Children and young people’s lives are, in many societies, far removed from what they were just one or two generations ago. Globalization is an important force that has impacted everyone’s lives, changing communication and social attitudes, and this has probably had the strongest effect on youth. The reason globalization has had such a strong impact on young people’s lives is that it is impacting them at one of the most volatile moments of their lives, one where they are already undergoing extreme changes and facing challenges in the form of alcohol, drugs and road traffic accidents. When children transition into adulthood, they are also faced with their changing sexuality, which brings them face-to-face with global issues, such as HIV and AIDs. Young people around the world are also more likely to mix school and work than past generations, although this depends heavily on the culture they have grown up in, and this is something that looks set to continue as the average age of leaving school rises globally.
Another change that has hit adolescents through globalization is that the transition period is now taking longer and longer. As more education and skill is needed, partly due to the growing population and competition and partly due to increasing technology, the time spent before entering the adult world is also lengthening. Combined with the revolution in technology this means that young people are not only taking longer to go through adolescence, but have more information to process during the transition. This has led to increases in cultural, political, and economic effects on young people and their place in the world. It has also forced governments in many parts of the world to be forced to recognize young people and the challenges that they face in an increasingly global world.
Diversity and Trends
With this increasing globalization there comes increasing diversity. Cultures are now more likely than ever to borrow or appropriate from others simply because the information and access is there. Whilst this can provide benefits in many cases, there is also confusion in diversity. Wang investigates the import of Western medicine and Western ideologies into a Chinese state-run orphanage, suggesting that there is often conflict between the Western middle-class who create the rules and the local Chinese volunteers who have to implement them. One source of this conflict is that there is a sense of homogenizing the childhood experience, suggesting that it is the same and can therefore be fixed in the same way between the West and China. The problem with diversity in a global context means that the differences between cultures need to be fully understood before understanding the childhood and adolescent experience.
There is, therefore, a need to communicate between cultures to help fully understand these differences. As the trend is for childhood to last longer, there is also a need to communicate what this might mean for children and young people on a global scale. For the NGO Save the Children, communication is improved by creating similarities between experiences rather than focusing on the differences. In one case study, a girl named Bilal from Barcelona is talking to a slum-dweller online, and to communicate she focuses on common experiences of going to school, playing soccer and singing in the choir. This approach is one that can really help to examine the similarities in experiences, which opens up lines of investigation into growing trends on a global scale.
Power & Inequality
Another trend that arises from globalization is an increasing awareness of the balance of power. The West is now more aware of the situation of many children around the world, and the issues that face them are different from those living in the West. Even within countries such as the United States, there is a huge amount of inequality between the richest and the poorest children, and we need to have an understanding of the sources of this inequality and the ways in which we can tackle it. One of the biggest areas of concern is “street children”, defined as children who live, work, or are otherwise connected to the street and often have their rights violated with little access to societal support. These children are often viewed by society as problematic, troublesome, or deviants, which is not helping policy to change in order to recognize their needs and rights.
Despite the fact that there is a growing amount of information about street children and inequality, there are issues in the way that this information is used. The research tends to focus on the predicaments of these children, rather than their survival strategies, which is seen as reductionist. There is also a limited amount of use for theoretical research on the ground, which means that it only contributes to our understanding of inequality rather than helping us to tackle the issues. Conticini brings us back to the differences in experiences between street children living in different areas, suggesting that children in South America often have a transition period before going out fully onto the street, whilst those in Ethiopia and Bangladesh do not get this psychological and physical acceptance. This suggests that inequality is not only a challenge to face on an economic level, but also changes the way that children approach challenges in a cultural sense.
Voice & Action
All of these issues highlight a need to find a voice for children on a global scale in order to reduce the homogenization of the youth experience. It also highlights a need to fight for action in order to help reduce the poverty and inequality that occurs on a global scale. Whilst part of this job is done by transnational NGOs, there is also a growing focus on participation itself. Participation is often given the role of panacea when working in difficult situations, and the idea is that participation in social and cultural activities can somehow “fix” the problems that many children and young people have. Whilst in many ways this can help, and is somewhat of an active process, there is clearly more work to be done to understand the lives of children across the world and facilitate their transition into adulthood.
In all cultures across the world, the transition from childhood to adulthood is a complex one that brings about a lot of change for the individual. Despite the fact that the experiences are different between cultures and individuals (even the age at which the transition occurs heavily differs) this factor remains the same. There are several different factors that need to be understood in order to effectively understand this life stage: family, peer relationships, health and wellbeing, education and employment, civic engagement, government and inter-group relations, media and information technology, research and scholarship, and policy and practice. These elements all come together to create the framework around which children’s lives are formed, and can give a huge amount of insight into the experiences that children have without homogenizing it. There are clearly issues that children (and policy makers) have to face in an increasingly global world, such as changes in information technology, culture, and health issues. These all need to be incorporated into a full understanding of “children” and “youth”.
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