The cover of the September issue of Entrepreneur magazine featured a thirteen-year-old girl in a pink dress, sucking on a lollipop. She’s the founder and CEO of a multimillion-dollar company. The same month, Mother Jones reported on a generation of American students drowning in debt.
Across the globe, the contrasts are even starker. Wealthy Chinese students drive their Maseratis to class in Canadian and American colleges, while Syrian kids under bombardment learn their times tables in abandoned caves.
Youth is coming, says Entrepreneur editor Jason Feifer, to replace us. Should we be scared or delighted?
Youth: The Arrows in our Collective Quiver
“Come, children of tomorrow, come…”
Guess what? They’re coming whether we want them to or not. They don’t need an invitation, or our permission to take over the world.
But their elders haven’t always been happy about that. If you remember, King Cronos of Greek mythology, was so threatened by his children that he ate them.
Hostility against youth is nothing new. In 1907, a student named Kenneth John Freeman wrapped up some of the complaints made over the ages about the younger generation. To paraphrase him:
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
(That quote is often attributed to Socrates, but apparently that’s bogus.)
Old geezers often feel threatened or puzzled by the culture of folks born a generation or two after they were. The dances. The music. The slang. Young people are
“self-admiring, emaciated fribbles” and “untutored savages.” A friend of mine tried substitute teaching in a high school and lasted one day. He found the students unruly and rude. “They’re criminals!” he gasped, and didn’t try again.
On the other hand are the people who are thrilled by the young folks coming up. Jason Feifer, editor of Entrepreneur magazine, says young people—teenagers and twenty-somethings are “frighteningly smart…They see problems with fresh eyes.…They’re savvy….They’re ready.”
Writer Amanda Collins identifies “eight amazing kids who are shaking up this blue planet we live on, and making it a better place.” Among these are:
Boyan Slat, a teenage Dutch environmentalist with an ambitious program to clean up the plastic in the ocean
Krtin Nithiyanandam (a 16-year-old Brit) who is developing a test to detect
Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear
Ken Amante of the Philippines, who at age nine started an animal shelter for abandoned pets.
Time magazine of just this week also had a story on wonderful young innovators.
I’ll add some quick portraits of other outstanding kids.
The cover of the September issue of Entrepreneur features a girl in a pink dress waving a lollipop. She is Alina Morse of Michigan, age 13.
Alina is the founder and CEO of Zollipops, a multi-million dollar candy company. She’s been building her business since age six, when she went into a bank with her dad and was offered a lollipop. Dad said no, it would rot her teeth. They left the bank with Alina wondering what kind of lollipop would be good for your teeth.
Over the next few years, she and her dad made over a hundred attempts to concoct lollipops in their home kitchen. Finally, they came up with a sugar-frewe confection sweetened with natural substances xylitol and erythritol, which according to the
International Journal of Dentistry, reduce plaque and oral bacteria.
Whole Foods picked up the product, and now the business does $5 to $6 million dollars of retail sales a year. Alina’s mom and dad work for the corporation. Alina goes to sales conferences and pitches her products. She’s the boss—at least at work.
Other teenage business sensations in the magazine:
Moziah Bridges, age 16, who founded a bow-tie company
Abby Kircher, 18, who manufactures healthy nut butters
Brennan Agranoff, 18, who makes brightly-colored basketball socks
And many more.
Energy and imagination and a talent for making money are indeed coming down the pike. So are idealism and a desire to serve humanity.
You all know about Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, born in 1997. In 2009, at age 11, she started writing a blog detailing what life was life under the local Taliban. She disguised her own identity, but there was still a risk that it would be found out. And it was.
On her way home from school in 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. Supporters around the world held their breath as she was operated on— successfully—in the U.K. She recovered to wage a passionate fight for education, especially education for girls.
In 2014, at age 17, she became the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace
Prize. She’s now studying philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford University.
Young activists and idealists abound.
Three of my personal favorites (whom I’ve never met) were tragically thrust into the public eye by an act of violence. They may not have wanted greatness thrust upon them, but it happened anyway. On Valentine’s Day of this year, a gunman entered Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, took his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle out of his backpack, and started shooting. Seventeen people—students and teachers—were killed and seventeen injured.
