Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A New Generation and New Challenges

Today I have a slight rant, if you'll be so kind as to indulge me.

I'm sick of my generation being called lazy and apathetic.

I mention this because I recently read a post on a forum about getting youth involved in aviation. It reads as follows:

"The challenges we face today in getting the young to be involved with aviation is a daunting one. It’s hard enough to get them to put down their mobile phones and stop texting long enough to see the value in it. With XBOX 360 and Nintendo Wii we have even greater challenges. When we were young there was not a whole lot to do besides play outside and build model planes. We spent our summers fishing and playing cowboys and Indians. Attending an air show was a great thrill to us. The young people today have so many distractions that interesting them in a, difficult, expensive but worthwhile activity, such as flying is daunting. As a web community of pilots the burden falls on us to find the solution. Many of us could say we love the idea but do not have the time for it. We must make time if we are going to win the war against useless pursuits such as mentioned above. Being a pilot in of itself is a great self esteem builder. Many of our young people are lead down the rocky path of alcohol and drugs because of this. Teen pregnancy is becoming epidemic. These youth need something in their lives that they are not getting from society. Remember when you earned your wings? Was it not one of the greatest accomplishments of your life? Lets find a way to bring these lost youths into aviation."

Lost youths? Ouch.

If I make firstly make a mildly ironic point: The video games and cell phone technology which is blamed for making my generation antisocial and lazy has its roots in generations before us--often the ones accusing us of being lazy. Just saying.

The call to action above, while admirable, is somewhat offensive to me, as a youth. My generation is made to sound diseased, afflicted by video games, cell phones, and sex (and teen pregnancies, don't get me started on how we think telling kids to practice abstinence, while giving them no tools to protect themselves, will work).

I'm here to tell you we're not that way. In terms of extracurricular activities and advanced academic classes, we're way more active than generations past. I myself was laden down with Academic Decathlon, National Honor Society, yearbook, and FIRST robotics throughout my high school years, all while maintaining a full course load and taking several college-level classes. That's far more than either of my parents were ever involved in. Many researchers consider my generation to be the overscheduled generation, with piano lessons, softball, baseball, yearbook, and a myriad of other activities occupying our time.

This is not to say that my way is better or that a past generation's method of living was better. That is an argument that has been going on for ages, and will continue for many more years. I'll leave you to contemplate that.

Personally, I prefer a mix of several influences. I am active in extracurricular activities here at college as well (after all, surveys and research indicate that this is the first thing employers look at on an application), but I'm sure to take time for myself and get outside as well. I stay in touch with my friends via email, FaceBook, and text messaging, but I also write letters, make phone calls, and visit. I spend too much time on the computer and at the airport. Peculiar, perhaps, but what can I say?

When I hear my generation identified as lazy and occasionally useless, yes, I'm offended. It puts me on the defensive immediately. If the youth of today are continually defending their lifestyle, then they're closed off to new ideas, mainly because they think the people trying to show them new things are looking down on them.

I'm not saying that my generation is perfect and that the amount of time we spend on electronic devices is good or healthy. However, we must admit that the world has changed. We no longer live in a social climate where kids can bike to the airport, due to "security" measures or parental oversight. There are certainly exceptions to every rule, but by and large this statement is accurate.

Yet, instead of adapting to this new environment, we sit back and simply wonder where the youth are. Despite the fact that they have no "in," or any exposure to general aviation, we expect them to come to the airport anyways. It's about as logical as assuming a kid who lives in an atheist family will pick up a Bible one day and decide he's going to pour himself into Christianity.

Unlike generations of the past, aviation is not part of popular culture. Others--including you, older generations--have taught the children of today that video games are the best form of entertainment and that computers are fascinating machines to spend days upon. We do not have Sky King or any other aviation TV show. About the closest thing I had to an aviation-related show was a cartoon with Wonder Woman and the Invisible Jet. Many small airports have withered and died, leaving youths without that mythical place to escape to, where the sky is no longer simply a tapestry hung over their heads. And why have these airports dried up? Because we are not getting the youth involved! (And then we're blaming them because they didn't get involved)

Seeds must be planted and cultivated for an interest in aviation to grow. I suppose I could be cliche and say that those that are meant to fly will do so eventually, but I'm not sure if that's really true, and perhaps that should frighten you just a little bit. If you don't present aviation to this young generation, who will?

One of the best parts about being a young person involved in aviation is the mentoring that goes along with it. Start by visiting local schools and present a current, interesting aspect of aviation. You must somehow differentiate your efforts from those of teachers, or else you're just another person standing in front of the class with words spewing out of your mouth.

Continue cultivating a love and understanding of aviation. Personally invite kids to the airport and give them your contact info and mentor them throughout their involvement. Put them on your chapter newsletter email list; better yet, publish an e-newsletter specifically suited to them, highlighting scholarships and other opportunities.

There are still youths out there interested in aviation. There are even more that would fall in love with flying if only it were presented to them.


  1. Don't be too offended. It's the duty of the old to be resentful of the young, to not understand that things change, and to be remorseful of the youth they squandered away.

    The "How do we get young people to ..." question is always there. Probably always has been, and always will be. A lot of the people asking this question with respect to aviation were raised at a time when college wasn't expected of everyone and wasn't as hard to get into (if you had the money). The educational, economical and social situations of today are much different than they were 30 years ago.

    I learned to fly in a J3. I now own a Zlin 626, but it hasn't flown in a while, nor have I.

    I like the blog, keep up the good work.

  2. I'm a 60 year old female pilot that flies a Cessna 182. I would LOVE to find a young person (especially a female as there are so few of us flying) that would like to fly. I tried to invite local CAP kids but they don't want to let them fly unless I join the CAP..NO uniforms for me...thank you! The biggest problems I run into are paranoid parents and apathetic kids. I do fly EAA Eagle Flights whenever possible, but usually during "Eagle Rallys" which result in most of the flights serving as an amazing carnival ride.

  3. Go find a school with creative administrators and open minded teachers (they are out there). Tell them you would like to donate a few flights to kids that deserve them. Let them do the legwork (they see these kids daily and know who deserves it). Don't set the criteria... let the teachers do that (but ask what their criteria are). Then, get parent permission and take some kids flying. Maybe even take a teacher flying. You can support your local schools and inspire the next generation in one act.