My experience with young adults today fills me with both anxiety and hope.
You can get Aleteia inspiration and news in your inbox. Our specially curated newsletter is sent each morning. The best part? It's free.
As a teacher of young adults for over 20 years, I’ve noticed a striking change in their behavior, concerns and expectations. In some respects it fills me with anxiety, and oddly, it also fills me with hope.
As many people have remarked on social media and in the press, today’s younger generations are often dubbed “snowflakes” — a term that denotes weakness and an inability to cope with life’s hardships.
It’s not a term I’m particularly fond of, really. I don’t think it helps anyone. There is some truth to the fact that young adults don’t seem to have the same resilience as older generations, but conversely, they also seem to have impressive levels of empathy that is sometimes lacking in their elders.
We could argue that it’s a good thing to not need the strength to traverse the hardships that our older generations had to endure. But we haven’t been put on this earth to have an “easy” life, but rather a “good” one. And oftentimes when we’re faced with difficulties, it strengthens us and provides an opportunity for growth and achievement.
My big concern is that adolescents today are not able to cope with life’s difficulties — and the don’t believe they should have to. So will they ever feel a level of satisfaction that facing a challenge can generate? I’ll give you a concrete example.
For two years I’ve been teaching a young woman who is now 19. Every week she has a complaint to make: her workload, her family’s expectations, her overall well-being. She has no problem sharing the details of her physical and mental health with the class. She then uses one of her various issues to ask for an extension on her class work.
Now when I was young I might have asked for an extension on a project. But I didn’t take it as a given that I would receive it. I also didn’t ask for one every single week.
My issue isn’t that Sophie is being a lazy student. It’s more her ingrained belief that she deserves her extension through the sharing of her various plights.
And Sophie isn’t alone displaying this sort of behavior. In recent years it’s become a common occurrence. As a teacher, it’s exhausting and I sometimes feel like I spend more time dealing with excuses than teaching.
The mental health issue
We seem to have given our young people the ability to play the mental or physical health card as a way to avoid something they don’t want to do. As we become increasingly aware of the importance of good mental health as a society, we fold too easily when the card is played.
Don’t get me wrong. Good mental health is essential and I think it’s wonderful that there is more help and support available to us than ever before. But I firmly believe that part of being mentally strong is having the tools to contend with life’s challenges, and not rely on excuses.
As a society, are we really helping our younger generations by taking away these tools? I try to encourage my students to embrace their problems and conquer them. It isn’t easy. I also try to listen to their concerns; after all, society today is very different from when I was busily avoiding handing in assignments. But there’s a lot of work to be done.
An easy first step that parents can adopt with older kids is to try to instill confidence in our children — something that I believe is the foundation for building a healthy mindset. Being strong in their beliefs and sense of self will help them be more resilient and decisive.
Most importantly, I try to give my students hope in a future that might seem a little scary at times. And I hope that the faith I possess as a Catholic allows me to be convincing!