Parents often believe that it is better to be safe than sorry. Do you consider young people to be too protected? (2013 O-level English Paper 1, Syllabus 1128)

Sometimes it feels like hard work being a child. Students have many complaints these days: too much homework, too many restrictions, too much anxiety, and so on. It is perfectly possible that we complain so much because we have been too protected by our parents and society, but I think the picture is a bit more complicated than that: young people are, on balance, not excessively protected though it may seem so, because we are not sufficiently protected from the dangers that the younger generations will face together from the various global crises that we learn about in school.

Parents try to protect their children because many of them cannot bear to see their little ones get hurt, and I admit that it can really appear excessive at times. This protection occurs on the individual level: many of us have private tuition, for example, because the penalties for not doing well in school are still fairly heavy. It really is quite unpleasant to do poorly in school and be treated as a lower form of human being, as a result, but that is what our society has come to: people tend not to respect the humble plumber or waiter as much as they do the businessman with the bungalow or the lawyer who makes it into government. It is not just a penalty we pay in our future income, it is also a social penalty that we pay if we fail to do well at school, and parents who try to protect us from that can sometimes can go too far, though they have very sound reasons for trying to provide us with the best of what they can offer.

Even so, I consider the children of very anxious parents still insufficiently protected, unfortunately, because all of us face the dangers that will come from the ecological crisis that still is not being sufficiently dealt with. These dangers do not simply come from a warming climate, though that is part of it. We will need to worry about the social and political fallout, including whether countries will start to bomb each other in order to gain access to precious resources like food, water, and land if the climate crisis starts to impact areas like food production. Already during this covid-19 pandemic that has gone on for way too long, we see evidence of adults not being able to deal with a crisis sufficiently: the Omicron variant has emerged in part because rich countries have hoarded vaccines. How are young people to expect to be protected from present and future dangers when the older generations seem to be unable to protect themselves? It appears more likely that young people will have to take over the reins of power in order for all of us to be sufficiently protected.

It is for these dangers that are sometimes too wide-ranging to even imagine properly that I consider young people insufficiently protected these days. This is not to say that we have no hope, as a human species–I have hope in today’s young people, that as connected and passionate as we are, we will be able to lead humanity through whatever nightmares come.

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