A hopeful and tolerant generation

TheStar.com – Opinion – A hopeful and tolerant generation
June 10, 2009.   Carol Goar

Just as Reginald Bibby wrapped up two years of research on the attitudes, values and behaviour of Canada’s teens, the bottom fell out of the financial market.

The economy shuddered. The job market shrank. The future, which had once looked so bright for the generation born in the ’90s – a cohort which Bibby calls “the emerging millennials” – darkened.

But don’t feel sorry for the kids, Bibby advises anxious parents, teachers and baby boomers. They certainly don’t feel sorry for themselves.

The Lethbridge sociologist did manage to include the early months of the recession in his new book, The Emerging Millennials. At that time, teens could see the storm coming, but felt no threat.

Even when they’re soaked, they will feel invincible, he predicts. “One of the remarkable characteristics of Canadian young people – and I suspect most young people everywhere – is that they seem to have something along the lines of an embedded `hope chip,'” Bibby says. “They believe that they personally can be the exception to the employment and income rules.”

He bases this observation on 30 years of tracking teens. Regardless of the state of the economy, they were sure they could succeed if they worked hard enough. No matter how turbulent the times, they expected to do better than their parents.

So it is now. Eighty-six per cent of teens expect to find the job they want. Eighty-one per cent expect to be more affluent than their parents.

Are these attitudes realistic? Bibby offers no opinion.

But he does say today’s teens are better equipped to deal with uncertainty than any previous generation. They’ve grown up in a world of unremitting change.

“They are going to be fine as they head into the future,” he predicts. “The hope they have is not something we should greet with cynicism, but rather with envy. Hope has transformative powers.”

The Emerging Millennials is Bibby’s 11th book and the newest instalment in Project Canada, which aims to chronicle every generation of the post-war era.

He considers it a companion volume to his last book, The Boomer Factor, What Canada’s Most Famous Generation is Leaving Behind, published in 2006. It portrayed Canada’s 8 million boomers as a generation bent on gratification but incapable of slowing down long enough to find fulfillment.

Bibby is more optimistic about the millennials. He likes the effortless way they cross racial lines. He marvels at their ability to use technology to reshape their world. He is fascinated by what bugs them and what doesn’t.

Here is a sample of Bibby’s findings:

* Today’s teens have more “close friends” than any previous generation but they can be continents away. The Internet has redefined friendship.
* They consider it wrong to park in a spot reserved for the disabled but have few qualms about talking on a cellphone while driving.
* They have a better relationship with their parents than any previous cohort but they are damaged by divorce. The majority of teens neither approve of it nor accept it.
* And they’re not nearly as sex-crazy as people think. Most teens engage in sex about as often as seniors. Fifty-six per cent say they never engage in sex.

Even allowing for the odd white lie, Bibby thinks the overall picture is positive.

But he is having trouble convincing adults of that. Parents look ahead and wring their hands. Police refuse to believe that drug use is falling. Teachers wince when he suggests kids are staying in school longer.

This “morbid negativism” puzzles Bibby. Canada has produced a generation of open-minded, confident, tech-savvy teens. If they are immune to economic gloom, that is the prerogative of youth.

 

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