I live and work with young people. It is easy to judge young people, but I always found the best lessons emerge from listening to them with empathy and true commitment, following in the footsteps of Don Bosco.
Recently I came across a passage which offers some consolation to those who think the paradoxes of youth is a phenomenon of today. Atamou, scribe of Thebes in Egypt, at around 2500BC, wrote:
“We live in an age of decadence. The young are good-for-nothing, do not respect their elders, are impatient and rebellious. The wisdom of the old is ridiculed by them, and their parents are treated without regard. These symptoms of our age are an indication that we are near to the end of the world.”
The consolation stops when we add the issues caused by accelerating lifestyles and the internet, which were not the order of the day 500 years ago.
Young people today continue to live in a cultural crises, as good and bad are intermingled, leaving them confused and disoriented. They do realise, more or less consciously, that they are subject to strong conditioning forces, and they complain that they are either unable to express their creativity or they have already lost it. The situation in Malta does not help.
We live in a culture that values money, immediate gratification and power over respect and integrity.
Ermes Ronchi in his book Le nude domande del Vangelo, containing the sermons he preached to Pope Francis in 2016, writes that:
“God is the good news that states: it is possible to live better and the Gospel has the key and contains the secret. Every human being has certain needs to love and to be loved.”
Much of the selfish aggressiveness of young people today arises out of insecurity, grounded social trends, which they feel they cannot stop and can only adopt blindly.
The erosion of restraint and discipline, the promiscuity in sexual relations, the idealising of stars and their fantastic lives, and the fear of missing out, fuelled by the quasi-addiction to social media.
I believe that parents must stop and think about this critical situation.
There is a point at which your son or daughter is lost, shutting down communication with you and seeking meaning in other means. This is fertile ground for any addiction, including drugs.
The situation is not impossible to address. The fulfilment of your children is not image, clothes, holidays and cars. It lies in believing that life is a wonderful gift given to us from God to whom we must be grateful, and that even small things can fill our hearts and make us smile.
I have heard hundreds of young people relating how they longed for authenticity
We are losing the meaning of simple things as we succumb to worldly pressures.
Malta is living a cultural crisis. The first victims of every crisis are young people. While they are living their youth, which is a wonderful gift from God, they are in a situation to experience life and to live a process of identification. Who are the models around them with whom they can identify themselves? And what type of ideals do they find in the market?
The “irrelevance of the faith in life and culture” has become an axon of modern society, as if it were proved beyond question that being religious means being in opposition to the laws and movements that control young people of today in their road to success.
For those young people living in this kind of culture, questions about God are of no importance, and religious terminology (salvation, sin, faith, afterlife) lose all its significance.
There is no point therefore in talking about the relationships between faith and life, or faith and culture. Religious concepts can no longer be expressed in an intelligible way.
Even those young people who believe, prefer to live their faith “in private” without linking it with their public, everyday life. This isolation of faith is encouraged by various factors including the mass media.
There is a myriad of reasons why young people resort to drugs and these are well debated in scientific circles.
Common among these motivations is an emptiness which many feel, a lack of sense of belonging and a fear of being left out.
My decades of working with young people with troubled histories, have taught me that parents are central to the solution. Young people, including those experimenting with drugs, long for attention, warmth, love and authentic living.
I have heard hundreds of young people relating how they longed for authenticity and they got money, cars and lavish lifestyles instead. Parents should understand that children learn from our actions not from our words. They want to be listened to and respected, not allowed to wonder around rudderless.
I would like to finish my article with a prayer I wrote in my book The Crimes of the Innocent:
“O Lord have mercy on us. Save us from this plague. You know how difficult it is to convince an addict to get out of drugs. Not days, but months and years are needed to save only one.
“You know how many people suffer because of one drug addict and what a chaotic environment he or she creates. Wipe the tears of so many mothers! Soften the hearts of those who want to become rich on the misery of our young people.
“Let not our graves be filled with victims in their prime of life. And give us the strength and the courage to continue our battle and not surrender in front of this evil. And help us not to forget that You are the ultimate Judge of both the living and the dead. Amen.”
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece