of statistics from federal sources, the following adolescent problems have declined substantially over the last 10-15 years: fighting, carrying weapons, feeling unsafe at school, being victimized by crime, cigarette use (down by 50%), substance abuse, and unsafe sex.

Our analysis of the General Social Survey finds that today’s under-30s are the most tolerant in the history of polling (pdf). Polls also show that today’s youth like their parents, and their parents like them. They have the highest rates of volunteering of any age group today. Although some of their volunteering is required by their schools or encouraged by college admissions offices, they do participate regularly and say that it is valuable. Under-30s voted at a higher rate in 2004 than at any time since 1992. In one of our surveys, two-thirds of young people favored mandatory civics classes in high schools and middle schools.

According to the latest MTV survey of 14-24s, “There appears to be no stigma attached to excelling in school. Nearly all the young people interviewed say they would be proud to tell their friends if they did really well in school.” Sixty percent said their friend “wouldn’t care” if the chose to study instead of “hang out”; 30 percent said their friends would actually support that decision. Only ten percent think that those who get good grades are “boring,” or “weird.”

It is appropriate for each generation of adults to be concerned about the civic and ethical development of youth; and this generation, like all others, can give us reasons to worry. However, complaining about them seems quite unjust. Their behavior exceeds what we have the right to expect, given how our institutions have treated them.

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