By Mary Bolinbroke for Occupy London
We live in a society that has spent many decades establishing a culture of pressures and materialistic milestones to push our kids into their future. Democracy built around corporations has neatly set up guidelines for our lives. Young people are now taught that there is only one route that may be taken in order to gain fulfilment in life. You must get a degree, get married, get a car, get a mortgage, and get yourself a spot in a monopoly.
Forcing children into this mindset starts very early on. Asking a child aged 4 what they want to be when they grow up seems innocent, after all aren’t we just teaching them the concept of abstract thought and drawing out their dreams? Probably not. This could be the case if our system was flexible, allowing people too frequently change their paths and aspirations to fit the current climate, but flexible it is not.
We teach our children that the best way forward is to pick your career as early as possible, tailoring all your choices to reach that goal from then on. If a child is lucky enough to have parents who don’t dwell on their once dreamed of life as a vet or astrophysicist, they can look forward to the tremendous pressures following in adolescence.
In the UK, teenagers will most commonly be asked to consider degrees, universities, careers, and salaries from the age of around 14 or 15. At my school in Scotland, these discussions with our guidance teacher started when we had to start picking our own subjects, from an initial choice of 8 whittling these down to only 3 over 3 years. I was 13 when I selected my 8 courses. At this point I was set on becoming a neurosurgeon. I can look back and laugh now, but that was only 7 years ago, and it’s jarring how dramatically my world views and goals have changed.
It’s important to take note of recent findings on adolescent brains; teenage brains are malleable, ever-developing, and highly susceptible to stress. Instead of encouragement and confidence, teenagers are handed fear and intimidation. Pressure is put on students to get good grades and pick a career lest your future be doomed. The focus is set almost entirely on picking something with guaranteed job prospects and income. But, honestly, what teenager has the ability to predict job markets nearly a decade into the future? The world is changing too rapidly for expectations like these to be maintained.
As if worrying about academic success and future job applications wasn’t bad enough, today’s teenagers must now consider massive post-degree debt, plummeting job prospects, rent prices, climate change, austerity, future wars, and humiliation from our elders. This plight is only worse for disabled young people facing the threat of having their personal independence payment cut, and young people worrying about going hungry or sleeping rough. We are entering our adult life feeling scared and ostracised.
Scaring kids into submission simply isn’t productive anymore. The qualities that may have been deemed desirable in previous generations are outdated; computers are filling the factory jobs where obedience and conformity suit employees, and the continuation of backwards, capitalistic policies are reliant on these qualities. Young people must be taught to think outside the box, but, instead of building higher order thinking skills, the system is fundamentally denying them the tools to do so. The importance of lateral thinking, critical thinking, and assimilation skills are barely – and often never – touched on.
We are stuck in a place of massive pressure, simultaneously expected to thrive and establish ourselves while being given absolutely no opportunity to do so. We are taught that the only way to get by is to adhere to a system that gives us absolutely nothing in return. This creates huge competition between young people, who must fight one another for jobs and places to live. The competition is also rigged; winners are always the most privileged – by wealth, gender, or otherwise – and so the class system is held firmly in place. This is where I strongly feel that the Occupy movement ideology offers an explanation and a solution. The power of the 1% needs to be reclaimed by the 99% in order to move past this broken, fixed system. It’s a solution that can appeal to and help every young person.
For many young people today, it seems obvious that we are being thoroughly violated in every aspect of our society. From childhood through to adulthood, we are forced through a model setting us up for a life of fear, debt, and alienation. But still, nobody but us is willing to admit it. Our experiences are reflected absolutely nowhere in mainstream media and nobody from the generations before us are willing to stand behind us. What kind of message are they trying to send?
The lack of representation only inspires self doubt and more fear. Young people must be told that the anxieties they feel are warranted. We must also recognise the value of our collective voice. Despite what your elders tell you, change will only come as the result of civil disobedience. Why do they say we’re kicking up a fuss as if it’s a bad thing?
The first step for us is learning to say no, and speaking out against injustices we see. Young people who can work an unpaid internship and still afford food and accommodation must start saying no, and they must start shaming the companies offering these positions. It’s vital that wealthy corporations see that we aren’t willing to offer up our time and effort for nothing in return. Integrity is key in inspiring change.
We must also work hard to seek out the alternatives to the system and support these alternatives. Support alternative media, support alternative learning, support alternative life paths. Society teaches us that we will take what is handed to us but this needs to end. We don’t deserve to be fed biased media and constant lies.
As young people we are lucky to be versed in social media and internet activism. We have a free international platform to speak out on and this is perhaps our greatest asset. Make your message heard and spread your knowledge to others. The Occupy movement is a fantastic example of the effect internet campaigns can have on people’s desire to assemble – on a global scale. Look at all the young people around the world identifying themselves as the 99% just because of social media!
Finally what we as young people must focus on is our worth. We are the present and the future, our skills and minds are endlessly valuable to this world. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. Trust yourself, support yourself, and never lose your integrity.