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Tuesday 27 December 2011, at the Salesian House of Martí-Codolar there was a formation day with the subject “Understanding the world of the young”. The 130 people part were helped by two talks to appreciate the world of today’s young people and examine their values.
The first conference “Values and counter-values of today’s young people” was given by the sociologist Juan M. González-Anleo, one of the authors of the report “Young Spaniards 2010”, a piece of educative-social research examining and analysing children and young people.
Dr. González-Anleo explained how today’s young people are often a group seen as a problem mixed up with drugs promiscuity and a with a “Peter Pan” mentality not wanting to grow up and to extend for as long as possible the period of youth seen as a phase of life to be enjoyed as much as possible.
Dr Gónzalez-Anleo emphasised that “today’s young people are the heirs to the ideological failure of the XX century,” and this has marked them deeply. They have seen how the struggles begun by their parents’ generation – such as the May 1968 revolution against the consumer society– gradually petered out and how today’s society is the capitalist model of consumption in which economic benefit is the over-riding principle.
In this context, when young people were asked (in the “Young Spaniards 2010 Report) if they were interested in learning about formation in values, almost 100% said they were. And the values on which young people and adults agree are tolerance, respect, honesty and responsibility.
The sociologist declared “the demand of the young for values is greater than what they are being offered by adults” and this leads us to reflect on the need to concentrate efforts on educators.
Classification of the most important things for today’s young people
From the report it emerges that for young people the most important things in descending order are: the family, health, friends and acquaintances, earning money so as to be able to spend it on leisure activities, couples, politics and in the last place religion.
Dr Gónzalez-Anleo explained that this classification shows the enormous difference between what the young consider as far removed or close to them. It is important that today’s young people - unlike those of some years ago – put the family in the first because for the most part they have confidence in it and are quite happy at home since most of them “have no problems” with it: they don’t have to argue about the for going out or coming in, they don’t talk politics or religion and go to great lengths to avoid confrontation.
“Parents don’t on any account fight with their children, and this leads to the idea of the so-called ‘light families’”, the sociologist declared.
To what extent can a “light family” educate in values? It is here that the triangle Family – School – Media comes into play and the problem of who should have the responsibility for formation in values. If the family does not feel up to this task of education in values because it prefers to avoid confrontation, the school thinks that carrying out this task ought to begin at home and that “they” already have a enough work to do teaching scholastic matters... and given that the media concentrate their values on obtaining the maximum benefit from the products they offer (programmes of tele-rubbish, reality shows, etc), the situation becomes very complicated.
Young people and religion
Today’s young people see religion as something far removed from them and in the last place in importance. This rejection, Dr González-Anleo explained, is deeply marked by the negative view that the major part of young people have of the “church hierarchy” considered: too rich (79%), out of date in sexual matters (78%), with rules which prevent the enjoyment of freedom – one of the values most appreciated by the young – and with too much influence in modern society.
Even though the young are able to see the positive aspects of the Church – helping the poor and the marginalised, giving norms which are a help in living with more morality and offering people a spiritual refuge – the negative perception predominates over the positive.
In the view of Dr Gónzalez-Anleo the Church has a severe marketing problem, which means that the image that reaches most people through the media is inadequate and what is more does not correspond to the reality of the basic Christian communities of a Church close to those most in need. In a time of crisis the example of Caritas and of many other religious organisations is far more significant.
Asked by the audience what were the keys to the evangelisation of the young people of today, the sociologist suggested that it was fundamental to have a good marketing technique among the young and “this starts with listening to their needs.” The keys could be: guidance regarding the meaning of life, freedom and full self-expression, more equality and a warm welcoming community. It is a reformulation of three messages: meaning, salvation and community.
Current challenges and a Salesian response to European youth
The Salesian Fr Alexandre Damians, an expert in preventative pedagogy, human values, accompaniment and leadership, analysed the current challenges and the Salesian response to young people in the European context.
Fr Damians explained that European society finds itself in a situation in which the consumerist model has led to the loss of values which have at their centre the individual and his personal development at the expense of commercial profits. “Society does not let us reflect on why we make things, but teaches us how to, and how to obtain the highest benefit (commercial)”.
He added that there was a false concept of autonomy which leads to selfishness, to a dictatorship of relativism (without morals) and to the despair of nihilism leading to existential anguish.
In spite of that, Fr Damians believes that now more than ever it is “the Salesians’ hour” and the time to put into practice the Preventive System of Saint John Bosco based on Loving kindness (fraternity), Reason (thought) and Religion (meaning and happiness) and the fundamental aim of which is education in its widest sense.
He exhorted every community in its own circumstances to work at creating an atmosphere of fraternity which would make it possible to gain the confidence of the young people. “Once you have won the trust of a young person you have gained everything”. He also said it was a good time to put into practice the Salesian pedagogy of joy and the smile, since often “a happy face at table is a winner,” referring to the need to be friendly and to empathise with everyone, especially with the young, because that opens the door into their world.