The Gifts Of Youth

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The Gifts Of Youth

مُساهمة من طرف aitlahcen.abdellatif في الأربعاء 5 ديسمبر 2012 - 5:45

The Gifts Of Youth

By Charles Johnston, M.D.

One of the articles in Generation NExT (IC#43)
Originally published in Winter 1995/96 on page 16
Copyright (c)1995, 1997 by Context Institute

When we hear the word "youth" on the evening news, we almost
instinctively expect to hear about problems. Indeed we have seen
dramatic increases over the last 20 years in youth-related concerns –
teen suicide and homicide, gang involvement, teen pregnancy, adolescent
alcohol and drug abuse, and so on.

When I look at youth issues in terms of what will be required to
shape a healthy future, three questions come immediately to mind:

  • How do we best make sense of the dramatic increases seen in recent decades in "youth problems?"
  • What strategies will best support a healthy world for youth?
  • What characteristics of children and adolescents can help define their vital roles in creating our future?

Canaries in a Mine

How do we make sense of the dramatic increases seen in "youth
problems" over recent decades? Depending on one’s perspective, one might
interpret such increases very differently and suggest very different

A political conservative might see these dilemmas as evidence of a
disintegrating moral and social order, and advocate the teaching of
traditional values. A political liberal might argue that they
demonstrate how we have failed our children, and advocate the creation
of more youth programs and more mental health services directed toward

The best in each of these views holds a part of the truth. The future
seems certainly to ask that we think more deeply about values and be
more attentive to the well-being of youth. But neither view in and of
itself gets to the heart of the issue, and each has the potential to do
as much harm as good. As I see things, if our actions are to make the
world better for youth, we need to understand the experience of youth
and youth problems from a larger, more historical and systemic

When I stand back this way, two insights stand out. The first is that
"youth problems" are only in a limited sense about youth. Part of
adolescents’ job in the psyche of culture is to act out (for action is
their voice) whatever the culture as a whole is neglecting to look at. A
close look at the needs fulfilled by "problem" behaviors supports this
notion that youth today are functioning like canaries in a mine for the
culture as a whole. Each need reflects dimensions of experience where
present culture is often impoverished.

Gangs, for example, offer a sense of belonging – at a time when most
people experience a diminishing sense of connection in their
communities. Violence, by helping one feel potent – in charge – offers
an antidote to how little power many people feel to affect their lives.
Drugs, depending on the substance, offer experiences of significance,
release, or emotional and spiritual connectedness, all things we often
hunger for in these times.

The most provocative of today’s "youth problem" statistics – the more
than doubling of both youth suicide and youth homicide rates over the
last 10 years – can be seen as calling out, alerting us to our time’s
most central challenge. We face today a fundamental crisis of personal
and cultural purpose. Increases in teen suicide confront us with the
unsettling fact that a growing percentage of our youth, often many of
the best and brightest, lack a vision of the future sufficiently
compelling to warrant the vulnerabilities of daily life. Homicide rates
reflect a related lack of hope, a doubt that life has worth, projected
onto others.

So the first contribution of a more systemic perspective is to alert us to the cultural dimension of youth issues.

Next Evolutionary Steps

The second is to point out how effectively engaging youth issues will
require more than just a shifting of the "problem" from individual to
culture. While the notion that youth are victims of a dysfunctional
culture may provide some useful insights, in the end, I would argue, it
misrepresents the larger part of the picture. And more importantly, it
blinds us to many of the approaches with the greatest potential to
benefit youth and society.

Step back sufficiently and one sees that our youthful canaries in the
mine are more often alerting us to needed next steps in the evolution
of culture rather than to major cultural errors. This is not to suggest
that mistakes have not been made. And it is not to suggest that there is
not pain or real danger.

But, talk to youth about their pain and their concerns and you will
rarely find them advocating a return to the way things used to be.
Rather, they are concerned about how complex life has become and the new
questions it presents. They recognize that ways we have done things
before won’t work for the challenges ahead and worry that we may not
find new solutions, or find them quickly enough.

