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Friday, 26 April 2019 05:49 pm

Working like a dog: the return of youth wages

Nov 10th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Article, Features, Opinion

PUPPY EYES: "Munter" relaxes outside Plum Cafe.

“OUR youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Is this Karl du Fresne speaking? Deborah Coddington? No, it’s Socrates, who died around 400BC.

This sound bite could be a conservative referring to the Occupy movement: “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”

It’s actually from one of Socrates’ students, Plato.

If each successive generation since the time of the ancient Greeks has behaved worse than their parents, then logically speaking we should have razed the planet to a blackened mess of broken bottles and torn underwear some centuries back.

We’ve had over 2410 years to disgrace our forefathers, and yet somehow the world has stayed in one piece. Moral codes and standards of behaviour are more or less recognisable throughout literature from Aristophanes to Chaucer to Skins.

Unfortunately, given how familiar Plato and Socrates’ complaints sound to modern ears, it seems like youth still have an image problem.

Apparently, violent crime, unemployment, substance abuse and single parenthood are all rising fast in New Zealand’s under-25s.

Even taking this as given, what does it say? In most other minority-style groups, it would indicate a troublesome disconnection from the community.

There’d be policies drafted to encourage their re-integration into society, an increase in education, money pumped in and general positive attention directed.

Instead, there’s a whiff of punishment in the air from some political parties.

If National wins another term, it proposes to re-introduce youth wages, limit the number of tertiary courses students can enrol for, devalue tertiary education by linking funding to specific pass rates, and manage benefits on behalf of teen mothers and beneficiaries.

There’s already been punitive changes to the student loan system; funding cuts to scholarship programmes; the 90-day dismissal bill; even the Skynet Bill, which criminalises the “internet native” generation in ways older politicians may not even fully understand.

To add insult to injury, many of the parliamentarians chasing us for student loan debt are old enough to have had their own degrees funded by the state, leaving them free to travel, start a business or walk into a readily-available job at their ease.

Is it a coincidence that the parties who base their policy on being “tough on criminals” are also tough on the under-25s?

It’s been proven that John Key’s much-publicised “boot camps” don’t work.

Judith Collins’ car-crushing for boy racers didn’t work, and the council’s pink vests for taggers have been phased out.

There’s a consensus with modern dog-trainers that if a puppy wees in the house, rubbing its nose in the mess doesn’t stop it doing it again.

I have a feeling that these policies, written with similar intent, won’t work either.

They’re based on this quite simplistic idea of punishment versus reward, and to me, it seems like applying a shallow solution to an old, deeply complex psychological problem.

Carrying on the puppy-wee analogy, there’s a general agreement that puppies should be trained using a reward system to generate positive associations with the right behaviour, rather than alienating them with punitive action.

To train her pup, my mother carried pieces of sausage around in a fanny-pack. Being 17 at the time, I refused to be seen with her, but the dog’s grown into a model canine citizen.

Where are the people protesting with placards against de-sexing, discriminating against non-white puppies, wanting a return to traditional nose-rubbing values and demanding puppies be served 30% less Tux before they turn two?

Speaking of which, where are the 1,820,500 young New Zealanders protesting against National’s plans?

The part of the foolish, impulsive youth is as old as society, and it’s become a well-established rite of passage.

Not only is it understood, it’s become expected behaviour, and the thing about expectations is that with the right amount of belief behind them, they can become a prediction or even a request.

As well as behaving badly, young people are also expected to take little interest in what politics decides on their behalf.

Conservative pundits love complaining about the lack of political engagement in young people, notwithstanding the amount of bad press youth do receive when they mobilise as a group like Occupy, or the widely youth-backed Green party.

Besides being Plato’s “our youth”, we are still our parents’ children, and for the most part we were brought up to do as we are told.

I think most teenagers still secretly believe that most adults have their best interests at heart when they take control of their lives, even bosses and politicians.

Puppies don’t understand what they’ve done wrong when they are smacked. Most teenagers won’t understand why, when youth wages are re-introduced and/or they’re fired from their first job after two months, the state appears to value them less as citizens.

The teachable moment will be received third-hand through an overworked supervisor at the local New World, who just wants to chip away at her student loan while she applies for better jobs in Australia.

The overwhelming impression for the young employee will be: “This society does not want me in it.”

Voters need to make sure the problem does not get worse. Don’t let the next generation be shut out in the cold before they can choose for themselves.


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is a Whitireia journalism student.
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  1. Good column!

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