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“Generation Reckless” - researchers sound the alarm: Every fifth child and every third young person show hardly any compassion for others

LEVERKUSEN. A questionable number of children and young people show deficiencies in their sense of community. Worse still: “A third of all young people have no sense of community.” A current study by the Bepanthen Children's Fund and Bielefeld University came to these worrying findings. There is already talk of a “reckless generation”. The study shows, however, striking differences in the social awareness of girls and boys - the girls show a significantly more social sense. And: the parental home plays a decisive role.

A sense of community is one of the pillars of our society. Its basics include skills such as empathy, solidarity, respect, helpfulness and social integration. Most of these basics are experienced and learned in childhood and early adolescence. But what about the community spirit of the next generation? This question is the focus of the current study, which was carried out by Bielefeld University on behalf of the Bepanthen Children's Fund.

The social pedagogue Prof. Dr. Holger Ziegler examined how children (6 to 11 years) and young people (12 to 16 years) deal with various aspects of the sense of community, such as empathy and solidarity, but also with indifference and the devaluation of the weaker. The result shows that today's adolescents largely have a positive sense of human interaction. However, 22 percent of the children surveyed have serious deficits here. Among young people, a third (33 percent) are noticeable for their below-average sense of community.

"We compared the emotional life and emotional balance of children and adolescents in Germany - and their effects on the sense of community," said the head of the study, Prof. Dr. Holger Ziegler. “Our study is based on the definition of a sense of community as a feeling of benevolence and sympathy for people in a community - regardless of differences in tradition, religion, nationality or socio-economic status. In addition, there is the recognition of the moral equivalence of the claims of others. If young people develop deficits here and pass them on, it can have devastating effects on the social climate. "

Girls with a social lead

A remarkable finding from the study is the fact that in both age groups examined, the girls consistently show a better sense of social interaction. The positive aspects of boys’s sense of community are already in an imbalance from childhood. How strong this social lead is becomes apparent when one takes a closer look at the individual aspects of the sense of community examined for the study.

Empathy, that is, to have compassion for others, to be able to put oneself in their position, is a basic condition for the success of a communal coexistence. The extent to which this applies to the children surveyed was asked with statements such as “It makes me sad when other children feel bad” or “When another child is sad, I try to console them”. A fifth of the children surveyed (21 percent) only show a low level of empathy here. It is noticeable that the boys do significantly worse than the girls (30 percent to 12 percent). However, 49 percent of the children surveyed show strong empathy. 61 percent of the girls and only 37 percent of the boys have above-average compassion.

The picture is even clearer among the young people: Over half (54 percent) of the young people surveyed react to statements such as: “It takes me along when I see an animal being injured” or: “It makes me sad, a girl / Seeing a boy who / who cannot find anyone to play with “is less empathetic than average - 76 percent of male adolescents and only 31 percent of female adolescents can be found here. Conversely, two out of three girls (69 percent) - but only one in four boys (24 percent) - show strong compassion. Across the entire age group from 6 to 16 years of age, there is a tendency for girls to steadily increase and for boys to steadily decrease empathy values.

A lack of solidarity shows up early on

Whether children show solidarity with their peers was examined with statements on willingness to help: "It often happens that I help other children" or: "I help other children when they are treated unfairly" were some of the questions answered by one fifth the children did not have a positive answer. Here, too, the young are lagging behind: Almost every third boy (30 percent) shows disaffection. It is only 16 percent of the girls. The questions asked by the young people were somewhat different: "I like to help when others are injured, sick or sad", "I like to share with others" were answered negatively by more than a third (36 percent) of the respondents. Almost half (47 percent) of boys agree with this negative attitude, compared to only about a quarter (24 percent) of girls.

"Your own fault" instead of assistance

When it comes to indifference to the problems of others, a worrying picture emerges: Almost three quarters of all children surveyed (70 percent) are at least partially indifferent to those who suffer and are only “to blame” for their problems. A fifth of the children (22 percent) are even strongly convinced of this attitude. Statements such as: "If another child has problems at school, it is mostly their own fault" or: "If other children are sad and I am not to blame, it does not matter to me" found strong agreement with more than a quarter of the boys, but only 16 percent of girls see it that way. After all, 34 percent of girls are very skeptical of this attitude - compared to 26 percent of boys.

A good fifth (21 percent) of the young people surveyed tend towards this “it's your own fault” attitude. Here, too, the differences between the sexes are evident. 27 percent of boys show above-average individualized blame in contrast to 14 percent of girls.

Is devaluation a trend?

The devaluation of marginalized groups and the weaker is a problem, the main features of which can also be seen in childhood. Here it usually takes on more bullying-like forms. Overall, more than a quarter (26 percent) of the children have already had experiences with bullying-like situations. 17 percent of the children surveyed have already experienced bullying from the victim's perspective. And here, for once, there is no significant difference between girls and boys.

Of the young people, 29 percent tend towards strong devaluation behavior. The study participants were given statements such as: "In our society we are too considerate of failures", "There are groups in the population who are worth less than others" or: "It is disgusting when gays kiss in public" faced. More than a third of boys (36 percent) and 22 percent of girls agree with this and similar downgrading statements. This result is tempered by the fact that 78 percent of girls and 64 percent of boys reject such an attitude.

Girls are evidently much more community-oriented than boys. They are more compassionate, more helpful, less indifferent, and less derogatory. Ziegler explains the results: “The extent to which the girls are ahead of the boys in all aspects of communal coexistence was greater than we had expected. All in all, this indicates what a heavy burden girls and women carry in society. "

Despite all their social skills, girls are more likely to be dissatisfied with themselves and their lives than boys. In adolescence, they lag behind boys both in terms of their own life satisfaction and self-esteem. In contrast, the boys show higher values ​​in both areas despite - or precisely because of - their obviously lower social orientation (life satisfaction: boys 66 percent versus girls 56 percent; self-esteem: boys 66 percent versus girls 57 percent). When it comes to integration in groups of the same age, the boys are also in the lead, albeit much more closely.

The environment mainly influences negative properties

The study also shows that the respondents' empathy and solidarity develop independently of the socio-economic status of the family. But: If you look at the negative aspects, the picture is different. Half (50 percent) of young people with a low socio-economic status tend to devalue marginalized groups and minorities much more than their peers from better-off households (16 percent). There is also a significant difference in indifference to others: 33 percent of young people with a low socio-economic status assign individual blame to their peers in problematic situations. Here too, only 16 percent of their peers from better-off households show this behavior.

An attitude of the parents that averted the sense of community (ascertained by advocating a devaluation of weaker groups, ruthlessness towards minorities and traditionalism) also has a significant influence on the indifference and pejorative behavior of young people. Under these family conditions, one in three adolescents (32 percent) assign individual guilt to others, whereas it is only a good ten (13 percent) for those of parents with a positive attitude. Adolescents also rate this far more frequently than those of parents with a positive attitude (51 percent versus 10 percent). A negative attitude on the part of the parents has no appreciable influence on empathy or solidarity.

Generation “reckless” - positive influence is required

Today's society is in a state of upheaval. Current issues such as inclusion, diversity and sustainability require rethinking and personal competence in order to contribute to a functioning plural society. However, this does not reflect the reality of life and the awareness of many children and adolescents. Holger Ziegler sees a problem with long-term effects here: “The data indicate that we are not seeing a fringe group phenomenon here, but a potential conflagration. The shown demolition of solidarity leads to a social degeneration spiral. The principle of solidarity as the basis for a successful society runs the risk of overturning. " News4teachers

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Youth 2019: optimistic, tolerant, environmentally conscious - and largely populist. VBE: Strengthening democracy education!

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