I’ve just come back from a round-the-world series of meetings and presentations in countries like Canada, India, Japan, China and Australia. If we look for them, there are good reasons to feel hopeful about this next generation.
—The President of Toyota is actually having to go out of his way to promote car buying to the next generation. Seems there is globally diminishing interest by young people in owning cars. No longer is there a need to impress your date with a ride in a car. Public transit is improving, and less money means young adults just aren’t putting all that much value on car ownership. That’s good news for the planet, great news for advocates of public transit, and perhaps a kick in the pants for leaders of industry to stop hawking old technology and start thinking about what the next generation of families will want and need. Smaller electric vehicles? Better investment in community infrastructure? Better designed, higher density communities? Change is in the air.
—This year’s winner of the young designer award in Australia is a 16-year-old who created a beautifully hip gown made from the tabs of pop cans. For this next generation, there appear to be few limits on their creativity, or sensitivity to issues like recycling. If their parents and grandparents have left them the mess of smog choked cities in China, and diminishing ice caps in the Artic, nice to know there are young people who are thinking about the entire product production chain in more responsible ways.
—In Calgary, Canada, a pilot initiative called S4 has just gone citywide. As part of a plan to make Calgary the safest city in Canada, the police are working closely with school boards to put police officers in full uniform in elementary schools as educators to teach topics like how to be a good citizen and how to keep yourself safe. This next generation is much more likely to see the police as people to rely on and as approachable. That will help to bring down rates of abuse as children are more likely to disclose if they feel they can trust the people in positions to help them. I’m encouraged by what I see. Young people are being engaged as part of their communities and taking up the offer to help themselves and others.
—In Japan, children in the Tsunami affected area have returned to school and are devoting themselves to their studies. Actually, many appear to be studying harder than ever as they cope with the aftermath of the destruction and try to bring their lives back to normal, or make their futures even better than before the tragic devastation of their families and communities. When I see that kind of spirit, I can’t but be optimistic. Young people, when given the supports they need to overcome adversity, will accept our offers of help.
—A recent study in Canada is showing that children who attend full-day kindergarten have better social skills and better vocabulary than children who remain at home. I guess smaller families, and stressed parents don’t make for the best environments for our children to grow up in. I’m instilled with hope when I see large jurisdictions like the province of Ontario moving towards programs that meet children’s needs. A generation from now our high school drop out rates will be lower, and our prisons emptying. That’s a pretty safe bet.
—The French Senate recently voted to ban child beauty pageants. Good-bye Honey Boo Boo, or at least the sexualizing of children. Combine such initiatives with a greater emphasis on women in science and the slowly changing culture that made women second class citizens, and maybe the world will be a more fair place for our children. Women in Saudi Arabia (in very small numbers) went out driving in October to protest their not being allowed behind the wheel. Afghani girls are going to school more than ever before. And indigenous women are becoming a powerful voice as leaders in their communities around the world. In India, finally, rape is being discussed as a crime. We have a long way to go before there’s gender equality, but at least this next generation of our daughters is going to be raised in a world where questions are being asked and archaic practices challenged.
Have I made my case? Yes, I know that Grand Theft Auto just sold a record number of units. And yes, there are still child soldiers and children who are living in stinking poverty, even in my own country. But if we look for it, there is change-a-comin’.
But it will take the efforts of adults to continue the changes that have been begun. Otherwise we will keep reading, as I did this week in the international press, that the United States is still debating whether to invest more in early childhood development. Are over-flowing prisons and rates of literacy lower than other developed countries not evidence enough to get with the program and give kids, especially vulnerable kids, what they need to do well early in life? Health care too. Reading about all the convoluted rules and pricing for health care, and the terrible tragedy of millions not being fully covered, makes me sigh with relief when I’m in other countries like Canada, Australia and England. Pay taxes and get free health care. Pretty much unlimited. And for a fraction of the cost spent by Americans. Plain and simple. This next generation may at least get a better American health care system, but I worry it won’t be up to the standards of accessibility enjoyed by many others around the world.
Will we adults follow their lead and grant them these reasonable requests? There’s few reasons not to. The more I let myself be inspired by young people, the better my life will be as well. Try choking down Beijing or Delhi's smog for a day and you’ll quickly look to the kids for solutions that us elders have failed to find.