Being an 18-25 year old in present day Ireland isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As a demographic, you’re going to be hard pushed to find a group more disengaged and disenchanted with society than us. That’s if you believe everything you hear. Apparently, we’re spoilt, lazy and generally up to no good. What you won’t hear are the kinds of stories that would make everyone feel proud to have young people and especially students in their wider community.
It’s always going to be far more endearing for news outlets to print sensationalist tripe about a couple of young lads harassing a homeless person than students giving up their Saturday morning to clean the Liffey or every Students’ Union in the country raising thousands for various charities. Unless we are willing to do something about it, it’s always going to be easier to sell newspapers on the basis that we are good for nothing, lazy and spoilt rotten.
The real state of play is a much more sobering narrative that may be a little difficult for some people to engage with, given that a different perception of young people is all but forced down the throats of the public. Most young people are disengaged with politics because it has failed them. Our demographic fail to see how the current crop of politicians and the system in which they operate can even remotely be considered a mechanism for change.
There is no hiding the long term unemployment and emigration figures that affect us. The notion of a lost generation has become much more than just a buzz word to those of us who have friends and family scattered across the globe. Education continues to be subject to an ideological drive towards elitism and privatisation, threatening any notion of a healthy democracy in which young people can thrive and be integrated. Also, the mental health epidemic that our demographic finds itself in stares our politicians in the face yet they are somehow able to justify covering the HSE overspend with money that had been ring-fenced for mental health services. They have the nerve to say that we don’t care.
Thousands of young people across the country are about to enter Higher Education for the first time and for the purpose of this exercise, I would like to address this grouping especially. There will be times over the coming years where you’re going to feel a little hard done by. If you’re like me, this will probably be a daily occurrence but from the outset, I think it’s important to appreciate this feeling for what it’s worth.
It’s good to feel angry, but it’s even better to be active. Let’s take the college example. For most people, getting through 3 or 4 years is going to pose a financial challenge for you and for many of you, your wider family. With the average cost of sending one child to college for one year soaring past €10k this year*, it’s certainly not getting any easier.
Whether or not you’ve been listening, you’ve just spent the last 18 years being told what do and when to do it and now you’re about to realise something very refreshing. Your parents, lecturers and employers aren’t always right and it’s always extremely possible that the latter two don’t have your best interests at heart. I’m not for one second saying that everyone is out to get you, far from it, but never be afraid to question things. After all, the day we stop asking questions, especially those of a silly nature, is the day that we stop learning anything.
If you keep asking questions, you might stumble upon a different perspective. I’m firmly convinced that a mammoth-sized generation gap exists in Irish society. Take the older generation’s approach to mental health issues as a prime example. I’ve had students tell me after encounters they’ve had with college authorities that they would have had more chance of getting a sympathetic ear if they had appeared with a broken leg or some other kind of superficial injury, as opposed to some type of mental trauma.
The older generation have, by and large, made little effort to bridge this gap and as the ones with the perceived power, perhaps they could be doing more. However, it would be extremely naive of us to wait on a bunch of greying knights in shining armour to change this for us. Before, long, we’ll be accused of not understanding issues affecting the youth too.
I can’t promise you that you’ll find happiness but at least by being active, you give yourself and the rest of us 18-twentysomethings a chance of improving the way things are. The powers that be love the fact that we don’t vote in numbers. Lecturers get an easy ride when we don’t question their methods or interpretation of the rules and employers are free to exploit us when we are not informed of our rights. Given that a politician’s primary concern is his/her re-election, is it any wonder that we are ignored? We can change this very easily.
Wherever you go, arm yourself with information and challenge things when they don’t sit easy with you. Register to vote, get a class rep, join a trade union, sign up to campaigns that tug at your heart strings and never let yourself be undervalued in any shape or form, be that as a student, a worker or as a young person.