If we are going to be most effective in our actions, it is important
for us to recognize that while there are always problems to solve, in
most instances the job is less one of rectifying past errors than of
getting on with needed next cultural tasks.

Modeling Creative and Courageous Lives

These notions point toward two overarching strategies for addressing
youth concerns beyond the general good works of compassionate parenting,
good schooling, and community support. In the end, such more limited,
short-term responses to youth concerns – from counseling programs, to
night basketball, to tougher penalties for certain kinds of
transgressions – can be effective only to the degree they are carried
out in conjunction with these more encompassing strategies.

The first strategy addresses most directly today’s crisis of hope and
purpose, though it is only indirectly a youth strategy. Living creative
and courageous lives is the single most powerful gift adults can offer
youth concerned about a meaningful future.

When we live lives that contribute, we offer youth examples of adults
grappling with the magnitude of modern life. Our actions model what it
means to live purposefully in the face of an uncertain future. More than
this, they directly contribute to the creation of a future worth

When Seattle school children were asked in the early 1980s to draw
images of the future, many drew nuclear devices exploding over the city.
But one student said, "I’m not afraid of nuclear destruction because my
dad goes to work every day to prevent that from happening." His father
directed Target Seattle, a community education project on preventing
nuclear war. The child’s response surprised both teachers and parents.

In order for our efforts to be successful, our children need not
consciously understand their purpose or origin. Neither do our efforts
need to be of great proportion. They can be anything from a basic
integrity in daily relationships to fixing the hole in the ozone layer.
The simple fact that we are involved in things larger than ourselves
communicates that life in these times matters and is worthy of
courageous participation.

Creative Roles for Youth

The second strategy addresses youth more specifically. This approach
focuses on discovering and articulating new, more potent and timely
roles for youth in society’s workings.

In many ways, the conditions of young people in modern society have
greatly improved. While there are notable exceptions in areas of high
poverty, young people in the developed world can choose from rich new
educational opportunities and benefit from greater overall safety,
health, and prosperity. They enjoy legal protections from the
exploitation of child labor and child abuse.

At the same time, today’s youth easily feel estranged from
significance in culture. It is hard for youth to feel they have a
contributing role. Acknowledgment of youth usually has more to do with
being successful "little adults" than anything that comes from the
particular richness and unique experience of childhood. Combined with
today’s general "crisis of purpose" in culture, this creates a
precarious situation at best.

Two parallel changes have altered the experience of being young
through time. The first change is that today, the period of preparation
prior to assuming full participation and responsibility in the adult
world has dramatically lengthened.

In tribal societies, one enters directly into the adult world through
rites of passage at puberty. In modern times, entry into the adult
world has been delayed at least into the late teens, often well into the

Secondly, we have seen in recent centuries a gradual loss of active
ways for youth to contribute to family and community. The economies of
hunting and gathering, agriculture, and early commerce and industry
provided means for even young children to participate directly in adult
activity. Almost all roles for young people today relate in some way to
preparation for adulthood.

If adolescence is to be a healthy experience, our youth need not just
to feel that the future has purpose, but that they have a meaningful
role in that purpose. In every part of cultural life, we must find the
means to involve youth in a potent way in the things that matter most.

Youth’s Unique Gifts

Realizing more vital roles for youth will require much more than
well-meant, but ultimately patronizing, efforts at inclusion. To be
successful, we need to look closely at two things: first, the unique
resources that youth potentially bring to the table, and second, how
these resources can contribute to engaging the challenges ahead. Roles
for youth that authentically empower must tap youth’s special gifts and
do so in ways that make real contributions.

How are youth different from adults? Most obviously, youth are
younger than adults and have yet to learn much about the adult world. In
this way they are "less" than adults. But youth and adults are
different in other ways as well. As developmental psychology teaches us,
different stages in our growing up are tied to the pre-eminence of
different ways of making sense of our worlds.

