by St Paul's Collegiate School

Are the "good old days" all that they seem? - Chaplain's comment

As a seasoned school chaplain, Revd Peter Rickman has counselled generations of youth on matters both trivial and otherwise. So who better to answer the question, have today's youth really lost touch with traditional values and morals?

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words ... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint".

These words may well resonate with some and you could be forgiven for thinking that they are a quotation of something recently spoken by a person, senior in years, lamenting the loss of an imagined bygone day. However, they were in fact written by a Greek poet by the name of Hesiod in the 8th century BC, over two and a half thousand years ago!

We can ponder much on these words particularly in relation to how long ago they were uttered. Of course, what they suggest is something inherently unique about being a young person regardless of the generation in which you enjoy your youth. They suggest that the experience of those who no longer regard themselves as part of the younger generation is to make such a claim that there is a deterioration in attitude and behaviour of the current generation of young people when contrasted to those years when they themselves were young. In other words, it’s far worse now than it was when I was young. But is it?

When we read the words of the poet do we really believe that the behaviour of today’s young people is any worse than it was 10, 50, 100, 1000 or longer years ago? Or it is simply a case that it is just different for each generation of young people? Rather stoically I believe that the challenges of being young, with all its associated desires for independence, individuality, community, recognition, identity and adventure have not changed all that much over the centuries but the context in which those desires work and play themselves out creates a set of unique challenges for each generation.

To be honest, I do not hear this lamentation for the good old days as much now as perhaps I used to 10 or 20 years ago from older people and of course, now I am myself one of those “older people “. Rather, what I hear now today is a steady affirmation of those for whom the days of youth exist more in the memory than in reality; an affirmation which is one of relief: “I wouldn’t want to be a young person today!”

Our young people today grow up in a world almost unrecognisable from that of 10 or 20 years ago. We are all too well aware of the pressures they face: drug/alcohol culture, social media, rapid technological change, future employment issues and so on. Our young people grow up in a world where climate change presents growing challenge, in a world where some suggest that half the jobs people will be doing in a couple of decades have not yet even been discovered, where complexities of relationships and all the emotional challenges associated with such are played out on small screens, one could go on..... it’s tough being young today, probably as tough as it ever has been when you combine all the emotional, psychological, social and spiritual facets of the life of a teenager in 2019 together.

You might well ask what’s the point of all this? What is the Rev rambling on about! I write to encourage us all to think about three things.

Firstly it is said that each generation creates the world for the next generation to live in. Do not think that today’s young people choose this world as it is....but rather think on the fact that we have made it thus so for them. What we did in the 80s and the 90s has made things as they are today so I believe that creates for us a responsibility which moves beyond a simple critique of today’s young generation. We have to own the world that we have made for our children and consider its impact on them and our current role in that. This could relate to styles of parenting, to levels of support and the placement of boundaries.

Second, the need for good role models and the need for strong, solid, dependable, reliable and appropriate support for our young people is more important now than ever before. This extends to more than just the parents, as Steve Biddulph writes in his international bestselling book “Raising Boys “, we are often called to be support persons for those young people beyond our immediate family. We see this time and time again in the role that sports coaches, housemasters and teachers play in the lives of our students.

Thirdly, we are called to pray. Yes, pray! Let us pray for all young people. Scripture tells us how important young people are to God. Jesus blesses the children and chastises those who would keep them from Him: “to such as these belongs the kingdom of God” we are told.

This is the busy season for the young people of our nation and our school. Life-changing decisions and exams loom before them ...

Let us pray for them ...

Let us support them ...

Let us not blame them for the world in which they live, even if we understand it or not, it’s one we created for them ...

Mā te Ātua koe e tiaki, e manaaki