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The Emerging Millennials
Reginald Bibby’s new book reveals that traditional values such as honesty, integrity and hard work are all very important to our youth.

Decades ago when I registered as one of the first youth to attend university from my small southern Ontario community my father offered this advice: "Get all the knowledge and experience you can, but the most important thing is that you get wisdom."

… don't expect the young to be clones of their parents.

The same advice appears now in The Emerging Millennials, a study of contemporary Canadian teenagers authored by well-known University of Lethbridge sociologist, Reginald Bibby.

In a chapter on the media revolution of unprecedented magnitude that is ordinary reality for today's teens, readers are reminded that there's never been so much information...but are we any the wiser for it all?

T.S. Eliot wrote in 1934, "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

The book provides helpful commentary on Bibby's key findings by Sarah Russell – writer, editor and RCMP community relations officer; and Ron Rolheiser – priest, seminary principal and spiritual guide. No novice at studies like this, Bibby has been tracking the opinions, challenges, opportunities and choices of Canada's youth for 35 years.

Modern Canadians in general value freedom and choice, says Bibby and our young people cherish those values as much as anyone.

His ultimate question after assessing the offspring of the Boomer Generation is predictable – "...but how are they going to turn out?"

His conclusion? They will likely turn out quite well.

Bibby discovered from his major new survey of more than 5,000 Canadian teenagers, including a special sample of Aboriginal youth, that in a culture of diversity and relativity, uniformity of morals and guilt are unacceptable to the emerging generation.

On the surface this would appear to mean that the personal values of the youngest generation are ambivalent and relative for them.

Not so, he discovered. Many youth have been taught by their parents, grandparents and their schools that in a diverse society which values freedom and choice they must learn to think for themselves and to make responsible decisions about their hopes and values.

Intriguingly, what is happening seems a matter of "back to the future, but with a twist." Traditional values such as honesty, integrity and hard work are all very important to our youth.

At the same time they will not accept inherited beliefs without giving them their own unique interpretation.

Consider their views on family.

Family is hugely important, says the author. 67 percent of those questioned – the highest numbers in the 25 years since these queries were first posed – held traditional aspirations.

Seventy percent want a good home like they say they grew up in. Most plan to marry and to have kids. Most expected their marriages to last.

At the same time, most assumed they would co-habit with someone they might not end up marrying. "I'd like to stay with the same partner for life," said one respondent from BC, "but I might not."

Teens are more concerned about meaningful relationships, trust and honesty, than their parents were. Family-building is a higher priority to them than successful career-building.

So, the message is clear: don't expect the young to be clones of their parents. At the same time, don't expect them to reject their parents' views outright. What they seem to be calling for is to learn "with" - and not simply "from" - their parents.

Bibby and his associates present a window of opportunity where important inter-generational dialogue can occur between younger and older adults willing to respect, listen to and learn from each other.

Intelligent, critical assessment of things that matter, and mutual, respectful dialogue about them seems to be the desired modus operandi for most of the young people surveyed.

The book contains chapters on friendship, sexuality, significant difficulties of life, being citizens of the world as well as of Canada, and the role of God and faith in their lives.

Fewer teens claim to believe in God than in the past, and even fewer in organized religion. The question "can we be good without God?" is yet to be taken up by them. Some of us might argue that a decline in belief in God inevitably leads to a breakdown in public and private morality; but that remains to be seen in the lives of today's youth. Bibby ponders: If this scenario plays itself out over time what would replace God? What substitutes for the supernatural are there?

The book closes on a note of hope.

"Hope is a signal of transcendence," says the author, and our young people are hopeful. Transcendency (the existence of meaning beyond our current understandings) may be a better term for all of us to struggle with than supernaturualism (the existence of truth as something exclusive and hierarchical.) For their part, today's youth are not splitting such hairs, but they are not afraid of the future, and that is indeed encouraging.

"To better understand the emerging millennials is to better understand ourselves," says Bibby. I concluded my reading of his latest book recognizing that this is not just a study about modern Canadian teens. It is a study engaging me and all of us.

Now that is the kind of timeless wisdom my father was talking about.

The Emerging Millennials. Reginald Bibby. Project Canada Books: Lethbridge, AB. Distributed by Project Canada Books, Wood Lake Books and Novalis. 2009. 233 pages. $19.95 CAD. ISBN #978-0-9810614-0-5.

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Wayne A. Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and coordinates adult spiritual development at St. David's United Church in that city.

Originally published in ___.




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