A first, very simple observation in this regard offers potentially
powerful insight into ways youth can contribute in times ahead. Children
tend to be more playful and imaginative, adults more logical. While
children differ greatly from one another, in general they tend to be
experimenters. They are engaged in the creation of new fresh life.

What is the future significance of this? We can only begin to
understand. But it is fascinating to ponder the implications of having
available a segment of society naturally adept at improvisation and
visioning when one lives in times such as ours defined by rapid change
and the need to see things in new ways. Obviously the task is much more
complex than the romantic image of turning all decisions over to the
kids. But if we are not finding ways to tap youth’s creative capacities
in grappling with the future, we are likely wasting a resource not only
valuable for the task, but critical to it.

The challenges ahead demand not just innovation but new kinds of
values and perspectives. A more detailed look at how people of different
ages process experience suggests a further role for youth: they can
contribute to our understanding of appropriate priorities for the future
and what these priorities will demand of us.

One way psychology talks of age-specific differences is in terms of
defining "intelligences." A lot can be learned from understanding these
intelligences and the "world views" that tend to accompany them.
Painting with a very broad brush, we can think of four defining

  • Infants, as a function of their point in development, have a special
    connection in bodily intelligence. They discover truth primarily
    through their senses – through movement, and through tasting and
    touching all they encounter.
  • The intelligence of the young child is more mythic and
    symbolic. This is the part of intelligence we most often associate with
    imagination. The work of the child is make-believe and "let’s pretend."
  • In adolescence the underlying ordering intelligence is more
    emotional and moral. The task of the adolescent is to try to make sense
    of the world he or she is entering, ascertain what he or she feels about
    it, and decide how he or she wishes to take part in it.

Each of these intelligences – that of the body, the symbolic, and the
emotional and moral – has at some time in the evolution of human
societies been regarded as what most fundamentally defines truth. Each
has had a greatly diminished presence in modern times. With the
Scientific Age, reason – the fourth intelligence, that which moves to
pre-eminence during adulthood – came to define truth and our other
intelligences were lumped together under the label "subjective." Reason
tends to value most the material. Consistent with this, today’s
economically-defined world sees anything that does not contribute
directly to the "bottom line" as of secondary importance.

A look at critical questions ahead suggests that the values and
perspectives contributed by each of our various "intelligences" have
essential future roles. Twenty-first century tasks will require more
complete kinds of understanding and more complete kinds of values. Our
times challenge us to learn how to think and act, in new ways, from the
whole of ourselves.

Each intelligence can be seen to offer something distinct and
important. For example, the body intelligence of infants reminds us of
the task of remembering our own bodies and reconnecting with nature, the
Earth as body. The symbol-based intelligence of childhood helps us
envision new possibilities and transcend the rush and stress of a
machine-order life. Its sensibilities encourage us to engage life more
playfully and creatively. And the emotional and moral intelligence of
adolescence offers critical ingredients for these times when the pivotal
concerns in all spheres are increasingly questions of value – questions
of what really matters and the kind of world we want to live in.

Let Kids Be Kids

The need to address questions with a greater systemic completeness
points toward important new contributions for youth. A good example can
be seen in a recent survey that found that two-thirds of children regard
the environment as our time’s most important issue. This would be
expected given that greater connection with the natural world found in
each of childhood’s defining intelligences. Our youth, as they gain
greater voice, will likely provide critical leadership for the task of
saving the planet.

Utilizing all that youth can contribute will demand changes in all
spheres of culture. It will require education that better taps the
unique intelligences of youth and helps youth learn to exercise their
intelligences with a more active voice. It will require finding more
active roles for youth throughout our communities. It will require
finding ways to involve youth in cultural decision-making processes at
all levels – not just to include them but to hear and utilize their
unique voices. And it will require youth to step up to the plate, to
take the greater responsibility that comes with a greater voice.

