#YNaijaEssays: Youth is messy and confusing, but thankfully we have some answers

Youth

Millennials (Generation Y), a term first coined by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss in 1991 when generational study wasn’t yet a fad, refers to the set of children born directly after Generation X, between 1980 and 2000. To terminate controversy, The Pew Institute this year defined the cut-off point for millennials as “Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2018)”, while “anyone born from 1997 onward” belongs to Generation Z (post–millenials).

So who are millennials, really? Before the term took hold, Linda Lee, writing for the New York Times way back in 1997 described them thus:

“They like things technological and cute (like the 1995 movie “Babe”); they are open to the global marketplace and insist on their right to irony.”

Rich Cohen’s analysis was far more blistering. He referred to the millennial cohort as a group that “seem lost and confused and just not very smart. And though a proper tag has yet to be found, it somehow doesn’t seem fitting to affix them with a letter, such as Z, since so few of them can spell even their own names. To reflect what they suggest about this country’s future and backward slide in the global standings, it seems best to call them by their distinguishing physical characteristic: The Small Generation.”

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He added that “The Small Generation shows real discomfort when presented with the American way of life. Not only have they shunned traditional careers (almost none of them work), they have a sailor’s disregard for hygiene. They pick their noses and soil their briefs and cry about it, expecting someone else to clean up the mess.”

Culture critics have labelled Millennials and Generation Z selfish, entitled, narcissistic, unfocused, lazy, “psychologically scarred,” in constant need of validation, and killing several industries. They are also recognised as ‘digital natives,’ who expect services to be available on-demand, all the time, across the enterprise.”

This constant online addiction represents one of the leading problems of the youth: they are more prone to depression than previous generations; low self-esteem is at an all-time high and suicide rates have gone up. Engagement with social media has created a situation where young people have more friends on cyberspace than in real life, are excellent at putting filters on things, even more talented at showing life is amazing even though they’re depressed. Not to mention the over-dependence on likes.

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According to a Harvard Study, the human brain is very social. Each time we go online, we activate the seeking circuitry of dopamine. In other words, we get a dopamine hit – a chemical that raises our feel-good hormones. Dopamine is the same chemical that is released when one drinks, smokes or dances, which makes it highly addictive. “An overabundance of dopamine — while it feels great, just as sugar does — creates a mental hyperactivity that reduces the capacity for deeper focus.”

According to the researchers at Harvard, social rewards light up the brain’s reward circuits more than non-social rewards while social pain, like being left out of an activity, lights up the same regions as physical pain – and that “taking Tylenol can reduce social pain more than a placebo”.

Getting likes, friends, positive comments gives us hit after hit of dopamine, without the tradition emotional labour that physical interactions would require. We learn to substitute these shadow interactions for the robust complexity of physical relationships, sequestering ourselves and chasing the next high. This is in part why the cycle of social media validation when suddenly replaced with negative responses like cyberbullying can easily trigger a dependence on drugs and in the worst case scenario push someone over the edge to commit suicide, as we’ve seen in recent times. In the end, while connecting online may be as stimulating as connecting with people in real life, it is not as fulfilling.

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Let’s address the aspect of drug use for a bit.

This year, BBC uncovered a cough syrup racket in a Nigerian pharmacy assisting young people with obtaining drugs.

Cohen had written about this generation’s unorthodox drug choices back in the day.

“Even more disturbing than the Small Generation’s lack of motor skills are their recreational habits. This is a group that has turned away from traditional drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, drugs we know something about, in favour of exotic household substances. And we’re not just talking about glue.”

Beyond a mental health and drug crisis, the youth also grapple with a host of other problems. Millennials and post-millennials may be the most educated bunch ever (University graduates and Masters degree holders), but they record astronomical levels of unemployment.

