Earlier this week, I took part in a panel discussion organised by Youth Parliament representatives in Cornwall. Every two years, elections are held to elect six representatives from local schools to represent the views of young people. I have always been supportive of the project because I think it is an excellent way of teaching young people about politics and citizenship and learning to speak in public can be a great confidence boost for those who get involved.
Our most lively discussion concerned the image of young people. By a show of hands every one of the fifty or so young people attending felt there was a problem with the way they were portrayed by the media and that older generations were suspicious, fearful and distrustful of them. There were plenty of anecdotes to reinforce the point. There is not much new about generational conflict. Phrases like, “the youth of today” or “the young ones” are parodied clichés for a reason. However, for some reason the perception of distance between generations seems greater now than it was.
In some ways we have put up new barriers between generations. For instance, changes in the law make it far harder for a small business today to offer a weekend job to a fourteen or fifteen year old than it was just twenty years ago. A few years ago there was controversy about a new electrical device called a “mosquito” which emitted a high pitched noise designed only to be heard by teenagers as an irritating humming sound. It was used by some shops to deter all teenagers from the vicinity. It is difficult to imagine a more anti-social device.
On one level, the commitment by younger people to their community has never been greater. Membership of groups like the cadets is at an all time high and many sports clubs have more interest than they can accommodate. And you only have to look at any mantelpiece to know how much pride parents and grandparents feel for the next generation coming through.
Concerns about opportunities for the next generation are also high on people’s agenda. There is an understanding among many of retirement age that theirs was a generation that had a free university education if they wanted it, found it relatively easy to buy their first home, saw their property go up in value and sometimes enjoyed generous final salary pensions. Meanwhile, the next generation leave university in debt, find it hard to raise the deposit to buy their first house and are soon told they had better start saving for their retirement. However, the unanimous show of hands at last week’s debate showed that the supportive concern many older people feel for the generation leaving school today is clearly not being communicated.
George Eustice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.