Every year, I am in front of between 50,000 and 60,000 students, staff and parents, talking about this Millennial generation: who they are and what adults can do to mentor them well. It’s always makes for a lively question and answer time!
One question seems to come up everywhere. What is happening around the world? In other words, are there any international trends we can spot that let us know what is coming in this Millennial generation of kids? I must confess, I certainly don’t have the final answer to this question, but let me share two sobering facts that ignite me to work even harder to provide a moral compass for students today.
FACT: In the next fifteen years, half of the global population will be 21 years old or younger.
While people are living longer, the birthrate is passing older generations—in some countries at an alarming rate. Today, the average age in China and India is mid-twenties. Many people in African nations won’t even see their 30th birthday because of the AIDS pandemic. Even in America, the Millennial generation is already rivaling the Baby Boomer population in size, at 78 million. With immigration, some sociologists say the Millennial Generation may grow to 100 million strong in the U.S. We are a reflection of the globe. The earth’s population is growing younger, and they desperately need guidance.
FACT: When there is a bulge in the youth population, there is always violence.
Gunnar Heinsohn, a social scientist at the University of Bremen (Germany) writes that when 15-29 year olds make up more than 30% of the population—violence occurs; when large percentages are under 15, violence is often imminent. The causes for such violence can be immaterial. Whether the country is rich or poor, whether they experience good conditions or bad, violence and passion follow a bulging population of young people. This explains Ireland 90 years ago. It explains Africa over the last 50 years. It explains Latin America in the 1980s, and Europe in the 1500s. For that matter, it explains the violence America experienced in the 1960s. It was primarily the young Baby Boomer population rioting on the university campuses or in the streets.
What Will Come of This Millennial Generation?
Today, there are 67 countries where a “youth bulge” exists. (That is, populations where more than 30% are young adults or kids). 60 of those countries are presently in civil war or are experiencing mass killings. Heinsohn has written an eye-opening book called, Sons and World Power. In it, he documents this history of youth and violence. It matters not if the countries are civilized or non-civilized. It is more about the Millennial generation finding a place to express their identity. Without healthy guidance, they’ll join any cause and enter into anarchy. Don’t believe me? Just watch them. Of the 27 biggest “youth bulge” nations, 13 are Muslim. Those kids will find expression, even if they take it out on the rest of the world.
The U.S. has been involved in Iraq for years now. It provides a sobering case study. Like many of its neighbors, nearly half of the population in Iraq is under 18 years old. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Education, 70% of elementary school kids are no longer attending classes regularly.
Hassan Ali, a sociologist at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs says, “These children will come to believe in the principles of force and violence. There’s no question that society as a whole is going to feel the effects in the future…” This generation of kids in that part of the world is growing up unemployed, undereducated, traumatized and among boys, in particular, ripe for vengeful appeals of militias and insurgent groups. According to Newsweek magazine (January 22, 2007), it isn’t only the Iraqi kids either. From the Middle East, to Europe to America, violence may well beget violence around the world for years to come. French scholar, Gilles Kepel, author of Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, warns that many of these young people in the Millennial generation, raised on anger and fear, are potentially rebels without clear causes. “What will their jihads become?” he asks. “Are they going to grow up to kill each other, or will they turn their weapons against the West?”
Very often we blame the poor conditions of such countries in conflict. Not so. In El Salvador, for example, the explosion of political killing in the 1970s and 80s was preceded by a 27% rise in per capita income. The problem is, rather, that in a youth-bulge society, there are not enough positions to provide all these young men with prestige and standing. They want to be known for something. In America during the 1960s, college campuses were scenes of demonstrations and riots that often ended in violence. The issue wasn’t poverty—the U.S. was experiencing a healthy economy. So what was it about? No doubt there were a variety of reasons, but one that’s often overlooked is the Baby Boomers were coming of age. We had a youth bulge. Young people long to find expression. They want to make a difference…and they will…whatever that means.
Globally speaking, it appears this Millennial generation will provide a clash between optimism and nihilism. Students from high technology nations, full of optimism plan to give their lives to improve global conditions. Yet, there are young people—especially from terrorist countries—giving their life up in order to take the lives of others. They are the ultimate in nihilism.
Here’s my point. If we’re serious about transforming the world, we have to be serious about investing in this next generation. Here’s my question: What are you willing to sacrifice to invest in them? What we do today as adults, will no doubt determine who they will become as adults.
Are you ready to become intentional about mentoring someone in the Millennial generation?
Want to learn more about the Millennial Generation?