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Thanks to the baby boomer generation which created the gig economy, the youth now find themselves spinning away from traditional (civil service) employment or taking on jobs that are relevant to their university degree, opting instead for temporary, contract, casual jobs that give them more flexibility- and in most cases, less pay. They often have to make up for the economic shortfall by taking on more jobs at a time. As a result, more youth are living at home with their parents for longer, delaying marriage and childbirth. Social media has seen to the rise of YouTube stars, Instagram influencers and more makeup artists than civil servants, as our demand for easily consumable content rises, but the stats show that there are fewer entrepreneurs than previous generations.

 The National Bureau of statistics pegged Nigeria’s youth unemployment as at quarter 3 of 2017 at 33.1% for those aged 15-24 and 20.2% for those aged 25 to 34. American stats are worse. Any wonder why the youth are less optimistic, confident and risk-averse?

KIDS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN

In our last essay, we discussed childhood and how behavioural science and the general academia are only beginning to grapple with the complexities of childhood, simply because until recently, childhood was never really considered worthy of scrutiny. Adolescence, however, has fascinated not just the scientific community, but the entire world. A major definer of youth populations is the advent of sexuality and how that sexuality goes on to shape general perceptions of self and society, government policies and social etiquette. This headlong plunge into sexuality unfortunately also coincides with the first stirrings self-awareness and the need for autonomy from parents and other authority figures and as such has created a perpetual feud between generations. Perhaps this is why we are so obsessed with it.

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Youth in Nigeria have gone through clear cycles of increasing autonomy and constriction, especially as regards their sexualities. Before the advent of missionaries and colonialists, sex was encouraged among adolescents within the sanctity and protection of a formal union. There were many reasons for this, chiefly because the existing communities were largely agrarian and relied on cheap labour to break even. Sex and procreation were considered a duty to the community and couples that did not conceive early in their adolescent marriages were often shamed for this and pressured until they could produce heirs. Women had little to no say in how their bodies were used as breeders for their patrilineal communities. But at least, back then, sex was largely a commodity and not held in as high esteem as it came to be when the British Colonialists came to Nigeria to conquer the country for their economic interests.

Missionaries were the vanguard of the British incursion into Nigeria. Driven fanatic by their obsessive faith in conservative Christian tenets and fresh out of Great Britain, a country that was at the time at the peak of its Victorian Era craze, the missionaries that sought out African communities were obsessed with archaic ideals of purity and chastity. Their arrival brought to the fore, the sharp contrast between theirs and our perceptions of sex organs. Women and girls routinely went around bare-breasted within their communities, the breasts seen merely as a source of food for suckling babies. This kind of nudity was completely foreign to the Victorian sensibilities that had somehow intertwined chastity with clothing and sought to put women in clothing that covered everything but their heads. With the brute force of the colonialists and the skill of the missionaries, the West was able to convince Nigerian communities to forgo nudity, sex as a commodity and flexible unions for a rigid, puritan view on sex, the human body and sexuality.

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The real coup, however, was convincing us that sex and intimacy were inextricably intertwined. Of all the ideas passed down through colonialism, this has remained the most insidious, colouring interactions between people of the same sex and people of other sexes, causing youth in Nigeria to substitute open communication for presumptions to disastrous results. Many youth today are conflating sexual desire with a physical manifestation of genuine love and seek the high that comes from intercourse. It has become a substitute for sexuality, a way for youth to navigate the world they experience.

However, where the theory of sex as love falls flat, is in the face of Nigeria’s enduring patriarchy, a system that existed before colonialism but was refined and enforced by the white colonialists who sought to increase populations for their own personal gain while ensuring that the act lost all its status as a purely recreational activity. Because of the widespread patriarchy that existed in Nigeria, sexual acts between heterosexual and most homosexual couples are transactional; driven by an understood but unspoken agreement that the exchange of sex between a man and woman should conversely be met with an exchange in cash or kind by the man. In the past it used to be a necessity for women who were unable to enter the workforce or find other ways to care for themselves and any other needs; but now a good number of women do this as a way to assert self and relinquish ‘sexual power’ from the men.