Initially, the creation of more meaningful roles for youth may simply
reflect a conviction in culture that effective decisions require the
participation of all of culture’s diversity. Children are an important
part of this diversity. In time, it should reflect a deepening
appreciation of the particular gifts available from the parts of
diversity that children hold.

There are potential traps in rethinking the role of youth, ways to
misunderstand what is being asked. "Youth empowerment" is not about
idealizing youthful sensibilities – and thus denying youth’s limited
experience and perspective. Also, it is not about equating new potency
and voice with an earlier assumption of the roles and appearances of

The task can seem paradoxical. The future asks us to let kids be kids
– that we quit presenting images and expectations demanding that they
act like small adults. Children on television rarely act like real
children, and modern marketing idealizes a sexual and social
sophistication that undermines childhood sensibilities. At the same
time, the future challenges youth to take what they discover as kids and
bring it strongly and "maturely" into the cultural dialogue, to assume,
with everyone else, a new responsibility in today’s world.

This article is from The Tasks of Our Time, part of a
series on the future developed by the Institute for Creative Development
(ICD) and adapted as part of the New Generations of Leaders project.
Dr. Charles Johnston, a psychiatrist and futurist and author of
Necessary Wisdom and The Creative Imperative, is director of ICD, PO Box 51244, Seattle, WA 98115.

Kids Count

  • Estimated US population under the age of 18 in the year 2000: 71,789,000
  • Number of teens who died from a violent death (homicide, suicide and accidents) in 1992: 11,383
  • Number of 15 – 19 year olds who died from firearms between 1979 and 1991: 40,000
  • Increase in juvenile violent crime arrest rate (ages 10 – 17) between 1985 and 1992: 58%
  • Increase in number of births to unmarried teens (ages 15 – 19) between 1985 and 1992: 44%
  • Number of children living in families with no father present in 1994: 19 million
  • Decrease in annual earnings of black male high school dropouts between 1973 and 1989: 50%; of white male dropouts: 33.3%
  • Percent of children in poor and near-poor families in 1992: 31.5%
  • Number of teen suicides in 1990: 2,237

Source: Kids Count Data Book: State Profiles of Child Well-Being, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Why Do They Threaten Adults?

by Charles Johnston

It is interesting that the same baby boom generation that once didn’t
trust anyone over 30 now so often depicts youth in negative terms. Much
of how we see youth has less to do with who they are than our fears
about what they represent.

Adolescents threaten adults on multiple levels. With their budding
abilities to think independently they challenge our beliefs and our
authority. In their ambivalent venturings into the world they regularly
abandon us, becoming less and less concerned with our approval. And in
their blossoming sexuality and potency they confront us with our fears
about sexuality and potency in general and, more specifically, with
fears that our own may be waning.

These dynamics are amplified, for good or ill, by broader cultural
changes. Historically, parents have in general known what to teach their
children and known first hand the worlds their children were exploring.
Increasingly, truth is not so obvious. Once-reliable societal handholds
of all sorts – from culturally defined gender roles to clear allies and
enemies on the global front – are falling away. The pace of change
today means children walk in realities their parents have never
experienced and often have a hard time imagining.

All these things make adolescents easy targets for projected adult
fears. Our times challenge us to own these projections. This means
better acknowledging life’s uncertainties, old and new, so we do not
need to project our fears of these uncertainties onto our children. And
it means better understanding the inner experience of youth, in order
that youth voices will seem less confusing and threatening.

Most of all, it means better appreciating the gifts that youth have
to offer – and particularly what these gifts have to offer for the
unique challenges of our time.

المدير العام
المدير العام

الجنس : ذكر
المزاج :
العمر : 26
عدد الرسائل : 617
تاريخ الميلاد : 05/05/1992
مستوي تعليمي : bac
نقاط التميز : 2158358647
تاريخ التسجيل : 14/08/2008
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