Sunday, April 3, 2011
Here's To Our Future!
Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
You can never get enough of what you don't really want.
Larry Coffer, The 11th Hour (2007)
In honor of my students who officially start their (and my) Spring Break tomorrow, I would like to dedicate this post to the 18-29 year-old-age-group (give or take a few years on either side) which many Western psychologists have now termed "extended adolescence." The past few years (and decades) have been quite a challenge for young Americans emerging into adulthood. As technology shifts and morphs constantly, our young people tirelessly communicate with each other with texts, posts and status updates. Like a farret on a double espresso, their necks are on a swivel keeping up with multiple screens that continuously message them with corporate advertising, TV shows, music videos, movies and YouTube clips. Catering to their emotions, these various media soothe, satiate and subtly sell: Buy this! Look like that! Say this! Do that!
Meanwhile, our young people (in addition to our adults) are easily convinced by the Powers-That-Be that, in order to compete with each other, they need to pad their college applications and job resumes with harder classes, more degrees, extracurricular participation, leadership titles and a plethora of volunteer & job experiences. These resume-builders equate to more hoops to jump through, filling up their already bloated schedules. Relationships are now "connections" to power and status so that they can get into a better school so that they can get a better job so that they can buy a bigger house and go on longer vacations and buy clothes that are in style so that they can be with the "in crowd" so that they can get married to the right person so that they can start a family in a safe, family-friendly community with chic restaurants, hip grocery stores, youth sports programs and good schools. This is what the American Dream has become.
This social pressure begins to accelerate as our young people begin high school and are confronted with more AP classes, standardized tests and extracurricular activities than I ever dreamed of growing up in the late-80s/early-90s (let alone my parents in the late-50s/early-60s). When it's time to apply for colleges, our young people are far-too-often finding that their steroided schedule was not quite enough for their top-tier schools of choice. Our California public universities, still the pride of the world, are being methodically severed by state budget cuts. Fewer in-state students are being accepted as classes are placed on the chopping block and tuition undergoes double-digit increases each year. And when our top public universities are cut, the drain trickles down to state schools and community colleges, denying thousands of lower income and average students the opportunity for a higher education and access to more jobs in adulthood. In recent years, this scenario has certainly helped military recruiters meet their goals for the first time since Vietnam.
And after 5 or 6 years, they finally get their degree (with a lot of effort, perseverance and luck) and now find that employers have cut hiring recent college grads by 22% in the past year. They move back home or go into more debt (or both) so that they can pay off their college loans and buy the products and experiences that Corporate America entices them with.
More and more, I'm hearing young people occasionally stop and question what all this is about. They wonder (sometimes out loud), "What am I doing all of this for? Because my friends are doing it? Because my parents expect me to do it? Because I don't know what else to do?" Sometimes they are courageously debunking (or at least tweaking) these counterfeit assumptions and expectations. Some are bailing out on the whole American Dream thing altogether. Unfortunately, some are driving right into false cul-de-sacs like relativism, hedonism, apathy and severe cynicism. Who can blame them?
A lot of young people are discovering that adults are no longer looking out for them. Parents are distracted and chronically anxious about unpaid bills and unmet relational needs. Resiliently, our youth turn to peers and media outlets to find comfort and meaning. Meanwhile, our young people are suffering an epidemic of ADD, ADHD and autism which are all being more seriously considered and confronted by courageous doctors as developmental issues (lack of nurture) instead of genetic diseases (skewed nature). This, of course, is a sensitive, nuanced and complex debate among medical and psychology experts, but there's no doubt that young people desperately need more attachment to caring adults, less stress and less fragmentation. But alas, more complex bio-psycho-social understandings of these problems do not promote profit for drug companies.
Political leaders (at all levels) are sidelining young people to take care of the needs of those who actually vote and contribute: corporations and the elderly. When I was a teenager two decades ago, we had safer food, water, roads and more affordable housing, health care and education. We weren't mired in a "War on Terror" and we had appropriate financial regulation to stave off predatory banks and lending agencies. No more. And we wonder why our young people are becoming more and more alienated from the voting booth.
In 21st century America, the Body of Christ is called to advocate for our young people by building loving and dignifying relationships with them and by lobbying for public policies that protect them and give them opportunities to learn, mature and maintain loving relationships. We can find more time to listen to them and play with them and encourage them. We can creatively model lifestyle patterns that apocalyptically unveil and reject the strategies of corporate advertising. We can practice a sabbath economics that simplifies schedules, silences cell phones and scissors credit cards.
And we can utterly refuse to vote for (and contribute to) political leaders who campaign on "family values," but then legislate for corporations who pour millions into their campaign chests. We can sermonize and status update over and over and over again that, in the midst of grueling national and state budget deficits, we should prioritize the plight of the future: our young people. To do this, we will have to get more seriously creative with our public finances, calling upon the "haves" to invest in our young people who are finding themselves having less of what really matters. National and state budgets should never be balanced on the backs of our most vulnerable.