What I Learned About Global Youth after A Decade of Research

What I Learned About Global Youth after A Decade of Research

One ah ha moment was that realization that ageism is at play in academic circles. After most of the academics who read drafts of the book said many books were written about youth activism and cited books that didn’t focus on youth at all, I realized that a blind spot or bias was at play. This phenomenon is the same as sexism that kept scholars of both sexes from focusing on women’s contributions, until feminists pointed it out in the second wave of the woman’s movement. I wrote my dissertation on the religious ideas of the 19th century novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her novels clearly focus on the saving grace of virtuous women but no one had discussed due to the sexist blind spot. Even books describing the bias against young people don’t include their actual voices, just like history books included few women’s or people of color’s voices.

Some developmentalists disagree with generational scholars who think there are distinctive differences shaped by different historical events. It’s true that all adolescents face the task of shaping their adult identity and values, but young people shaped by access to ICT are different than previous generations. For example, Baby Boomers said don’t trust people over 30, while Gen Y and Gen Z value their parents because they are cynical about other authorities, political and religious. They have access to news about scandals concerning politicians and religious leaders, transferring respect for elders to ones they know. Youth are also more egalitarian than previous generations, raised on media coverage of successful women and people of color. Marshall Mckuan is correct that the characteristics of the media we imbibe influence us as well as the information it conveys. Not only does the speed of communication make them impatient with old ways of doing things, but it connects them to each other in a global youth support group for change.

A surprise for me was how similar media-connected educated are globally. We could construct a profile of a young person in any urban area wearing jeans and T-shirt, listening to hip-hop on headphones, texting on smart phone, disgusted with local authorities, informed about global problems. They’re created “glocal” or hybrid cultures, such as hip-hop songs in local languages and youth slang combining various languages and abbreviations. In contrast, young people in rural areas in developing countries where over 80% of youth live are raised more traditionally, often poorly educated and not aware of global issues. I’m thinking of children I interviewed in rural Indonesia and Pakistan who don’t know about climate change. If Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg succeeds in his goal to provide Internet access to everyone, rural areas will have access to global information sources that provide the foundation for changemakers.

Regional differences do occur, of course. Thinking of repeated phrases used by activists specific to regions:

MENA and other Islamic countries: Allahu Akbar (God is Great), and Insha’ Allah (God willing), indicating the region with the most focus on religion.

North America: “We’re the 99%,” indicating the focus on economic inequality.

Europe: “it’s the system,” an attack on neoliberal capitalism.

Latin America: Horizontallsm and we’re creating a new human in a new society.

Russia: Putin is a tiger. (A positive for some, a negative for activists.)

China: Human rights

Africa: African solutions for African problems.


We all know that our main problem is our planet is in jeopardy because of “climate weirdness” and the increasing carbon and methane emissions. A UN survey reported that young people didn’t make the connection that their lifestyle has to change in order to save the planet. This means not using fossil fuels and not eating meat that’s responsible for 70% of agricultural emissions and over a third of methane gases. We’ve seen that educated SpeakOut youth are altruistic and informed. Will they be able to transform the revolution of rising expectations to consuming less and acting locally? Please email gkimball@csuchico.edu to share your observations about how Gen Y and Z will shape our future.


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