The 4.5+ billion year old blue marble that we all call home is quite young, depending on how you look at things. 1/3 of the US population, and 40% of the globe’s, is under the age of 25. There are about 40 countries in which 60% or more of the population is under 25, and 13 countries in which the median age is under 18. It must be admitted that by sheer numbers, the young are an incredibly important part of the population. That doesn’t make things easy for them though.
At the global level, 1/6 of adolescents are not in school, and more than 50 countries report that 20% or more of their population aged 15-24 are neither employed, nor in education or training programs that could help them find a job later on. The global youth unemployment rate for youth, including young adults, is three times that of other adults.
While much of global culture celebrate the immaturity of the rich or famous and fosters a cult of trying to stay young, how often do we actually prioritize the urgent situations facing youth? Instead, the attitudes that the young face from their elders frequently include suspicion, dismissiveness, and jealousy.
At the same time, major entertainment companies court young people as both consumers and powerful trendsetters, in a form of exploitation disguised as appreciation. For the most part, children and youths are too often only welcome to participate in society at large if they have mastered the performance of adulthood. Otherwise, they should stick to places specifically for children or risk punishment for failure to conform to adult expectations.
I confess to being part of the problem. When I am teaching and have 30 adolescents in front of me, I am fine with a bit of fun as long as it is on my terms. However, as soon as my agenda for the class period seems endangered, I absolutely want adult behavior. This may not be entirely wrong, as adolescents need opportunities to learn and practice what it means to be an adult, but it is also not entirely right.
Tragically, intolerance of youth is on full display in many Catholic parishes. I’ve seen parishioners glare at or even scold parents who dared to bring young children to Mass. I’ve seen so-called young adult Masses discontinued after they failed to attract young adults because they never really tried to. On the other hand, I’ve also seen individual parish communities that have been extremely warm and welcoming of young children, and I’ve seen some Masses—usually not in a parish setting—that enthuse young adults with music and preaching that truly speaks to them.
Forget about sentimentally treasuring young people; they need to be respected and integrated in ways that honor their gifts and their worth. Too often though, instead of encouraging them to be something today, we encourage the young to work hard so that they will be prepared to become something later on. This sends the message that their value lies in their future adulthood, i.e. once they become like the rest of us.
This month, the Catholic Church is convoking a Synod of Bishops on the topic of “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment”. I am excited that the topic of youth is being treated seriously, and I am encouraged by Pope Francis’ call for the religious leaders present to maintain an attitude of listening rather than lecturing. I am unfortunately skeptical of how many bishops will be able to maintain this stance, especially since the young adults invited to attend have a voice in the proceedings but no vote in the contents of the final document. None of the women participants, young or old, are allowed to vote either, as that privilege is reserved for the bishops present, and 10 superiors general from male orders, including our very own Ernesto Sanchez of the Marist Brothers.
I am very glad that Ernesto is present, because he is a fine person to represent the important Marist contribution to this topic. From a strictly theological perspective though, there is no qualification he has that a superior general of a women’s congregation does not. A Church that is trying to shake a reputation for sexism is foolish to exclude women needlessly. If it is true that young people in particular desire authenticity and are repulsed by hypocrisy, how does this error flavor the experience of the non-voting youth participants, some of whom themselves are women?
At a certain level, I think we all generally do the best we can, and maybe I am being too critical (again). Perhaps there are complex justifications for apparent hypocrisies that I simply don’t see. Or perhaps, the young people in our midst can use their gifts to show us where grace and truth lie in what the rest of us might dismiss as simplifications.
The “ear candy” and “brain food” for this week are closely linked to each other and to this blog post as they both reflect on different aspects of youth and intergenerational dialogue. The song from The White Stripes, is a sentimental depiction of childhood friendship in a setting that not everybody is privileged enough to enjoy. The article from the website Odyssey explains itself in the title. I may not agree with all its points, but I don’t have to.
Ear Candy: “We’re Going to Be Friends” by The White Stripes
Brain Food: “5 Things Older Generations Can Learn from Generation Z” by Melissa Flowerdew