Geoff Johnson: We need to make sure the next generation doesn't lose faith in the future

The images of otherwise intelligent adolescents ignoring the COVID-19 protocols and partying in large maskless groups is a genuine cause for concern and an indicator that things are not as we would wish them to be for this next generation.

Has adolescence lost its sense of joyful anticipation of the future? Have the kids given up?

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An RBC survey of Canadian youth discovered that the drivers of happiness, which normally include expecting to have a good day and the general feeling of having a good life, are in sharp decline for 14- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 21-year olds.

For kids in that age group, it must sometimes seem as if the adults in charge are betraying not only the planet’s future but their own personal future at every turn.

Images of homeless people living on the streets of every city and a seemingly uncontrolled virus ravaging the economy, the education system and a once-taken-for-granted social life — all this may have replaced everyday optimism about the future.

Raging forest fires that fill the air with smoke are not just fires anymore, but indicators of a coming global catastrophe, according to climate scientists.

Here in Canada, leading political parties seem to spend more time disparaging each other’s credibility than they do creating a hopeful plan for the country’s future.

Even today’s entertainment brings abundant depictions of savage violence and human cruelty, with nobody, by implication, safe from the darker side of human nature.

So to heck with all the doom-saying adults and their predictions of a dystopian future. Who cares about daily news devoid of what feeds the soul — hope, confidence and the anticipation of all things pertaining to a good and happy life.

The next generation could almost be forgiven for thinking maybe it’s time to ignore the adults and their chaos and just party on — to heck with the consequences.

The voices of reason and hope for the future seem to have been overwhelmed by an increasing uncertainty and skepticism about who can be trusted to shape a promising future with achievable goals and the eventual rewards of adulthood.

All this might be overstating the case, you say. Maybe it is. Either that, or it may be time for educators, parents and political leaders to take on the task of convincing the next generation that hope for the future is not a lost cause, just an aberration in human progress, and that, as Stuart Parker, historian and a former leader of the B.C. Green Party, is quoted as saying: “I know how weird things are and how weird they’ve always been. Human beings: you never quite know what they’re going to get up to next.”

Maybe concern about today’s kids losing faith in the future is exaggerated. That would be a comforting thought for us adults, were it not for alarming statistics from the government of Canada that list suicide as the second leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 19.

The leading cause of death in that age group is accidents — itself a troubling statistic that begs further research.

A survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association of 15,000 Grade 7 to 12 students in British Columbia found that 34 per cent knew of someone who had attempted or died by suicide; 16 per cent had seriously considered suicide; 14 per cent had made a suicide plan; seven per cent had made an attempt; and two per cent had required medical attention due to an attempt.

That’s an undeniably harsh reality that clarifies what we adults already know from experience — that adolescence is a time of dramatic change.

So my generation, the “boomers,” must accept that we bear a greater-than-ever responsibility to see to it that this current generation of kids do not lose faith — not just in their future, but more importantly, in us adults.

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools. gfjohnson4@shaw.ca

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