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The Next Great Generation of Americans
Jacqueline Beretta

October, 2007

It is good to know about society - their dreams, their goals, in fact, it is good to know all the demographics of the society in which you live.

Some of the most interesting reports on America today come from the Pew Research Center. A report from the Center tells us about Generation Next, or those Americans between 16 and 25 years old. The report reports on their outlook, lifestyle, and their politics.

But not only did The Pew Charitable Trusts write a report last year. They worked with our own AT&T, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to film a documentary called Generation Next: Speak Up Be Heard  produced by MacNeil/Leher Production for PBS which was aired in September. Judy Woodruff traveled across the country to learn more about this new generation who number 42 million.

Mind you, these are our children, the ones who grew up with the latest computer technology, the most sophisticated cell phones, even blackberries. These are the children who were glued in front of the TV watching CNN and all the news surrounding 9-11, Katrina, the Tsunami, and now the Iraq War. In many cases, these are children of our new ultra modern extended families. And these are the children that believe anything and everything is possible – NOW.

They can be so precious, charming, and yet a bit impatient. On the whole they seem happy, optimistic and appreciative. They can sit down and talk about almost anything and seem like authorities. Desiring to earn fame and great wealth, they understand the value of education and know that they have the greatest opportunities ever awarded right now, if they choose to take it.

Connected like no group before them, they use the Internet and cell phones to communicate instantly, and keep in contact with friends and even movie times. They communicate daily on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace where they create profiles and invite friends to share pictures, interests, funny stories and life. Many say that technology has made them “lazy” - but what does lazy mean? The way these kids buzz, they are anything but lazy.

They are totally at ease with the idea of globalization and feel that the rising flow of immigrants has helped American workers instead of hindering them. Their politics are more liberal, leaning toward the Democratic party. They are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, abortion, stem cell research, race and homosexuality. They are much less cynical about government and political leaders than previous generations.  When asked who they admire, “they are twice as likely as older Americans to name a family member, teacher, or mentor. Moreover, roughly twice as many young people say they most admire an entertainer rather than a political leader.” They exercise, they vote, and they love (I mean love) movies. Many of them have colorfully dyed hair, body piercing, tattoos, or other stand out visual aids.  They stay close to their parents, communicating with them almost daily (many also because of financial dependence).  One in five say they have little or no religious affiliation (double the number in 1980).

But there is a darker side too . And I write this with sadness - large majorities of Gen Nexters are engaging more in casual sex, binge drinking, illegal drug use and violence. I believe that this generation will work together to lessen this number as they seem so connected, and determined to have bright futures.

These children were exposed to so much so young. Because of dangers on even the best streets in a town, many of us were even afraid to let our children ride the bikes we did, have lemonade stands without supervision, or even walk to the corner drug store unaccompied.  We may have tended to want to overprotect them in many ways from all the chaos in our own neighborhoods and around the world. And to say we were sorry, we probably gave them more than we should have just to say “sorry”.

More than 82% say that by their mid 20’s they mean to have a plan for the rest of their lives, and for most this plan includes marriage and children.  Their two biggest concerns right now are finances and education.

I believe these young people could be some of the most enterprising and fascinating around. And I think they are more than willing and ready to be independent, to learn, to grow, and to become complete citizens of this world. It’s our duty to help them attain these goals by providing them with a solid education so that they might possibly become the greatest generation ever.

I have one – a darling daughter - you might have one too. Mine is a precious gift and seems, along with her close friends, as if she has a wisdom way beyond her years (and often beyond mine).  Sometimes I forget just how young she is. But, the fascinating part about her is that she wants desperately to be responsible and respected for her actions and views. And you know what?  I really like her.

This report is drawn from a broad array of PewResearchCenter polling data. The main survey was conducted Sept. 6-Oct. 2, 2006 among 1,501 adults ­ including 579 people ages 18-25. In addition, the report includes extensive generational analysis of PewResearchCenter surveys dating back to 1987. Read the full report at people-press.org. And see the fim at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/generation-next/index.html.



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