Understanding Young People in the Social Context

S. M. Rayhanul Islam
Thursday, January 11th, 2018


“Praise youth and it will prosper.” –  Irish Proverb


Youth have the endless potential which makes them the most important and productive guiding force of any nation. Development of a society as well as a country mainly depends on the exploration and utilization of the potentialities of young people. We are aware that young men and women have certain roles and responsibilities in a society.  Some of these responsibilities are different in each society yet with certain aspects common across most societies. So, understanding the social position of young people is crucial. The Commonwealth Youth Programme  module ‘Young People and Society’ examines the range of definitions of youth, adolescence and family and the problems and issues facing young people and the societies in which they live. By exploring what researchers and social scientists have said about youth in various social contexts, and relating that to general theories about society, the module illuminates the situation of young people in our society.


The module is divided into 4 units. ‘Unit -1: Ways of Seeing Young People’ helps us to understand the experiences of growing up as a young woman or man, and the different perceptions of young people and adults. The way young people are perceived, and how the term ‘youth’ is defined differ from society to society and from one culture to the next. Therefore, to fully grasp what is meant by ‘youth’, it is very important to examine what is meant by ‘society’ and ‘culture’ and how they are interrelated. Three theoretical approaches to the study of society are discussed in this chapter: the functionalist approach, the conflict theory and the interactionist approach.  Each approach makes some basic assumptions about how society is organized. No one approach is necessarily right or wrong as the different writers on society approach the topic from different perspectives.


‘Unit-2: Adolescence’ starts off by describing and defining the concept of adolescence which is generally held to be a stage through which all young people must pass. Then this chapter draws our attention to examining theories of adolescence that are presented under two main headings: psychoanalytic theories and sociological theories. Psychoanalytic theories tend to have cultural biases as these theories are developed mainly by European scholars (i.e. Freud, Hall, Ericson and others) examining the youth in their societies. Sociological theories tend to see the process of adolescence as being influenced mainly by environmental factors originating outside the individual adolescent. Three of the key concepts that have emerged out of sociological theories on adolescence are: socialization, role assumption and the generation gap. But, there is very little empirical evidence based on research to support the view that a generation gap exists, or that is inevitable in human societies.


Young people of all ages belong to families. The third unit of the module ‘Young People and the Family’ begins with a discussion of types of families. Unless we grew up in a home such as orphanage run by the state or a non-governmental organization, some of the family (nuclear, extended, single parent etc.) experiences described here are familiar to us. It is generally agreed that family is an important institution in society which is usually responsible for the care, protection and upbringing of the young members of society. Family is also a critical factor in moulding the personality of the individual. This chapter concludes by examining some of the problems that families facing today: i) the increasing participation of women in the labour force, ii) the effect of new technologies on communication, and iii) the rise in unmarried adolescent pregnancies.


The final unit of this module ‘Social Issues that Affect Young People’ discusses 3 important issues that affect youth – society’s images of young people, youth unemployment and the threat of AIDS. One common concept of youth views them as a metaphor of hope, change and regeneration. The most dominant and continuous image of young people is one of problems and instability. Youth unemployment is a global problem – both in developed and developing countries – which can have serious economic and psychological effects leading a young person to drug/substance abuse. This unit concludes by focusing that AIDS is not an academic issue; it is literally a life and death issue. It is also a social issue as the young people with AIDS suffer discrimination in education, employment, health care and socially.


The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail: smrayhanulislam@hotmail.com

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