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3/4/2012 - France – PE: A look at today’s young French people

Nowadays people talk about a crisis. But they have been doing so for over forty years. A crisis which persists is not a  crisis but a change. The picture presented by  Fr Jean-Marie Petitclerc requires something to be done immediately.

All the writers, sociologists and journalists are convinced of it: Youth with a capital “Y” does not exist. “Youth is only a word,” declares Pierre Bourdieu in his “Questions of sociology,” It is a deceptive word: it functions like a holdall, useful but misleading.

Young people are very different one from the other, and the big danger is to speak about Youth on the basis of those we meet. Nowadays this is a danger especially for the Church in France. It has a tendency to speak about Youth on the basis of the young  people who took part in WYD in Madrid. But a sociological survey carried out by the weekly La Vie (Life), shows that on that occasion it was essentially a question of young people coming from positive backgrounds, in which the majority form part of that small minority who regularly go to Mass. These young people are very far from being representative of the Youth of France!

Young people are very different one from another … but they do have in common the fact of living through the stage between childhood and adulthood, in the context of our society today. Nowadays people talk about a crisis. But they have been doing so for over forty years. A crisis which persists is not a  crisis but a change. To live as a young person in such a context is not easy. It is not the young people who are being changed dramatically, but the context in which they are living, and the way in which adults are accompanying them.

The prime role of the affective over the  institutional
What can work nowadays are the small groups of  4 or 5 – because in these groups what is different is hidden, and one’s own personal identity (the “me”…) is strengthened) – whether the total masses are of 1,000, 2,000, 10,000... people. Then all that is needed is to put at the centre a good conductor, and the warm sense of togetherness spreads among the 10,000 “just me”  as they all ‘sing from the same hymn-sheet.’  Groups of 15-30 on the other hand, in which it is necessary to face up to being different from the others, to share out the roles, create a situation in which it is more difficult to cope.
This primacy of the affective dimension makes it difficult for today’s young person to recognise the positive role of different institutions.
In addition, the relationship with authority is always less according to the book: authority which is linked to a formal role is nowadays challenged by many young people; it is always more of a matter of relationships, linked to the adult/young person rapport.

The prime role of the culture of “young people together” over that of bridging the generation gap
A big problem for young people nowadays is that they all move around in three areas: the family, the school and the “town” (the  suburbs, the outskirts, the working-class district), each of which has its own culture. The culture of the family is full of background traditions; the culture of the school is one with a republican tradition; and the culture of the “town,” becomes essentially a culture of being  “among equals,”  in other words it is a culture of “young people together,” since adults have to some extent abandoned centre stage.
One big change that is continuing nowadays is the fact that this culture “among equals” is tending to become much stronger. It tends to intrude into the school (especially when the school is situated in the centre of the “town,” or the district) and to push the family to the side-lines. At the very least parents find it very difficult to manage their families in their own homes, and they are always less comfortable in interfering in other aspects of their children’s lives, feeling so out of their depth with the codes of communication being used, so different from their own.
The development of internet encourages this sort of primacy. Young people may be physically in the family circle but mentally can remain in the world of being “among their equals,” with whom they never stop communicating thanks to social networks (twitter, face book…).
Closed  in their own world and language, young people find it even more difficult to integrate with the world of work. The biggest stumbling block faced by the young nowadays in taking their place in the world of work consists sometimes more in the gap that exists between the sort of attitudes represented by the town, the district, and those expected on the job rather than in the lack of qualifications.

The prime role of the instant over the long-term
The main reason for the malaise of  French youth lies in the negative way adults look at the future. This atmosphere creates among French  youth a crisis of confidence in the future, which has a great impact on their attitude towards the present. We are witnessing in them the development of attitudes of the here and now, of “everything at once” which is a feature of many things adolescents say and do, and which can lead to violence.
A society which does not let an important section of its own young people see themselves as having any  future is in a certain sense a society creating delinquency!
This loss of confidence in the future is also synonymous with an increase in  depression which is the most frequent illness encountered among today’s adolescents. The problem of suicide has become a cause of great worry in France, which is one of the five western countries with the highest suicide rate, particularly among the young.
This problem of suicide among the young is becoming a crucial one; a good number of adolescents, even though they may not act on it, have thought about committing suicide. A survey carried out by INSERM (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) among the population aged between 15 and 19 years of age has shown that more than 10% of the adolescents questioned had had thoughts about committing suicide.

This is the moral state of French youth; there is an urgent need to take the right steps to deal with the problem.

Jean-Marie Petitclerc SDB

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