We’ve had the ‘silent generation’, ‘baby boomers’, ‘Generation X’ and the Millennials. Each generation has its own characteristics, behaviours and attitudes, developed through the experiences of its formative years And now there’s a new generation, – the Twenty-First Century’s first generation, born after 1996. These are the children and young people we’re working now to educate. And, like each succeeding generation, they’re not the same as “us”.
They’ve been labelled already in a number of ways – Generation Z; The i-Generation; Digital Natives; The Plurals. Eventually a name will stick. But forget for a moment what we might choose to call them. What might their future hold?
Their childhood is happening during a period of economic depression not felt since before the 2nd World War. Their Generation X parents have been absorbing the impact beyond the obvious financial strain; promotion opportunities have been obstructed by Baby Boomers postponing retirement and the rising tide of Millennials are already clamouring for a place at the decision making table. At the moment, this new generation are relatively compliant, but they are growing towards and through adolescence in an atmosphere of mistrust of “the system” – Will they, like the Silent Generation who lived through the Depression, react in a way that spawns the equivalent of the anxt of James Dean? The passion of Martin Luther King? The attitude transforming writing of Germaine Greer? The desire for individualism portrayed by the ‘lonely man’ of the Strand cigarette commercial created by my father?
They are being parented in a very different way from the Millennials. Millennials were generally parented by Baby Boomers. They were taught that there would be prizes for everyone; that it was the welfare of a whole class of children that was important, not necessarily the individual; they were told that they could be anything, do anything – aspiration was all; Today’s young people are being parented by Generation Xers. They are being taught that only the best win; that their personal welfare is more important than their classmates; that they should do their best but be realistic in their aspirations. This is having an effect on the developing mind-set of this new Generation. Research suggests that there is less of an emphasis in school now on the qualities of ‘dependability’ and ‘respect’ (though they are still perceived to be important) and growing recognition of ‘creativity’ and ‘independent thinking’, perhaps as a reaction by teachers to listening to people like Ken Robinson. The increasing popularity of Scouting and The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award suggest that, whilst parents still like to see their children learning to socialise, they are also interested in providing experiences that provide a structure for children to learn for themselves how to succeed. This new generation doesn’t just get given things on a plate. Individuals are being taught to strive; to learn through failure; to find out what they’re good at.
They are growing up in a society that is more diverse than ever. They are more likely than anyone born before them to have friends that come from different social backgrounds, races and faiths. Same-sex partnerships are no longer a taboo and same-sex marriage will soon change the definition of family. Gender roles are blurring. Diversity is mainstream. There may be riots in the future, but they are unlikely to be centred around ethnicity or sexual orientation. But there are massive challenges to face. This is the post 9-11 generation. Islamaphobia is continuing to grow. Extremism finds fertile ground to develop and grow in communities that struggle financially and where there is a high level of unemployment.
Research suggests that girls aged 8 to 15 have greater expectations today than ever before in obtaining a university degree, helping others live a better life and changing the world. They care more about their results at school and getting feedback from parents and teachers to help them do things better. Girls place a higher value than boys on being respectful, ethical and trustworthy, whereas boys favour being loyal and fun to be with. The women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s has created a generation where girl power dominates. As this generation grows up, could it be the first truly to see equality in opportunity and success? Or will boys’ achievement levels continue to fall behind those of girls, leading to a new dynamic and a generation of dissatisfied and angry young men?
This is the most connected generation ever. Will the easy access, even by the youngest of this new generation, to devices that enable fast and continuous communication change the way they learn to communicate? As the Communication Lifestyle spreads and is adopted, will schools and businesses have to change? I think they might. Will this new generation, as adults, see themselves not as global citizens, but simply as connected ones – taking the global bit for granted? I think they might.
Will getting to university continue to be as important as it has been for the last three generations? What will today’s children’s attitude toward higher education be as costs climb and their big brothers and sisters (Millennials) struggle with graduate debt?
As Michael Hais and Morley Winograd wrote recently in a Huffington Post article, “it will take at least another decade, and probably more, before members of this new generation are old enough to begin making their own mark on the society that the Millennial Generation is, itself, just beginning to remake. If they follow the precedent of their Silent Generation forbearers, their childhood and adolescent years will be spent accepting society pretty much as they find it. But, as young adults, they are likely to lead a revolt against too much conformity, first in popular culture, and later in how the country respects the rights of each individual, regardless of their background. Inevitably, they will remake the society Millennials will have created as we witness yet another generational shift in our attitudes and beliefs.”
What goes around comes around.