The last of the millennials will require intelligence, perseverance, self-sacrifice and more than a little luck.
According to the Chinese zodiac, they are the Golden Dragons: young people born since the dawn of the 21st century, the last of the millennials, the tail end of Generation Y.
Being digital natives, they have never had to dial up the Internet or flip the pages of a dictionary or encyclopedia. When we ask, “What kind of world are we leaving to the children, they are the offspring in question.
As we enter 2014, perhaps it's time to turn the question around and ask, “What kind of children are we leaving the world to?”
Much has been made of all the predicaments they will face – overpopulation, climate change, pollution, economic disparity – how soon they will have to face up to these problems and how few in number they will be.
According to Statistics Canada, the country recorded 327,882 births in 2000, the lowest total since the end of the Second World War when the nation’s population was barely 12 million, one-quarter of what it is today.
Immigration will help to shore up the ranks. But to live long and prosper, the dragons will require intelligence, perseverance, self-sacrifice and more than a little luck – at a time when modern life too often seems increasingly shallow, selfish and soulless.
What are these youngsters really like? What do teens who have never known a world without smartphones – they were 1 when the first iPod appeared; 3 when Facebook launched; 4 when same-sex marriage became legal, and 5 when Stephen Harper came to power – make of their lives as well as the challenges they face down the road?
To find out, we asked six of them – from different backgrounds and representing communities coast to coast – to give us their take on Canada today and their roles in it. The Golden Dragon being a charismatic figure, they have no shortage of opinions whether living in a Cree community in northern Manitoba or a housing project undergoing rapid transformation in downtown Toronto.
A young Calgarian weighs the economic benefits of new pipelines against the environmental danger they may pose, while his opposite number in rural Ontario keeps an eye on his stock portfolio and hopes the economy stays on track – but never loses sight of the privileges he enjoys.
And while children of Google, they are far from the glassy-eyed millennial cliché – comfortable with technology but wary of it. One even feels that a ban on online communications would make the world a better place.
As they look ahead to a year in which most will enter high school, they worry about the fate of the polar bear, have their eye on the government and see things you probably thought they would miss – perhaps because they spend less time on Facebook than you do.
In Grade 8 and schooled at home, she hopes to attend university and travel the world
I actually stay away from news, because I am really sensitive, but I like to know about the major issues, and usually my dad comes home talking about them.
In my homeschooling group, we did something about Malala [the Pakistani teen activist], so education for girls is a big thing – also, because I went to We Day [to promote youth volunteers], and they talked about that too.
I’m aware of prejudices against people of different religions, like people being imprisoned, or killed even, or treated unfairly just because of their religion and no other reason. I’m a Bahai, so I hear a lot about Bahais being imprisoned in Iran.
I know that there are a lot of environmental issues. It seems to be getting worse and worse. My cousin lives in China and my sister’s there, and she sent us a picture of her with a mask on her face, and the caption was “Lovely pollution today.” It’s a lot worse there because of factories, I guess. People just keep making more and more stuff that nobody needs.
When I was in school last year, it made me so angry, people would litter all the time, every day. If people were aware of how bad it is, maybe they would care more, but they seem completely careless.
People my age seem to care more about their looks and their things. Everybody just wants to be cool and, for a lot of people, it means ditching whatever you really like.
There are positive and negative aspects of social media. It’s a good way of keeping in touch with people and, in my case, when I’m bored, it’s a boredom reliever. Negatively, it probably takes away a lot of people’s time that they could be doing something else that’s better. My sister likes to go on the Internet a lot and text people, and it almost seems like she would rather text than talk or get together with them.
I know lots of people who are with a friend and they’re texting another friend at the same time, and it takes away from that time you’re trying to have with the friend you’re with.
In person, you can have actual conversations more easily. You can see actual expressions on their faces and actual emotions can be exchanged. If you met someone online and all you did was texted, it wouldn’t be much of a relationship. We are people, we are meant to talk with each other. We are meant to see each other.
A better world
One of the things that comes to mind is if everybody had fair governments. Fair leaders in their country, and if they all had equal rights and fair rights. And if everybody could have access to education. If everybody had rights, it would make the world a better place.
Also, though, I care for the environment a lot, so anything that could make the environment a better place, like if everybody was a vegetarian. That would be good.
A Grade 8 student at Oscar Lathlin Collegiate in her Cree community just outside The Pas in northern Manitoba, she hopes to become a paramedic
We talked about [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper in social studies. My teacher, he was very upset because, when he was growing up, he had treaty rights. What gives Harper the right to take away our treaty rights now that he has the power? Some of us don’t have enough money to go to school. It’s kind of like taking our rights away. Everyone should be able to have rights, regardless of race or gender. Some people can be very racist and say mean things, but in the end we’re only human.
