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Understanding Italian youth
The Salesian magazine “Note di Pastorale Giovanile” last December published an article entitled “Bows and arrows” giving a precise and authentic description of young Italians, various aspects of their lives … and with a view to a possible educational response.
The contribution by the sociologist Domenico Cravero, was based on data from a recent enquiry – carried out by Eurispes - in Sardinia, for the diocese of Tempio Ampurias with a questionnaire completed by a sample of about 2000 young people on average 19 years of age.
It is natural that adolescents exchange their ideas and look for advise from their friends. However, parents are still an important point of reference for them. Almost a third of the young people often ask their mum and dad for advice (the girls more than the boys); about 1 in 10 do so constantly. However, communication is not always easy: for some there is no real dialogue, for others it only happens “some times”. More than half of the sample speak with their parents about school or everyday events. Frequently they don’t tell the whole story, and only “partly” share things. Friends are an important topic of discussion between parents and their children. They tell their parents about their hopes and plans on a daily basis or occasionally. On some subjects they speak more rarely: for example about sex or their own special friendships.
They don’t look to their parents as “friends” nor as “a shelter”. Mum and dad ought to be especially “a guide” and “an example”. On the other hand, for the younger ones parents are also a “support” to be able to turn to in difficulties.
For the majority it consists in being one of a couple; having someone, a boy or girl, at one’s side with whom to share interests and ideas. Life values, in fact, are considered the firm basis for choosing a partner, much less so is religious faith.
School and work
For most of the young people school ought to be a good preparation for starting to work. Nevertheless it should not be handing on just facts but also values. You go to school to learn new things but also to be with people of your own age.
The major problem for young Italians, as this research also shows, concerns the situation of those who are neither studying nor working, living in the most humiliating and dangerous condition just at the age when their intelligence and creative energies are developing to the full. About a third of the sample are no longer studying , between the 16 and the 19 year olds and especially the 20-25s. It is not known how many of the same age groups are working. However, the figures of youth unemployment in Italy are known … There is little motivation to study: almost a third of the sample, want to give up studies and find a job as soon as possible, another third say they would like to study and work at the same time. A small number of 16 to 19 year olds claim that they would prefer “to do nothing.” This wide-spread lack of motivation is perhaps one of the most disturbing factors in the educational crisis among Italian families who don’t seem capable of giving their children “a sound affective foundation” to support the desire and the will to make life choices. On the other hand, work is considered mainly as a means of “economic independence.” Only a small number consider it important for their own self fulfilment. A decisive minority consider it an experience capable of giving meaning to life.
There seems to be very little awareness of the difficulties in the Italian situation and of the complexity of the challenges of the work market (as a result of ignorance? Because of the security the family appears to provide? Even in a period of economic crisis and severe difficulties facing the young, they are very optimistic about the future. The majority of the young people think that they will achieve almost all their aims: find a good job, one they like. Doubts above this optimism arise when one considers their unwillingness to invest in education (less than a third are thinking about getting a degree. Most of them want to have children, but only half of them are thinking about getting married. The marriage crisis among this sample of young people is clear.
In replies referring to the use of their free time away from school commitments (or work) two interesting facts emerge: on the one hand the clear preference for the home, and the consequent crisis regarding public places (the street and the street corner) in the social life of the young; on the other hand the extraordinary expressive talents, for the most part under-used of the adolescents.
A third of the sample choose their home as the place for their social life. But their home does not mean family, that is the company of their parents, brothers and sisters. It means their friends but, now it is possible to communicate with them when comfortably shut away in their own rooms, with the hours spent everyday in communication with those “not present”. A fifth of the young people browse on the net for more than 2 hours a day, about the same number for more than 4 hours. 42% use their mobile phone for over 4 hours a day. The use of a personal computer is greater than that of the TV: again more than 4 hours a day.
Virtual communication is increasing at the expense of real meetings: those in the street, in the parks, in the shopping malls, in the gym. The parish centres represent the left-overs (less than 7%) and this is more than the discotheque. A fifth spend the time with their partner.
Nevertheless the young do have a lot of interests and things they are keen on: over a half take part in sport, a third like drawing, a fifth play a musical instrument, and a slightly less percentage are involved in local voluntary service. Many like to write: a diary, stories and poems, or to go to museums or exhibitions. Music and sport is the interest mainly of the boys. The girls excel in writing and painting. Only 22% say that they don’t read books other than school books; girls read more than boys. The preferred type of reading are: novels, but also essays.
Religion, social involvement, the mass media
Considering the replies on religious matters (similar to the data in other sociological research) it cannot be said that we are faced with an unbelieving generation: 7 out of 10 say they are believers. 12% say they are atheists and 17% are uninterested. Practice is also limited. 21% of young people go to church every week, 50% sometimes. After adolescence, attendance increases from 17.5% (16-19) to 24,6% (20-25). Only 8% say they go to please their parents or because the others go.
The clarify the relationship of the new generations with religion it is necessary to point out the importance that aesthetics has for them and consider the role that the new forms of emotional inner life have, and the new styles socialising among the young has taken.
It is not excluded that the role of the parish is one of prayer rather than one of being a centre for socialising. It is clear that for the young the Christian faith cannot be separated from the social and charitable dimension. More than a third consider that the parish centre ought to be a focal point for those in need.
In general adults describe the young as being “uncommitted” when they say that they are little or not at all interested in politics (as they see it), saying that they have difficulty in understanding the national political situation. But a third of the sample claim that they often talk to their friends about politics as well as regularly reading the newspapers to know what is going on in Italy and the world. They say they listen to political discussions on the television often or occasionally.
The young are involved in voluntary service organisations (12%), while about the same number attend school associations or political groups; more than twice this attend sports clubs.
Looking for on-line information is the main reason for using the Internet. However, the net means especially social networks (86%), chat (82%), films on You Tube (82%), but also shopping, videogames or reading the blogs. Television is used mainly for relaxation or entertainment. They are quite critical about the television programmes: a fifth would like them to be more culturally stimulating, for there to be less vulgarity and to be able to learn more. Girls are more annoyed by the vulgarity on television, by the violence and the arguments.
Some educational ideas
The amount of data from this as from other enquiries can certainly offer some important ideas and suggestions for educational and pastoral work.
Fortunately adolescence and youth are not only a confusion of problems and of the unexpected; it is still an extraordinary phase of life which most of those passing through do so without special difficulty, laying the foundations fro future maturity.
Above all the expressive skills of the new generations are formidable “ a reserve of hope” not yet sufficiently understood and valued.
In addition, young people are clearly looking for people to whom they can refer, on whom they can rely, especially parental figures, solid and sound and ones they can take as models. A youth ministry responsive to the expressed needs of the young which does not try to consolidate the family base and which is not engaged in promoting deeper and more stable links in order to build up a more substantial practical and social commitment is unimaginable.
Internet is becoming ever more and more a formidable resource for communication but also a possible trap. Virtual communication cannot take the place of face to face meetings on the street or in the market place. It is indispensible that new real places of encounter are created not only as opportunities for meeting together but also for acting together..
The Social Networks are running the risk of becoming places of narcissistic banality and of consumerist futility unless they are also used to express opinions, thoughts and passions arising form joint activities. Someone with a love for the young and banks on the sensitivities of the new generation, has new opportunities nowadays Whoever invests in the young nowadays still obtains great results. All that is needed is a bit of courage.
By Domenico Cravero, sociologist, Note di Pastorale Giovanile, December 2011, “Bows and arrows”