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Ultimately sex remains such a high commodity, enough to demand millions of dollars (as part of a ransom to take a woman’s virginity) for a single round of sex because we are led to believe that sex is a resource, one that is in short supply. Purity culture, the belief that women are born pure and must be preserved for a ‘deserving man’ colours much of our interactions as sexually active adolescents/adults. But there is no such thing as a deserving man, the same culture that demands that adolescent virgin girls abstain from sex and any other sexual activity encourages boys and men to seek themselves out as many partners as possible before eventually settling with one woman, one that can tolerate the specific flaws and neuroses that make them unattractive in the first place. Youth, especially in Nigeria are heavily influenced by the dichotomies of purity culture, the pre-occupation with sex and the idea that sex and intimacy remain intertwined.

However, we are certainly not our parents. The polls conducted by The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS) found that more young Nigerians, now more than ever, either identify on the LGBT spectrum or know someone who does. These people are in part brought to the fore of the cause for more people to show acceptance to LGBTQI persons, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, passed into law in 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan. While the ex-president has come forward to apologise, the aftermath of his laws continues to ripple and jeopardise the lives of young LGBTQ Nigerians. So the people who choose to speak up about LGBT issues understand, thanks to the internet, that the agitation for recognition will be a long and arduous one. In the meantime, we settle for rejecting the traditional expectations of marriage and forging ours.

Aside issues of entrepreneurship and sexuality, there has been an increasing need for new ideals in politics and governance, thus necessitating the involvement of young minds (millennials) in the affairs of their community or state.

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This phenomenon is largely inspired by increased access to information as well as the advent of social media that has helped provide leverage for voices which hitherto were comfortable with complaining indoors or in their private spaces, in getting a wider reach.

Another ready example would be the inspiration gotten from the rise to prominence and ultimately, to power of Emmanuel Macron (39 at the time). His success at finding a place as the Head of government of the world’s fifth largest economy, France is no small feat and this indeed is the very fulcrum on which millennials around the world today have embraced the need to not just be involved in politics but go in with the belief that they can achieve their vision, which of course, is a strong point of the Generation Y.

In this day and time, not only have they found social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, worthy tools to express their views and opinions on critical societal and political issues, they have become ready tools for galvanising their peers in standing up for, or standing against contemporary issues of concern thus influencing the conversations.

In the same vein, organisations like Change.org, a petition website operated by for-profit Change.org, Inc., with over 100 million users hosts sponsored campaigns for organisations, and as well serves to facilitate petitions by the general public and has indeed recorded a number of success across countries like, the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, India, Australia, Mexico and the Philippines on diverse range of causes.

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There’s also been the introduction of social media boycotts which have become a major political tool in forcing multinational companies and others into aligning with their expectations and ideals.

Most worrisome about this aspect of the millennial invasion, is the phenomenon called ‘cancel culture’ which essentially comes into play when people who have said or done problematic things, either now or in the past, are decidedly “cancelled,” and people no longer support them or their endeavours.

The dangers associated with this is what many have described as a contemporary dilemma.

20-year-old Kylie Jenner reportedly makes $1 million per paid post on Instagram and has been dubbed by Forbes as the youngest person on the fourth annual ranking of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. Kylie is worth $900m, has over 113 million followers on Instagram – the majority of whom are Generation Z – and wields power and influence.

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Innovations like Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, etc., have gradually taken over the media space. Conversations and movements have begun on social media. The new wave of the #MeTooMovement has gathered a voice and prominence on social media with top media personalities like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein facing court cases.

Silicon Valley hosts companies like Apple, Facebook and Google. Apple recently became the first company in the world to hit $1 trillion, Facebook has the data of over 2 billion subscribers and Google remains the number one search engine. In Nigeria, the Yabacon Valley, has played a huge part in the nation’s technological advancement. Companies like CC Hub, Andela, Hotels.ng, all started in Yaba and have become a force to reckon with.

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