I think about climate change sometimes and how, pretty soon, the polar bears are going to go extinct. Sometimes it feels distant and sometimes like a concern because younger generations may not know what a polar bear is.
In science, my teacher talked about how, when she was growing up, there were a lot of factories and for a while she had to move away from the area because it was so polluted. These days, it still goes on, but not as bad.
I try to take breaks from it. I’ll go on it for however-many minutes and then I’ll do something else, like clean up or eat or exercise. The Internet just wastes a lot of time and it gets you tired easily.
My grandparents were drug users and alcohol abusers and their parents went to residential schools, which meant their parents were strict, because mainly when they got out of residential schools they were unhappy because their rights got taken away, they lost their language and all that, and they just took it out on their kids.
My parents growing up were around drug and alcohol abuse and, when I was growing up, I wasn’t because the both of them are very against that. So, I’m really grateful I grew up in an environment where I could feel safe and secure.
I look up to my older sister because she is very fit and very active, she plays soccer, she plays different sports. She’s in boxing. She works for Child and Family Services and she’s a part of Junior Chiefs & Council. She’s a role model to everyone in my community.
I think people my age are turning to drugs because there is really nothing to do on the reservation. There are not enough facilities for us to use – like an indoor soccer arena or something like that – so they turn to marijuana and ecstasy for fun. A lot of people my age these days go through depression due to cyberbullying and just bullying and what they go through at home, and most of them aren’t emotionally stable. That’s probably why most of them turn to drugs and alcohol, to numb the pain, but really it’s just slowly getting them nowhere in life.
A better world
No technology. Technology ruins people, they get too addicted, they harass people and, without it, they wouldn’t be able to. Nowadays, people don’t know how to use face-to-face contact, it’s all through the screen, and they don’t have the confidence to go up to people and confront them.
Grey County, Ont.
In Grade 8 at Edge Hill Country School near Durham, Ont., he would like to design homes for a living
I have stocks, so the economy matters to me. I ask my dad how my stocks are doing from time to time, or check it myself. I don’t worry about it too much because it hasn’t been super-bad; it’s just been up and down a bit.
I think about light pollution, water pollution, garbage – landfill and stuff. When I see all these extra lights on that they’re not using but they’ve just turned them on for some reason, it just bugs me. I want to go into the house and turn them all off. So you can see the stars still, you know?
I do hope the polar bears have somewhere to live soon but ... it’s something that’s harder to change. Because whether we like it or not, we have to drive from here to there. I live in the country. I can’t take a streetcar and save gas.
This generation is a lot more caring. My parents were telling me they didn’t really hug their parents a lot, but we do in this generation. They had it easier for some things. But they also had it harder because you had to walk five miles to school and you didn’t have a car.
One thing that’s worse about being 13 now is that, in the past – I mean a lot more in the past – showing your ankle was risqué. Now showing your ankle is totally normal. Now a bikini is totally normal.
I’d personally hate to not be able to show my ankle but I think now we’ve gone over the top, we’ve passed the middle. The danger is that we lose all our dignity. We just do anything for fame and anything for money and we don’t have any dignity.
We’re also a lot more spoiled. Nowadays, an orange is nothing. But in the past, an orange would have been like a crazy treat. We’re definitely a lot more selfish and we take things for granted. We don’t really realize that, but you think how lucky we are to have all this stuff.
A better world
If everyone was kind to each other, that would solve all the problems. I think kindness is the number one thing. Greed makes people unkind. It’s part of our nature but it’s also bad.
In Grade 7 at Lord Dufferin Public School, she wants to become a corporate lawyer
Our school is very diverse – lots of people from different cultures – so there’s not that much racist stuff. But sometimes, like when people just want to be rude and bully people, they may be like, “Shut up, you n-word,” or something like that. I think they’re just doing it to be provocative because there’s no reason for them to be racist because most people in our school have different backgrounds – they don’t come from Canada.
Gang violence seems to be happening a lot in Regent Park because kids these days think it’s cool to have a gun or smoke weed. It’s not cool – it’s stupid, and it just causes trouble for everybody in the community.
I don’t have any online accounts. They’re dumb. I spend five minutes online each day. It’s just a way for people to make kids use the computer and spend their time doing something that doesn’t help them in the end. They could be doing something productive instead of sitting in front of a screen playing a game or talking to people online. The only positive thing is that it helps you out with [research] work. That’s pretty much it.
There’s nothing worthwhile about Facebook at all. Mostly kids just get cyberbullied, they get made fun of, and it’s just dumb. Why do that when you could just go to the person and talk to them face to face?
My parents are immigrants. They were born in Ethiopia. Things are going really bad there and kids are suffering and they don’t have enough money to eat. When I visited, what was really sad was I saw little kids begging for money and finding scraps on the floor to eat, and it was terrible. At my school, we get snacks.
