The Youth Factor

We have witnessed over the years the influence and impact the Youth has on our societies.  Flashback to 1976 in South Africa, the day the Youth stood up and expressed their total disregard for the schooling system and segregation that has crippled the country for decades.  Their act of resistance has gone down in history as a tipping point towards liberating the country from oppression. North of our borders the Arab Spring give birth to the rise and power of social media to help mobilise people to act in accordance of their belief and conviction. “Darkness cannot drive out hate; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Youth Factor as we have seen is a crucial element in the fabric of our society.  Whether it is for the cause of liberation struggle, their brand influence, free education ideals, mass demonstrations and active participation in the political and economic landscape.  Nations who have underestimated the importance of the Youth as a primary stakeholder has felt their game-changing influence in unprecedented consequences.  The Youth today as with the Youth of generations before them have had the ability to determine the path so many civilisations will undertake. 

Sunday Times annually conduct surveys with their Next Generation Youth focus; to determine which products the Youth deemed to be the coolest.  It is across all sectors of the economy, banking, television programmes, sporting icons and favourite clothing brand, just to name a few.  The brands that are mentioned in these studies take the findings serious because they know how important this sector of the market is.  They are current and future users and buyers of their products.  It’s important to secure brand loyalty from early on in the journey and secure their support for years to come. Loyalty can’t be bought; it is earned and obtained by those brands that deserve it.  The Youth are more than trendsetters, they determine what is cool, hip, acceptable and worth their attention and data.

Some of the challenges the Youth are faced with daily are different to generations before them.  There is a greater sense of social pressure as a result of the changes, which has transpired in our country.  The media is overloaded with articles and news about Youth unemployment.  A staggering 50.4% of the national unemployment rate of 26.5% is made up by the Youth of our country; whether graduated or not.  This is according to “trading” who has been tracking the unemployment rate over the past few years. 

More so, are challenges such as bullying, which includes both traditional and the surge of cyber-bullying, discrimination and teenage pregnancy. We have also witnessed an increase in young people being infected with HIV.  Although there are facilities and resources available to the youngsters, they fear the stigma, which has unfortunately been associated with the pandemic.

How do you stimulate a young mind and keep them engaged and active?  Education as we all know is an important ingredient to develop, stimulate, inspire and grow a young hungry mind.  The South African landscape is faced with the challenges of past imbalances and those imbalances unfortunately have a negative impact on the narrative of the Youth.  There has been progressed in some areas of our society, but not at the ideal levels to ensure our Youth are given a blank canvas with equal opportunities for all. “Students should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today.” – Alfie Kohn

Our Youth’s worldview is influenced by the presence and stature of leaders and senior people in their communities which they respect.  The more positive the role-model the more favourable the behaviour of our future leaders will be to ensure the betterment of all people. “This world demands the qualities of Youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” — Robert Kennedy.

Who is responsible for shaping the attitudes, behaviour, aspirations, goals and ideals of the Youth?  Is it their parents?  What about their teachers, religious leaders and family members?  What role does their immediate community play in their development?  Infact, it is not one or the other but all of them combined.  Positive influence will deliver lasting, constructive and desirable results, which will benefit society and all its people at large.

Education is an important enabler and empowerment discipline.  The Youth understands its value and importance, but accessibility and affordability have been identified as obstacles for further development of the majority of our young minds.  It is an area, which has received dedicated attention by the South African government, but as we know with most interventions, there is room for improvement.

An important personality trait or quality to have is ownership.  The sooner the Youth understand, appreciate and acknowledge the importance of ownership, potential outcome is a generation that is more inclined to find solutions and minimise the blame factor.  Ownership also outweighs assumptions, insecurities, uncertainties and lack of direction.  It’s a characteristic, which is crucial for the Youth to have in order to make a difference and ensure meaningful change in the manner our communities operate and function. Leaders are known to take ownership and make things happen.  It’s also a good breeding ground for entrepreneurs to possess when they enter the world of the unknown, where there are no guarantees only perceived possibilities and opportunities. This will ensure that we are moving towards a more sustainable economy less dependent on government to provide.

Born Free Generation; so much hope, focus, pressure and emphasis has been placed on this generation-segment of our society.  They were born after 1994 and the consensus was that they will be able to navigate our country towards greater prosperity minus all the baggage and unresolved issues.  These youngsters are the products of the previous generations who have been affected, impacted and influenced by the unfortunate and inhumane regime.  Their worldview and reference will have some level of what happened previously and so alter their wellbeing and state of mind.  We are a nation of storytelling and sharing of what happened in the past.  All these stories will influence how the “Born Free’s” are able to adjust and adapt to society, how they view and experience it as hungry future leaders.  How does one than protect these youngsters against the past evils and imbalances?  There is no blue-print or quick fix.  But we can positively influence the young people in our immediate surroundings to not make the same mistakes, respect and embrace diversity and strive towards the betterment of all people as a part of their journey within our communities and families.

All they ask for, is to be heard and allowed to make decisions independently as individuals…in order to contribute to the collective!