The students who survived were personally traumatized. But several of them poured themselves into organizing a nationwide “March for Our Lives” to push for greater gun control. The main march was held in Washington, DC, on March 24, with 800 marches in support nationwide. (Concord, NH, was the site of one of them. Perhaps some of you went to it.)
Over a matter of days, the names of these Parkland students became household words. One day they were just normal kids involved with science projects and drama club. The next, they were national icons, appearing on TV and reaching millions of people through social media. They demonstrated incredible poise and maturity.
David Hogg, for example. He teamed up with his sister to write a book called Never Again: A New Generation Draws the Line. It made the New York Times bestseller list. 886,000 folks follow David on Twitter. That’s a lot–about 60 times more than follow Governor Chris Sununu (14.5K) and 9 times more than Senator Jeanne Shaheen (97.6K) Emma Gonzalez, instantly recognizable by her shaved head, also spoke out, and also wrote a book, Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement. She has 1.66 million Twitter followers.
It takes courage to go up against the country’s largest gun lobby. Emma points out in an October 14, 2018 New York Times opinion piece, “it means that the people we’re arguing against are the ones with the guns. I am personally deathly afraid of them, and I know, from traveling the country during the summer for the Road to Change tour, that many of the people who disagree with us mean it when they say that they only want to talk if we’re standing on the other end of their AR-15s.”
Nonetheless, Emma says, “This isn’t something we are ever going to give up on.” This fall, she’s out helping register students on college campuses to vote, in a new effort called “Vote for Our Lives.
Another organizer of the March for our Lives was Cameron Kasky, now a senior in high school, and also active on Twitter. Lots of vile stuff is spewed out on Twitter, but Cameron pleads for civility:
Please remember to treat each other with kindness and compassion. Be good to your friends not because of how they look, what their social status is, or whether or not they share your exact preferred political views, but because they are people. And sometimes, people hurt.
These three young people are wise and old before their time. Faced with adults who are often dithering, cowardly, dishonest, and violence-promoting, these teenagers show character. They are the adults in the room.
Here’s the story of another young woman, a transplant from a distant country. In the primary elections this September, in Ward 8 in Concord, an interesting race unfolded among Democrats for state representative. The four-term incumbent was a 66year-old white male and long-term resident of the ward. He was opposed by a 27-yearold pregnant mother of two, an Afghan refugee and naturalized US citizen. Her name is
Over the course of the summer, Safiya worked hard on her campaign. She made phone calls and sent out postcards. In the 90 degree heat, she battled morning sickness and got out and knocked on doors. Sometimes her two kids went with her.
I had received her campaign postcards and was intrigued, so sent her an email inviting her for tea at our house. She came with her campaign manager. I was instantly struck by her star quality.
Safiya left Afghanistan at age six, when the Taliban were in power. I asked her if she had any memories of her early childhood. “All bad ones,” she said. Her parents took their family to Uzbekistan, which wasn’t much better. The kids at school teased her and called her “Taliban.” She had to learn a new language—Russian—to speak in school, while the family spoke Dari at home. Finally, ten years later, the family uprooted again, and they found themselves in Concord, NH.
Plopped down into 9th grade and not speaking English, Safiya found this another difficult transition. Her classmates, sadly, were not friendly. But she learned the language, she graduated from Concord High, and she went on to New Hampshire
Technical Institute, where she earned a degree in business administration.
She got married and had two daughters.
The first in her family to do so, she became a United States citizen, followed by her brother, her husband, and her parents. She became active in community issues and was the winner of the 2018 NH Children’s Trust Unsung Hero Award.
In deciding to run for state rep, she said, the thing that clinched it was the support of her mother and husband. “Do it!” they said. They’d watch the kids while she was out on the campaign trail.
Safiya started the race, not thinking she had a very good chance at winning. But in the end, 2/3 of the voters who took a Democratic ballot voted for her.
Youth is coming to replace us, and working hard at it. And there are a lot of them. 26% of the world’s population is younger than 15 years of age. Africa is the youngest continent, with 41% young folks. Europe’s only got 16%, and North America, 19%. Here in New Hampshire, it’s 19.3%, about the same as North America as a whole. So, how are the older generations treating them? What kind of a world have we created for them? Are we making it easier or harder for them to make a better world? The answer is—we’re providing a great start for some and a terrible, crippling non-
start for others.
