Why Youth Are Devalued in American Culture

Posted on November 20, 2010


I’ve been working with youth in various capacities for about 20 years. Throughout that time, it has baffled me why our culture has neglected to see youth & children of the highest importance and value. After years of this–what I’ll call a “cultural incongruity “–I would like to journal some of the reasons why I believe this is.

1. Proximity. This article in the Guardian has this statement:

A study for the Department for Education shows that the less contact people have with young people, the more negative their perceptions are. Similarly, a study this year by the Metropolitan police reveals that adults grossly overestimate the number of young people involved in violent crime: a quarter of respondents thought up to half of teens are involved; the Met’s figure is just 1%.

Simply put, we do not spend time with young people. Is this because of our busyness? Is this simply because of our economic realities? The problem is much deeper. Time and proximity are insufficient reasons for they are merely symptoms of the problem.

2. Youth violate the adult (and American) penchant for immediate results. Youth work, by its very nature, is long-term. I consider our American culture impatient and anxious for great things to happen (to us) and within a not-so-reasonable amount of time. In addition, we lack vision–the kind of vision that can see great results down through a long period of time.

3. Youth work is fundamentally self-sacrifice. We are individualistic and narcissistic. We do not think generationally anymore, we only think of ourselves. The fact that youth and children are dismissed is not because there are more important generations to tend to, but because we believe there are more important generations to tend to…namely our own. We fail to see how caring for others is to care for ourselves.

4. Our views and understanding of youth are wrong. Some believe youth are merely “delinquent,” and only troublesome. Others believe youth are “resilient” and can “tough it up,” through hard times and that neglect and abuse teaches them good lessons. Still others will say that “catering” to kids “spoils them.” None of these are accurate. We need a reformed view of youth and children in the conscious of our culture as (I can’t believe I’m saying this), as human beings first and foremost. Not only are we horrible at self-sacrifice, we are perhaps even worse at self-reflection. This inability to view ourselves appropriately, and then to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” does damage to our children and compromises the integrity of our existence.

Are there others? I’d love to hear…

Posted in: Culture