On the other hand, my parents had more of an outdoors childhood and I have more of an indoor childhood. And they were much closer because they spent a lot of time with their family. For me, it’s kind of hard because my parents work all the time.
I want to be a corporate lawyer because law intrigues me and also because I heard that you make good money and I want to donate some of that money to help the less fortunate. People are still racist, but it won’t hold me back because I’m me and I can do whatever I put my mind to and no one can stop me.
A better world
World peace. People fight because they want power, they want to be on the top of everybody else, they want to rule, they want money. It’s just selfishness. I guess it comes from bad childhoods – maybe they were poor and they don’t ever want to go through that again. We could solve that, if everybody came together and helped out all the countries.
Maple Ridge, B.C.
An aspiring veterinarian, she is in Grade 8 at Maple Ridge Secondary School
Sometimes my mom tells me about stuff. Sometimes I go to class and the teacher says: “Does anyone know what’s up with the world right now?” and someone puts their hands up, so I learn about a few new things ... sometimes I’m flipping through the channels on the TV and I hear something interesting so I keep watching.
There’s all this talk about global warming and how it’s affecting our world to pollute and to leave garbage around and how, in a few years, it’s not going to be a fun place to live. I think because there’s so much talk about it, and so many people who care less, I worry sometimes about what the world will be like. But it’s not something I’m constantly worrying myself about.
I think in most other countries they have different religions that could affect how teenagers live. Canada’s a very free country. In some places in the Middle East, it is very strict and it’s very male-oriented. So, if you’re a girl, it’s not the ideal lifestyle, because you have a lot less freedom and a lot less rights.
I’m on my phone constantly. So I’m on Instagram and Facebook a few times a day, but I’m not like, “If I don’t check my Facebook today, I’m going to die.”
In real life, people won’t say stuff that will hurt you to your face because they don’t want to see your reaction, basically, and they don’t have to be there for all the tears. Online, it’s like they don’t have to be there, so it’s fine to say anything, so people are throwing all this negative stuff at other people. The people who are constantly on the Internet read all that all the time and they get obsessed with it. I’m quite sensitive – at the slightest thing I will get very emotional – but I think most people enjoy having me as a friend. I have a lot of really close friends who I know would always be there for me, so I don’t think I would ever slip into depression. I think I would maybe get a little sad or angry, but I don’t think I would be depressed.
A few years ago there wasn’t as much social media and cyberbullying – or predators trying to find you over the Internet. It was old-school, like: “Come in my van, I have candy.” Nowadays they track you down. It’s a longer process, but it’s more effective.
When my parents were younger, there wasn’t as much stuff to be selfish about, like toys and games and video games and electronics. Over time, it’s gotten worse and worse.
A better world
Better health care because many countries are not as developed as Canada and have more diseases and less money. If they spent more on health care than they did on the military, it would be much better.
In Grade 8 at St. Basil’s Junior High, he is interested in journalism
We talked about those two new pipelines that might go in, one that’s going to go through America and one that’s going to go through B.C., and we talked about the economic effects and how they affect the environment. It would help Alberta’s economy for sure, but I think it comes down to being between environment and money. Is it a good idea? I have to think about it first and I have to look at all the facts before I make a decision.
I think about how global warming might affect the world. I think it’s going to happen over a long period of time. It will probably melt the ice caps and flood the low-lying areas along the coasts, which probably won’t happen for a long time, but it will happen if this continues. I think about how it’s going to affect the world, not so much myself. I feel like I do a pretty good job of doing stuff to help the environment, like recycling. So I don’t feel like I need to change anything I’m doing right now.
I think cyberbullying is worse than bullying at school because that way you don’t really know who is doing it, and it’s harder to catch that person. So I think it can go on for longer and it’s worse in general.
I like it better when you’re talking face to face with someone instead of when you’re just sitting in from a computer screen and typing and texting. You get to see the person’s emotions. Sometimes you can’t really tell what the person feels when they’re texting because you can’t see their face and you can’t see their expressions and you don’t know their emotions.
I don’t have any accounts on any of that stuff. I go to YouTube once in a while, but mostly it’s research stuff. For maybe an hour a day.
My dad used to live on a farm, he had to work on the farm, whereas I don’t have to do that, I just have to go to school, and when I come home, it’s pretty much my time and I can do what I want. He had more commitments.
I’m not saying that everyone is always so selfish now, but some people just try to get ahead, just for themselves. I think it was different before because everybody had a little less than we do now, so they all tried to help each other out.
Men and women are a lot more equal now. If I’d been born back when my dad was born, I would have probably said that I would have a better chance at getting a better job, but now I think my chances are probably close to the same as women have. I don’t think being white matters. Well, in Canada it doesn’t matter; in other countries it does.
A better world
The world can never be perfect.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.