Our Youth and Their Future



By Kenneth Bagnell


An eminent American psychologist and observer of sexual life and its relevance in youth , Dr. James Murphy, said not long ago : “College drinking is still viewed as a harmless site of passage, when in fact, college students are drinking more than any other age or demographic group…”.   I can’t help but remember my own college years at Mount Allison, where if you were found with a pint of Scotch or a bottle of beer, you had the great honor of accompanying the Dean of Men who would say as you poured your drink down the sink. Yes, yes, you’re right. That was Then.  I needn’t tell you that almost every opportunity you can “dream of” is now available one way or the other on today’s campus. To some of us, who have “old fashioned “ values  that’s revealing things have gone too far.

Several weeks ago, I was listening in my car to one of those “call- in” shows, where the subject was the high social/sexual life you can get on campus including males and females being together for whatever. And, of course, a few drinks and a few more drinks for everybody! That was the color of the flow of the happy incoming calls which took as casual the right to enjoy sex in any way, anywhere, in any circumstances. I think, if we’re serious, we should ask for the assessment of social scientists, so long as they are objective……a challenge in itself.

The evidence is in. The new morality age is more and more upon us and gaining  ground as the  secular supersedes the sacred. Have you heard of Open Marriage? It’s now been around for years. Have you heard of the American group called “Christian Swingers”?  It exists. All this secularization means that many of today’s young people don’t even know what the ten commandments are; they don’t want to know, and they will turn to it only if they have to for an essay. It’s always their call. Well, maybe our elders have a bit to say about life if they care to ask. Too often they don’t seek guidance because they don’t need it or care for it. If so they’re mistaken, for the parents are the elders who have known more than they about living life with its proverbial ups and downs. An ancient proverb recognizes that: “Listen to your elders not because they are always right, but because they have had more experiences of being wrong.”

The USA has many more universities than Canada does: it has over 4,000, small and large, Canada has roughly 100. For whatever reason the American schools have lots of drinkers, many of them quite heavy drinkers, which has made the faculties and staff very concerned.  Given the growing worry about excessive drinking, the American Psychological Association reviewed and reported that this revelation raises deep worry over the fact that heavy drinking opens the door to sexual activity of a high level. Canada’s academic community senses the same thing and many provide campus police to assure safety for female students walking the dark paths from the library to their residence.

It’s a remarkable, indeed amazing, coincidence that as I write   —   in Palm Springs with Barbara — that my longtime very respected researcher (and published poet), Mary Rutherford, has arrived and brought with her the weekend Globe and Mail which features this very subject on its Focus section.  It’s headed with this statement: “how sex assault cases often get thrown out because the complainant was intoxicated.” Its author, Robyn Doolittle, winner of many media awards, has a splendid story that affirms my own perspective with this opening statement: “As many as half of all sexual assault cases involve alcohol…. “ The contents of Ms. Doolittle’s reportage, are vivid and confirming of the great harm to young people who drink too much and leave themselves highly vulnerable for sexual assault. I now record the first revealing paragraphs of “The problem with consent….” by Robyn Doolittle:

“When Taylor phoned her grandfather for a ride home around midnight, she was dizzy, disoriented and on the verge of throwing up. In the previous three hours, the 21-year old had downed half a twenty-sixer of tequila and numerous mixed drinks, although she isn’t sure exactly how many. By the time her grandfather picked her up outside the sports bar around 12.30 a.m., Taylor was slurring and struggling for balance….. “

A bit later Taylor got a call from a man she’d met at the bar. He took her to his place where she passed out. “The next thing I know when I came to, I was in his bedroom upstairs…. with no clothes on. He was on top of me, we were having sex…” That’s a small window on the tragic dimensions of today’s ever more open sexual culture. That said, we, as adult and parents, need to forgo panicking as if the entire youth culture has gone to a mass promiscuity trip. It sounds like it, but responsible surveys will tell you that it’s not earth shaking. Most young people, the bright and the responsible, are not promiscuous, out of numerous reasons: thoughtful young people know there are numerous ways to engage life and enjoy it, other than having early sexual intercourse. They know that the reasons given for this questionable trend don’t stand the test of common sense. One example: a friend said to me it was the young heavy drinkers desire to act as the grownups do: to show they are mature. That’s nothing but bad image building. “I’m grown up now,” says the 16 year old, after his first sexual experience. But he is not grown up. Indulging in teenage sex to show you’re grown up is as absurd as carrying a briefcase when you’re 16 but want to look like an adult.

Maturity is a matter of the human personhood and character. Hence having sex at sixteen will not put a boy or girl through the portals to adulthood. There are other reasons but you get my point. Just one more: some girls engage in it and, a study reveals, they do it for “popularity”.  Responsible studies and surveys (one by NBC and People Magazine) revealed that the number of American teenagers engaging in sexual relations as a regular aspect of their lives was 13 percent. The American Center for Disease Control has reported that in the US, 30 percent of high school students have been sexually active. That’s not a majority. As the report put it: “While you may feel you are surrounded by sexually active peers, in reality there’s a lot more talking than participation.”

So be it. In any case, hard drinking in youth, and outright promiscuity in youth, are doorways to downfall. Nothing is more basic, when youth meets adulthood, than a good reputation. It still matters. An example?  Think of Donald Trump and his amoral standards. I know we all make misjudgments and ethical errors, but if we’re at all wise, we rebound having learned our lesson.

Despite the current flexibility of ethical values, and fluid morality, character still matters greatly. Our faith can keep us on the path of integrity. After all, no one is free from flaws. But for me, the true expression of living a worthy life was made centuries ago by Confucius when, in three hundred years or more before Christ was born, he admonished those he cared deeply for, especially the young, in these words: “Wisdom, Compassion and Courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities….”  May they be guideposts for us all, but especially for our youth as they look into their future and ours.

1 Comment

  1. J Hickman
    Apr 6, 2017

    I understand what you’re driving at here — but make no mistake, Robyn Doolittle’s series “Unfounded” has over and over again reinforced the premise that it doesn’t matter how intoxicated a girl or woman is, because she doesn’t deserve to be raped. That heavy drinking to the point of slurring speech and staggering means that she can’t give consent to sexual relations. The articles in the series focus on how often police dismiss a rape victim’s story because she was stoned or drunk.
    Most of the young people I’ve known over the year have been quite responsible when it comes to sex, even if they were doing it at 16 or 17. When the Pill arrived in the 1960s, it affect my sex life a lot as a teen. Girls were suddenly freed from the fear of unwanted pregnancy. The morality of the ’50s disappeared about the time the Beatles became famous. I was glad to see that Cold War, grey Dark Ages mentality go. And I’m 65 now.
    What I’m driving at is that, even with the “keggers” on campuses everywhere and heavier drinking among youth, chances are we won’t go back to the way it used to be. And I think that the majority of young people today — even if they don’t know the Ten Commandments off by heart — recognize the basic tenets within them that govern decent behaviour.

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