International Youth Day celebrates the importance of youth and the work they do towards addressing social, cultural, and legal issues around them. The day, 12 August, was set aside to engage the young generation of our time to help them in contributing more to society and the community by focusing on the needs, thoughts, and promises of young people.
The theme for 2022 – ‘Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages’ –reminds us, as we let young people lead us, to also show them the support they need. Each generation improves upon the blueprint that generations before them created as we nurture this blueprint for the generations to come.
We spoke to our students about how everyone, young and old, can contribute towards achieving the future we envisioned through the theme for 2022.
No more generalisation, please
“The generalisation and stereotypical ideas of what Gen Zs are have evolved and are quite different than what they were known to be.”
– Voon Pei Sze, Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management)
To me, intergenerational solidarity means the relationship dynamics between those that are of different generations and it is something that I experience in my daily life as I am currently living with my parents as well as my grandmother.
My generation, the Gen Zs, tend to be misunderstood. Those from a different generation need to understand that many things have changed as Gen Zs reach adulthood. The generalisation and stereotypical thoughts and opinions of what we are have evolved and are quite different than what they were known to be.
At the community level, support for young people could be in the form of providing more age-friendly public places that people of all ages can enjoy. For instance, the community can organise activities where people of all ages can contribute ideas. This gives individuals a sense of belonging.
In schools or universities, young people need to be treated as part of society, capable of contributing to communal ideas. We need to be exposed to and interact with more experienced individuals, especially those whose professional fields are the future career aspirations of the young person. These interactions would then lead to the sharing of insights and knowledge, further strengthening the idea of intergenerational solidarity.
Our community falls short of creating such solidarity because society is too focused on keeping up with trends. This trend-chasing eventually outshines all that help forge and sustain intergenerational solidarity, hindering the transferring and practising of culture and traditions from the old to the young. There are also conflicts between generations due to cultural differences, prejudice, or different social and economic outlooks. Communication styles also differ, furthering miscommunication and deepening misunderstanding.
Young people now behave differently, have differing aspirations from that of their parents, and even have different opinions, thoughts, and ideas on issues of the day. If society is unwilling to see things from the perspectives of young people, the whole idea of intergenerational solidarity is still just a vision.
See things through the eyes of the young
“Put yourselves in our shoes and see why we see things as we do.”
– Khaleeqa Naazria binti Haleman, Bachelor of Business (Marketing)
To me, intergenerational solidarity means having full support – confidence, trust, and even help of any form – from my family when it comes to my desire to try something that is different from their aspirations for me.
I concur that one generation would totally misunderstand the train of thoughts, perspectives, and outlook of another. Compared to 10, or even 15 years ago, things have changed by leaps and bounds. For example, being in Arts stream doesn’t mean that the opportunity to further one’s study in a different field is limited. Also, there is this mindset that if you are not from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) stream, your chances of securing good jobs are limited. That assumption is not the case now.
I think it all boils down to stubbornness in changing the way of thinking. Although young people lack experience in so many areas, it helps when the older generations try to see things the way the young people do. Put yourselves in our shoes and see why we see things as we do. Only then would we have reached the mid-point of consolidating the vision of intergenerational solidarity.
Of course, discussions can be brought to the table, but if two generations end up agreeing to disagree, where is the conclusion to the issue? How do we even start to resolve social issues that we are facing around us when two generations – those who currently hold the rein of economic power and those who will take over someday, i.e., Gen Zs like me – have not even reached a consensus on an issue?
Agreeing to disagree does not resolve conflicting ideas and plans. In fact, it may just stop the conversation.
Mental health and wellbeing
“We need the support to live our lives, to spend it well, while we can. To do that, we must take care of our mental health.”
– Elizabeth Ashleigh George, Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management)
When it comes to being misunderstood, it is two words – mental health. Young people being on our phones is not us isolating ourselves. To me and my peers, it is probably because we have friends at the other end of the device, ready to hear us out and give us the reassurance and peer support we look for. DM-ing, tweeting, and even texting are just other means for us to let out our feelings and opinions to our peers – short of screaming, crying, or pulling our hair out in frustration.
Much of the cause of mental illness in young people is the expectations and burdens put on us by our families and by society. A small mistake on our part and we are labelled as a rebel, not wanting to listen, as a burden. If intergenerational solidarity means that the different generations work, live, and learn together as one harmonious unit, then why must these young people be made to feel that they are walking on eggshells?
Of course, intergenerational solidarity can be achieved. As a Swinburne student as well as a part-time tutor teaching children ages six to 17, I have experienced such solidarity. My much older colleagues at the tuition centre would share their experiences and knowledge of handling youths younger than me, while I share how those from my generation would do things and why we do it as such. These exchanges, while a revelation to me, are also interesting as I can see that although times have changed, we can still find common ground.
So, I strongly believe that the best way to foster intergenerational solidarity would be for both parties to be understanding and to remain open to one another.
Young people will always want to meet society’s expectations, but if we fail, don’t turn the situation around and make us feel as though we did not try to the best of our capability. Because we always do. In this time and era, competitiveness is high. Everyone wants to be the best of the best. But what does that leave for those who, for whatever reason, struggle and can only be ‘good enough’?
Young people need support and for the older members of society to be present and ready to lend a hand when we need direction, advice, and guidance.
As if trying to be successful is not enough, there is this constant reminder in our society where young people are made to feel that they owe their very existence to the older generation. It reminds me of a Korean practice of saying ‘thank you’ to the mothers in the family unit for choosing to give birth to the child. What if we turn the practice around? What do you see? I see a world where young people are appreciated for who they are, and where their ideas and opinions are sought.
This brings us back to mental health. Mental health is not a personal problem; it is the society’s. As a member of the current young generation, we take our mental health seriously. When mental health is not taken care of, issues are amplified: We become dissatisfied with life, everything feels so mundane, we feel tired. We are, after all, a generation that cannot sit still. We want to live our lives, to spend it well, while we can. And to do that, we must take care of ourselves.
It is worth repeating: There is a lack of understanding and the ability to put oneself in the other’s shoes. Understand that young people are not self-sabotaging when they are not the best in class. Understand that what we have achieved, no matter how small, makes us proud of our efforts. All young people want, and in every generation, is for the older generations to not undermine our success, no matter how small, because our elders’ affirmations mean the world to us.
This article was written in conjunction with International Youth Day, which is celebrated annually on 12 August. Starting in 2000, International Youth Day was created by the United Nations to draw awareness to the issues faced by young people around the world. The day also recognises the input that young people make in education, community development, environmental groups, and so on.