Mobile version
spiked plus
About spiked
What is spiked?
Support spiked
spiked shop
Contact us
Summer school
Top issues
Arab uprisings
British politics
Child abuse panic
For Europe, Against the EU
Free speech
Jimmy Savile scandal
Parents and kids
View all issues...
special feature
The Counter-Leveson Inquiry
other sections
 Review of Books
 Monthly archive
selected authors
Duleep Allirajah
Daniel Ben-Ami
Tim Black
Jennie Bristow
Sean Collins
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Frank Furedi
Helene Guldberg
Patrick Hayes
Mick Hume
Rob Lyons
Brendan O’Neill
Nathalie Rothschild
James Woudhuysen
more authors...
RSS feed
a-b c-d e-h i-l m-n o-r s-u v-z index
Claire Fox
director of the Institute of Ideas

One key challenge to ensure intellectual life thrives in the next 18 years is to give young people ideas and social projects worth aspiring to. Getting ‘the kids’ more actively engaged has become an obsession within public policy circles. However, many of these initiatives are problematic and make adults look infantile. The key challenge will be to make adults behave like grown ups to give the young role models worth aspiring to.

At the moment, too many institutions are angst ridden about being out of touch with the young. The desperation to connect has led to a range of naff attempts at ‘getting down with the kids’ using ‘street’ language. But when adults try to hi-jack youth culture to make themselves palatable to the younger generation, they betray their own lack of worth. Is it any wonder kids feel alienated from their elders when adults behave like insecure adolescents?

Another approach is to hang on youths’ coat-tails by constantly asking them what they think. It insults the intelligence of teenagers to pat them on the back without discrimination, just because they are young. Worse, it implies adults have so little to offer new generations and are so insecure in their own values and ideas that the best they can do is to ape the insights of the most immature section of society.

This approach, which purports to take young people seriously, too often patronises them, assuming the only way the young will be impressed by grown ups is if we flatter them. The opposite is the truth. The Institute of Ideas runs a schools’ debating competition (http://www.debatingmatters.com), in which Sixth Formers are challenged by adult judges to justify their arguments and to improve them.

This approach means confronting the ‘whatever’ generation with the value of reasoned argument and the necessity of employing more than the banal truisms and emotional clichés so beloved by teenagers. While this puts pupils under pressure, we have found many relish the prospect of having their ideas held to account and appreciate the intellectual pugilism of serious criticism from those not afraid to admit they know more than the average A-level student. Ironically real engagement occurs, as the sixth formers realise they have a lot to learn and that growing up means entering a world more complicated, more fascinating and even more interesting and stimulating than the world of MySpace.

Instead of consigning the young to the limits of their narrow experience and pandering to youth culture to endear us to them, the challenge is to hold our nerve and earn their respect as adults. Of course that requires that we ourselves have more interesting things to say than the latest issue of Nuts magazine. But as adults we might all raise our game if we set ourselves the challenge of having a project worth growing up to become involved in.

Survey home
What we found
Survey responses
RSS feed
Anjana Ahuja
Michael Baum
Peter Cochrane
Richard Feachem
Frank Furedi
Michio Kaku
Ken MacLeod
Jonathan Meades
Munira Mirza
Matthew Parris
Ingo Potrykus
Roger Scruton
Ben Shneiderman
Lionel Shriver
Raymond Tallis
Peter Whittle
Josie Appleton
David Baulcombe
Claire Fox
William Higham
Paul Lauterbur
William Graeme Laver
Ken MacLeod
Fiona McEwen
Victor Stenger