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Beyond Y: The experiences of youth in the 21st century


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The popular tendency to label whole generations and define subgroups within them became current in the latter half of the twentieth century. As young people attained a growing importance as consumers of goods and educational services, the attentions of sociologists and psychologists, educators and advertisers intensified. For many people, Bodgies and Widgies, Mods and Rockers, Hippies and Punks of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s respectively, often symbolised troublesome/delinquent youth. Group identification enshrined in dress, music and interests was also commonly interpreted as signifying a shared ethos. Depending on when they were born, young people were broadly categorised as ‘baby boomers’ (1946-64) or ‘Generation Xs’ (1965-79), although there is no official time span for these loosely constructed ‘generations’. Currently, the so-called Generation Y (1980-2000) is stereotyped as being overly pampered, ‘tech-savvy’, narcissistic, and ambitious but lacking commitment. Young people born since 2000 have been further stereotyped as ‘Gen Z’, the first generation to be born into a world of unprecedented communicative technology.

This issue of Social Alternatives draws upon the academic expertise of a number of researchers in the field of youth studies in order to critique such generational stereotypes and bring to light some of the real-life experiences of young people today. The articles that follow demonstrate clearly that while young people may be connected by the commonality of the decades in which they were born, they are differentiated by the same factors that shape the lives of their elders, for example: race, socio-economic status, geo-location and gender. Young people often have to face exactly the same problems as adults, but because of their age they are routinely castigated as irresponsible and deemed to be less able to respond to life’s challenges.

Kerry Vincent and Pat Thomson describe these processes of age discrimination in their article that explores the ways in which teenage mothers are marginalised and stigmatised via discourses of deviance and incompetence. Their research with a small group of young mothers in the UK exposes the pressure these girls feel to ‘atone’ for their perceived ‘failings’ as they strive to cope with motherhood, work and study. The unforgiving communities in which these teenage mothers live might well construct the girls’ lives as just as ‘wasted’ as in the potential of the students attending Grant’s Farm in the contribution by Martin Mills, Peter Renshaw and Lew Zipin.


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