School’s out forever. So what’s next?
You’re 18. You got your Leaving Cert results on Wednesday. Welcome to the rest of your potentially 120-year-long life
Personal and societal changes
John Buckley of spunout.ie says young people are getting to their transition points in life – leaving school, entering third level, getting a first job, for example – but those transition points are lasting longer. “Now there’s a much longer gap for a young person in those transition zones, which means they’re spending longer in limbo, asking themselves questions about their lives.”
But he says today’s 18-year-olds seem hopeful, excited and optimistic despite the prospect of unemployment.
Over the next three years the opportunity for young people to engage with politics will increase, because of the number of upcoming polls: local elections, European elections, referendums and a general election.
“Democracy and how we’re engaged with shaping our country’s future is something interesting,” Buckley says. “There’s potential for a hell of a lot of referendums on social issues, such as marriage equality and reducing the voting age.
“We’re going to be asked to vote a lot, so will they be as involved in democracy? Will we see more young people turning out or more apathy? Are we going to give young people the franchise when they go away? Will they have a say in how the country they’re part of will be shaped and developed?”
Increased access to pornography is another issue for this generation. “The David Cameron proposal in Britain around filtering – it will be interesting to see how that will play out,” says Buckley. “I know Ruairí Quinn has started moves to discuss that with internet service providers, so how that develops and how we talk about sex and share information about sex will be an interesting factor.”
And there’s also the emotional impact of technology, Buckley says. “In the physical world, we display a lot of empathy. We don’t see that as much online. That is a challenge.”
Life expectancy and health
Year on year we’re living three months longer. That means a child born this time next year will live three months longer than someone born today. According to Prof Rose Anne Kenny, head of the ageing research programme at Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital, today’s 18-year-olds will have an average life expectancy of between 86 and 90.
“Some of them will live well beyond 100, 110, 115, 120,” Kenny says, “If you think about that, it may be that when they’re 70 or 75 they’re looking after their mother and father as well as their children, as well as their grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren – that sort of multilayered sandwich. Now we mostly see the middle of the sandwich: the parent and the children. But in their lifespan that sandwich will become a McDonald’s: multilayered.”
Young people who received their Leaving Cert results this week are already at a health advantage over those who didn’t complete second-level education. Students who go on to third-level education will have another advantage.
“The people who continue to be educated throughout their lives will live longer, will have healthier lives, will be less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, less likely to get cancer, and less likely to get heart disease or stroke.”
Kenny also outlines holistic steps that this generation can take to confront potential health issues. “The other elements that are also important are to have good friendships and good social relationships. Keeping the friends they’ve got and developing new friends lifelong also reduces the risk factors of getting Alzheimer’s, depression and cancer.
“The reason is that loneliness, or poor social relationships, or those who are less stimulated, are more likely to have inflation in their system. That’s a cause of dementia and cancer and heart disease and stroke.
“Things like good friendships, fun, good education and stimulation of the brain and body are really good patterns to get into now.”