In today’s world, “growing up” is not what it used to be. The lives of youth today present a wide range of educational, family, employment, and health experiences that depart in major ways from those of youth one or two generations ago. These different experiences can be attributed to the effects of globalization, technological advances, and widespread economic development. There are more youth in the world now than ever before, and they are concentrated in developing countries. Youth spend a longer time in school, begin work at a later age, and get married and have children later than their counterparts did 20 years ago. They are also less likely to live in poverty, unless they are growing up in sub-Saharan Africa, or parts of Eastern Europe or Central Asia.
While in many ways the lives of young people are more complex and challenging than ever, in most countries they are also more varied, full of opportunity, and more secure than in the past. In general, modern youth spend longer preparing for adulthood than their parents. However, the transition to adulthood is also laden with risks and challenges, and the youthful time of life for a young woman in sub-Saharan Africa is drastically different from that of a young man in West Europe.
Youths come face-to-face with numerous health risks along the path to adulthood, many of which will affect the length and quality of their lives. Foremost among them is HIV/AIDS, which is increasingly afflicting young people, especially women, in some regions of the developing world. Other potential risks to health usually encountered for the first time as youth are alcohol, tobacco, and road accidents. Early sexual activity and early childbearing also have long-term effects on quality of life. The health needs of youth are best addressed through multisectoral strategies that respond to the varying social and economic circumstances that different youth experience today.
The share of young people in the world’s population has already peaked and will diminish globally and in each region of the world between now and 2025 More than one in four persons in the world are youth, and that share is expected to drop to 23 percent in 2025, largely because of declines in fertility (number of births per woman) in recent decades. In developing countries, youth are about 29 percent of the total population and are declining as a proportion of total population while still growing in absolute numbers, altering the landscape for many social policy issues. In sum, the number of youth will keep rising in some parts of the world, offsetting declines in other regions. There will be about 72 million more youth in 2025 than at present.
One measure of the overall condition of youth today is how likely they are to be brought up in poverty compared to the past. Poverty definitions and measurement are inexact but can give an indication of the quality of one’s life. The decline in poverty rates in many countries over the past 30 years is a welcome trend, but has not occurred in all regions. The highest rates of poverty were found in sub-Saharan Africa (48 percent measured at less than $1/day) and South Asia (40 percent measured at less than $1/day). Poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Europe and Asia rose during this period and, combined with growing population, led to an increase in the number of poor youth in those regions.
Various behaviours of youth have long-term implications for their health. These include smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating, and sexual behaviour. Each of these activities carries some degree of risk. Risk taking is considered to be a characteristic of youth, and experimentation and exploration are valuable parts of growing up. However, youth commonly underestimate their risk of disease, accident, or vulnerability, and they often lack knowledge about the consequences of their actions—thereby exposing themselves to serious health problems.
Short-sightedness regarding the health effects of their behaviour lies behind tobacco and alcohol use by youth; increased incidence of overweight and obese youth; and high rates of injury, especially from traffic accidents. Surveys of school attendees ages 13 to15 show wide variation across countries in smoking rates. In those countries for which data are available, smoking is consistently higher among males than females. An average of 15 percent of male students and 7 percent of female students are smokers. While there are no data to confirm trends in youth smoking rates, youth smoking is believed to be rising along with increases in adult smoking. Smoking tends to increase with income levels, so improved economic conditions in some regions are likely to further increase smoking-related health problems among youth.
In addition, in developed world many youth have to face the misunderstanding on the side of older generations, which contributes to further growth in frustration and general youth problems. The fear of youth, along with fear of street culture and the fear of crime, is said to have been in Western culture for "time immemorial". Media, marketers, politicians, youth workers and researchers have been implicated in perpetuating the fear of youth. Their fear may be caused by access: in developed countries around the world young people can find entertainment, communication and information, and because that is so different from previous generations. Since young people in these countries are expected to stay out of the workforce, any role for them outside that of consumer is potentially threatening to adults. Selling safety to parents and teachers has also been a driving force, as home security systems, cell phones, and computer surveillance usage is marketed to parents; and x-ray machines, metal detectors and closed-circuit television are increasingly sold to schools on the premise that young people are not to be trusted. These steps are in spite of the fact that experience consistently shows that monitoring youth does little to prevent violence or tragedy: the Columbine High School massacre occurred in a building with video surveillance and in-building police.
The very creation of the terms youth, adolescence and teenager have all been attributed to the fear of youth. As the western world became more industrialized, young people were increasingly driven from the workforce, including involuntary and voluntary positions, and into increasingly total institutions where they lost personal autonomy in favour of social control. Government policies outside of schools have been implicated as well, as over the last forty years curfews, anti-loitering and anti-cruising laws, and other legislation apparently targeted at teenagers have taken hold across the country. Courts have increasingly ruled against youth rights, as well. Before the 1940s "teenagers" were not listed in newspaper headlines, because as a group they did not exist. The impact of youth since World War II on western society has been immense, largely driven by marketing that proponents them as the "Other." In turn, youth are caused to behave in ways that appear different from adults. This has led to the phenomenon of youth, and in turn has created a perpetuated fear of them.
Many social programs and social critics view the fear of youth as a condemning force against youth throughout society, particularly when coupled with racism. Popular contemporary beliefs in Western countries about adolescents are different from historical narratives; in the past youth were portrayed as "the future" and the "leaders of tomorrow"; today they are seen as "a source of worry, not potential," contributing to a fear of adolescents, especially racial and ethnic minorities. In turn this racist and adultist perspective informs urban law enforcement and social services. Sociologists have suggested that much of the current spread of the fear of youth is due to "adult anxiety over the shifting racial mix in the general population." However, New York University professor Pedro Noguera has suggested that the fear of youth extends beyond colour boundaries, as "skateboarders, punks, even straight-laced suburban teenagers can evoke anxiety among adults by congregating in large numbers in places deemed off-limits to youth."
The lack of employment and general decay of many essential social services as a result of their commercialization, as well as the influence of modern mass culture glorifying violence, in turn, led to many anti-social actions perpetrated by disaffected youth. This is known as youth delinquency, and is considered by many to be one of the most serious problems of intergenerational relations in developed world. In particular, the youth gangs of American inner cities are especially notorious for their frequent involvement in drug traffic and outright brigandage.
To sum up, the youth in modern world faces both socioeconomic and psychological problems due to the uneven development of different regions of the world and the increasing generation gap. On the other hand, the misunderstanding between the youth and the older generations may lead some frustrated youth to engage in acts of delinquency, which in turn cannot but cause the further aggravation of youth problems.