Professor Pat O'Connor and UL President Professor Don Barry.
Irish teenagers today are less likely to consider or imagine their future than 10-12 year olds according to a new book by Professor Pat O'Connor, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Limerick, which was launched at UL today. 'Irish Children and Teenagers in a Changing World' draws on over 4,000 texts written by young people in a nationwide project involving over 38,000 young people and has been described as the most wide-ranging account of young people's views of themselves and their lives to have been published in Ireland to date.
The book, which was officially launched by Professor Don Barry, UL President, illustrates how teenage boys are concerned with pleasure right now: 'right now I have nearly no ambitions or hopes in life only to enjoy it'. The future to the teenage girls looked 'scary' and they did not want to think about the future or growing up: 'I cant imagine myself in about ten years time...I'd just love to stay young forever'. For the 10-12 year olds the future was much more predictable. They planned their education in detail, frequently referring to going to College, getting good jobs, travelling -and very occasionally- to having children.
The author Professor Pat O'Connor said that 'it was striking that overwhelmingly neither boys nor girls saw gender as an aspect of who they were, and yet their lives and their ideas were mapped by gender. It is only by making this explicit and helping the young people think through the implications of rapid cultural change in Irish society, we can help them to face that future with optimism'. The teenage boys had bought into the idea of men as authorities on the economy and the political and social context- while fashion was the only thing the girls put themselves forward as authorities on.
Professor Don Barry, speaking at the launch said 'it is only by locating social problems such as young people's high alcohol consumption; high levels of drug abuse and suicide in this wider context that we can begin to really understand them and so begin to see the kinds of strategies that are needed to tackle them'
Media influences seemed to have reinforced narrow life styles for the boys revolving around sports- particularly football- and computer games. In these contexts the global and the local had become enmeshed. Although girls' football is one of the fastest growing sports in Ireland, playing it was still seen by the girls as 'making history', with girls being more likely than boys to refer to non-team based sports, watching Teen TV, listening to music, reading and playing music. Although neither rarely referred to scientific or technological developments, boys occasionally joked about the possibilities they opened up: 'Are cyborg wives cheap and efficient?' Relationships with family and friends were more important to the teenage girls than the boys.
Professor Pat O'Connor said this study reflects UL's commitment to combining management with research. It thus underlines the unique character of the University as a generator of knowledge with a commitment to the wider community- a vision that is sometimes not fully appreciated outside the University.