That young people bring confidence and hope to their view of the future, especially in relation to the goals they want to pursue, is an assumption I’ve always made.
So I was sad to see a report by the Princes’s Trust showing that the confidence of young people in the UK took a bad knock during the pandemic with as many as 43 per cent saying they believed they would never have a job they really loved. Among those attending college or university, roughly the same proportion said they believed the gaps in their education due to the pandemic would damage their chances for life.
These results cannot be transferred directly to Ireland but I think they reflect what many of us suspect: that the pandemic has severely dented the hopefulness of young people.
That survey was done in September of last year when, in the UK and Ireland, we were optimistic that we had the pandemic on the run. Since then we’ve all had another year of it.
Irish colleges and schools have responded as best they could to the continuing pressure of the pandemic. It’s not so much that our students were denied learning but that the morale-boosting social side of college life cannot be replicated on Zoom.
That, it seems to me, will leave students at an emotional disadvantage that feeds into their general wellbeing. All that interaction about what life holds and what it could hold and all that mutual support matters enormously.
Nobody will ever know what relationships students have missed out on and what sparking of ideas hasn’t happened.
But it’s that shrinking of hopefulness revealed in the UK report that is, arguably, the most damaging to the young.
The aspiration to do something, to be something can be an organising principle in a person’s life.
We need to talk the language of hopefulness to the teenagers and young men and women of the Covid generation
Suppose you want to be an astronaut. Jobs as astronauts are rare. But if the confidence of youth makes you believe you have a chance, then you might study a science-based subject, you might study mathematics which will stand to you in your career even if you never make it into space and, who knows, you might win through!
My heart sinks when I come across a young person who has no desire to do anything in particular. How are they to navigate their way into their future?
That’s why I think we need to talk the language of hopefulness to the teenagers and young men and women of the Covid generation.
I don’t mean the language of fantastical positivity. Saying “I am absolutely certain you will become an astronaut” is rubbish. Saying “I hope you achieve your ambition to become an astronaut [or a hairdresser or whatever it might be]; what choices do you need to make to be in with a chance?” gives the young person a push forward without lying to them.
All generations have their hope killers. The “Who do you think you are? Forget it, you’ll never get an A in French, studying for a degree isn’t for you” brigade. They need to be told to pipe down.
We also need to let young people know that for most of us a career isn’t a straight road that leads in a straight path from beginning to end. It’s a path with many forks and, if hope and confidence hasn’t been killed, you might try a different path and find something else you really like. The astronaut becomes a rock roll star – why not?
What supports do we need to put in place, in the education system especially, to help today’s generation of students and would-be students to push forward with hope and confidence? I am not an educationalist so I do not know the answer. But time spent answering the question is time well spent.
Hopefulness isn’t the only thing you need: there’s also hard work to be done and a little luck along the way. But hope is the spark that lights the flame. We mustn’t quench it at the start.
Padraig O'Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).