WHAT THE YEAR MIGHT HOLD FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE
by Lon Woodbury
Last January was the time for resolutions and predictions for the upcoming year. So, I gave it a try, but instead of peering into a crystal ball, I worked from some intriguing scientific research as it relates to young people.
Mark J. Penn wrote a book published in 2007 titled: "micro trends: the small forces behind tomorrow's big changes." Using polling data, Penn looks for micro trends that are bubbling in our society which might become very influential in the near future. He looked at 82 groups that are starting to exert an influence on our society, basically groups with at least one percent of the population that might be increasing to become more influential. I picked out those surprising trends he discussed that relate to young people. This might indicate some characteristics we might be seeing more in the future.
Old New Dads: Fathers are becoming increasing older at the birth of their children, with "the proportion of dads over 40 skyrocketing." This will mean that any gathering of parents will become more multi-generational and any generational gap between children and their parents will be even more extreme, at least so far as the difference in age between father and child.
Pampering Parents: Parents have come to believe that while they are strict with their children, most other parents are too permissive. The author concludes that on a strict/permissive scale the whole society has moved drastically to the permissive side and is more "child-centered." Unless there is a reversal of this trend, this suggests children's rights will only increase, with parents blaming "other" parents for not being strict enough.
The Mildly Disordered: The percentage of children with diagnosed disorders is skyrocketing, the author seeing this as partly being driven by affluent parents wanting proof as to why their child is under-performing. A child who 25 years ago might have been seen and treated as "irritable" is now likely to be diagnosed with Sensory Integration Dysfunction. One result will be an increasing number of children who feel they need outside, and perhaps professional and medication, help in order to be "normal." If this trend expands, we will see in the future a decreasing sense of personal independence and responsibility, and an increasing sense of group dependence and responsibility.
High School Moguls: We have talked of the tendency to extend childhood during the last century. During the twentieth century, a child's opportunities to work and make money had been limited to paper routes, baby sitting, lawn care and other low paying, low responsibility jobs. However, largely through the Internet, this is all changing with many teens and even pre-teens creating very successful businesses online. The author estimates about 8 percent of all teens, about 1.6 million young people in the US, were making money on the internet. Contrary to mainstream trends of children remaining dependent for long years, there is this contrary trend of young entrepreneurs coming onto the scene that could change childhood back to where children again have the opportunity to realize their potential as did young people before the 20th century.
Aspiring Snipers: Starting in 2006, polls indicated a small but increasing number of young people with career aspirations to be a sniper/sharpshooter. The author speculates that this might be a beginning trend of respect for the military and law enforcement. It also could be an indication of the desirability to achieve the kind of self control, discipline and patience that is required of a sniper, as opposed to simple bravery in the face of the enemy. He also speculates that it might be a result of interest in shooter video games. If the impulse is to take out the bad guys and develop considerable self-control, then this well might be a good thing if it continues to build.
Vegan Children: The author has data indicating that about 1.5 million children ages 8-18 are vegetarians, something almost unheard of 50 years earlier. He sees this as a beginning trend of children taking on more responsibility for what they eat, with an emphasis on eating more vegetables and less meat. This could well be a trend consistent with greater environmental concerns, and if this trend continues to grow, the changes in our society, and eating habits, and food production could be profound and far reaching.
Social Geeks: As of 2007, technology was changing from something for introverts to something for extroverts. Where technology used to appeal to the brilliant social losers, it is now appealing more to those socially oriented. The computer savvy nerd seems to be disappearing. The Social Media of today is the obvious result of this trend becoming mainstream even since this book was written. All indications are that this will just continue to become even more mainstream.
Video Game Grown-ups: The image of video game players being teens is firmly locked in our consciousness. However, every year the average age of video gamers is increasing-much faster than just the count of years would indicate. The author points out that the average age of gamers was 24 in 2002, but the average age had become 33 by 2006. In just four years, the average age had increased by 9 years. Video gaming will not be just a passing phase for teens, but something they will grow with through the years. It already is being adapted by businesses and the military for training purposes and it seems likely all of us will have to learn at least some basic facility with video gaming.
America's Home Schooled: In just 30 years, home-schooling has gone from illegal in most US jurisdictions to where it is very common and rapidly growing for many different reasons. Homeschooling is not only growing in numbers of students, but it is also expanding to include online courses or degrees, as well as college courses and degrees. It seems to have the potential to totally revise the foundations of our education system as school districts and colleges learn how to adapt to the ability of parents and students to create their own approach to education.
So where does this leave us? Many of the trends are counter to each other, and while some are expanding, others might just be passing fads. However, looking at poll research for the answers gives us more grounded food for thought than just pure speculation.