I don’t worry about the superstars and precocious high achievers: they’ve proven themselves as survivors.
But how about the young people who aren’t superstars? There are plenty of them to worry about, for plenty of reasons. Pick your issue! Across the globe, childhood is wrecked by warfare, polluted drinking water, inadequate schools, early marriage, sexual assault, you name it. In New Hampshire, the opioid crisis is particularly brutal. And here are a few details on the student debt problem. Nationwide, student debt now amounts to $1.5 trillion—second only to mortgage debt, and more than consumer debt or auto loans. (Forbes, June 13, 2018.)
We’re proud of saying that New Hampshire is first in the union—in the presidential primary. We’re not so proud that it’s first in average debt wracked up by graduating college seniors. For 2015, it was $36,101—more than the national average of $30,100. (NHPR) That year, 75% of NH students had debt. (WMUR) Nationally, it was
68%. Student debt is rising at twice the rate of inflation.
Granted, we live in an expensive state with high energy costs. But we make it worse for kids. We’re the only state that doesn’t provide scholarship aid from our general fund for students to go to college in-state. We allow local communities to tax private colleges on their real estate. (Thomas Horgan, president of the NH College and
The solutions these days—cutting faculty and staff positions at colleges—don’t sound as if they’d improve the quality of our institutions.
Having debt isn’t a huge problem if you’re going into a lucrative field, but if you’re going into public service or teaching, that’s a different matter. Granted, there are student loan forgiveness programs, typically after 5 years of service and regular repayments. Teachers in low-income schools sometimes get a break, and so can health care workers.
That sounds good, but these programs are not a solution for very many people. Mother Jones magazine did an exposé on loan forgiveness programs and found that they were so poorly managed (or worse) that even conscientious graduates were still swamped in debt years later.
An example was city planner Leigh McIlvaine, working for a nonprofit in Portland, OR. In college and graduate school, she built up $70,000 in student loans. She made 100 payments totally $50,000. She applied for loan forgiveness.
The loan processing agency FedLoan Servicing (which services 1/3 or student debt) made error after error in recording her payments. They said she had interrupted her payments, which she hadn’t. They brushed off her inquiries and complaints. Almost ten years later…she still owes $70,000. Plus, her credit score is wrecked.
Let’s return for a moment to the two readings we had earlier in the service.
Psalm 127 said:
- Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
- Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.
Children in the psalm are the parents’ insurance policy. Their weapons. Their defenses. That worldview, when you think of it, is one of conflict and danger and hostility. Legal battles are inevitable. The lines are tightly drawn, perhaps even against one’s neighbors or one’s own tribesman.
What a different attitude we find in Kahlil Gibran.
“Your children are not your children,
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
That poet has a broader view of parenthood. Children don’t belong to their parents.
They belong to something bigger.
King Solomon and Kahlil Gibran used the same metaphor for children–arrows. For Solomon, the arrows are ready in one’s own quiver. For Gibran, the arrows go sailing, “swift and far.”
Question for the future: Are the arrows in our collective quiver going to fly? Not on their own. Alina, the teenage lollipop tycoon, needed her parents to concoct and market her candy. Safiya Wazir needs her mother to advance in her political career.
The Parkland kids needed the financial support of millions of adults to launch their march. Malala needed the best surgical team possible to survive and in the hospital, her parents were right there by her bedside.
Be nice to your children, the quip goes. They’re going to choose your nursing home. However–other people’s children are going to service and fly the airplanes you travel on, or inject you with the medicines you need in the operating room.
The youth of today—the leaders of tomorrow—may just remember that the older generation saddled them with debt. They may remember obstacles to voting thrown up in their path. They aren’t too happy about oceans clogged with plastic.
Does crippling young people make any sense?
Back to Jason Feifer, the editor of Entrepreneur that I quoted earlier. He reminds us: “Entrepreneurship isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s a community built of shared wisdom and mutual respect. We’re all better together.” The same could be said of building a world that benefits both old and young people: we’re all better together, the bows and the arrows, old folks and young. Let’s do the best we can for our own children and grandchildren—and for other people’s.
Copyright Betsy Woodman 2018