For several years now, I have been in a position to see the poor decision making skills displayed by the 20-something generation. Some people make a poor decision and then correct and move to a better place, never to make the same mistake again. These people learn from their mistakes or believe the research and trust what it says. However, what I see more often is, bad decision making, suffer through the outcome, and then make the same or a worse decision in the near future.
For instance, it has been scientifically proven that cigarette smoking is directly linked to several types of cancer and that secondhand smoke is problematic for children. The tobacco industry had been sued and cigarettes contain a warning. Well, they contained a warning when I was a teen. In spite of these facts, everywhere I go, I see 20-somethings lighting up as though they have discovered a secret potion. Would the shows Intervention and Addiction be on TV if the younger generation would just believe the older generation, history, and research. No matter your wishes, you are likely not going to be the exception. You will be the rule, which keeps the cycle going.
What about pregnancy before understanding who you are, what you want out of life, and doing the work that it takes to get to a better place. How many 20-somethings become pregnant with a partner they don’t even know? They are so young and inexperienced they don’t even know the questions to ask in order to get to know their partner. Many people have had children at a young age and most say, given another opportunity, they would not have a child so early in life. But the 20-something generation cannot just believe hisory. They must have unprotected sex, get pregnant, and then cry and rage about how tough life is. Then, they have the 2nd, 3rd, 4th child. Some observers will say multiple pregnancies by this generation is due to the system put in place by the government that encourages the behavior. To a small extent, I agree that the government does little to discourage it. Well, there is the deterent of dealing with the government in general but, I would guess that after a few go rounds, one can get used to it.
I believe that prenancy by the younger generation is grounded in the beliefs that it won’t happen to me, we love each other, or it’s no big deal. When it happens, it is a huge deal because love does not pay the bills or put food on the table. I have also heard 20-somethings say how easy raising a child looked when they observed others. Notice that it is through observation that they come to a conclusion, not through dialog.
I believe that one reason the 20-something generation starts smoking, does drugs, drinks, has unprotected sex, etc., is due to a culture that has shifted to support a lack of personal responsibility. For every item that I have mentioned, I have heard people say, it’s not my fault because so and so made me do it or I just didn’t know. Both statements hold no credibly with me. No one can make you smoke a cigarette or try drugs. During consensual sex, no one forces you and you know the possible consequences of unprotected sex. If one does not know, the Internet is available. But, saying no, standing up to peer pressure, or having a belief system that is stronger than dust takes work. However, blaming others or claiming a lack of knowledge encourages pity from those around you and allows for repetitive poor decision making.
We, as a culture, tend to look at the actions of others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Why? Calling others out for poor decision making or a total lack of decision making means that we become vulnerable. We open ourselves up for that person to lash out at us. I feel as a contribution to society as a whole we have to push beyond the anger of a 20-something. If a little bit of the lecture gets through, it is worth it.
As parents, friends, and relatives I feel we are not as vocal as we should be about how expensive children are, how much time they require, and how needy they are. Just writing those words made me feel like a bad person because our culture does not encourage us to say these things, even if they are true. These truths should not be said out loud. We definitely cannot say these things to our children because we might make them feel we don’t love them. We must get past these feelings and sigmas and say it out loud, not to our peers (they already know) but to the younger generation who needs the information.
Take the time to talk about the financial sacrifices, the emotional sacrifices, and all of the things that happen behind the scenes when a child is born and in each of the subsequent years. Talk about the ways relationships shift if they were not solid before the child. Talk about how even a solid relationship can shift. To have these conversations with the younger generation means that we have to be ok internally because we must tell the truth. Not being honest or telling only part of the story hinders the younger generations chances of making good decisions. Even if the story is not a good one, they need to hear it. The ability to have these conversations will prove to the younger generation how much we really do love them. Life should not be a game of hide and seek but an ongoing conversation of disclosure. These are not lectures but age appropriate conversations.
My final point is that parents and schools can only do so much. I believe that helping the younger generation make better short and long term decisions requires contributions from the village. We all have families and friends who have children. We also attend social events where children are present. Form a relationship with these children. Talk to them about both good and bad decisions that you have made. Focus clearly on the outcomes of those decisions. Take time to talk about your life. How did you get to where you are today. I can hear you saying that you don’t have time for this. This activity does not have to be a long lecture. It can be a two minute chat. Kids listen and they think adults are super smart. A quick conversation with a child today can have a major impact when the child is at a crossroad in the future.