Youth And Values Essay, Research Paper
BIBLIOYouth and Values
In an attempt to challenge societal values, youth cultures, in the form
of rebellion, act and dress radically and form groups in protest. These
dissident actions against the structure of existing society promotes the
beginning of new small groups which reflect their own rules, structures,
class, gender and ethnic ideologies. So, the youth culture, in challenging
societal values, at the same time is reflecting them.
In comparing Margaret Mead’s young adults in Coming of Age in Samoa to
Russian youth it is evident where the differences arise. The Samoans
strong cultural values leave little need for individual expression.
Expectations of the children change as they get older. They know what
is expected of them and want to follow the rules.
In contrast, the youth in the Soviet Union, live in a culture of
confusion. They feel constricted by the laws of the society, see families
collapsing around them, and believe things should change. They want to be
individuals and they want to live by their own values and ideas. Many come
from broken homes and poor communities with little respect for authority.
They rebel against what they feel is an unjust society and look for a
culture or group that they can identify with.
Often society depicts these groups as dangerous, deviant and
delinquent. These groups, however, just show many of the valued structures
of society, but in a more radical way. They have a standard code of dress,
values, ethics and rebel in order to force their ideas onto the public and
to feel part of a recognizable group.
Margaret Mead noticed little individual differences among the Samoans.
“We have seen that the Samoans have a low level of appreciation of
personality differences” (Mead, 1973, 161). The Samoan’s strong cultural
and family traditional values do not allow for individualism. In
comparison, Soviet youth express their individualism through youth cultures
such as punk, ‘metallist’ hard-rock groups and “golden youth”. Although
they feel they are expressing individuality through these groups, they are
actually fitting into different structures, values and in fact, a totally
different societal group.
Soviet society is concerned about what these youth cultures stand for,
in particular the ‘metallist’ hard-rock groups. “They hate and despise our
whole system, all our values. That’s why they’re dangerous, and why I’m
pessimistic about the future” (Wilson, 1988, 22). In their defence, Alexei
Kozlov, a member of a band, “extolled the virtues of heavy-metal rock.” He
said it was “an emotional outlet for underprivileged and unemployed young
people…to work out their resentment…if we forbid this music, they will
display their aggressiveness in other forms” (Traver, 1989, 1991).
In combining their musical talents with their rebellion against an
unjust society, these groups find an outlet for their anger and combine
with others having the same interests. They work together with a goal
similar to normal society groups.
Over the centuries the importance of the extended family, in Russia,
has decreased considerably. At one time the family included grandparents,
aunts, uncles and cousins and it was more important than the society in
which it lived. The children were protected and controlled from outer
forces by this large family with strong religious, cultural and family
Similarly, the Samoan children share this strong value system. The
longer the child is kept in controlled state, the more of the general
cultural attitude it will absorb and the less of a disturbing element it
will become (Mead, 1973, 163).
In recent years, with Russian urbanization, family has become limited
to parents and their children. They have more material goods but lose out
socially and emotionally (Wilson, 1988, 28). From a young child nursery
schools or kindergarten have taken over previous parental obligations. The
schools help them do morning exercises. It feeds them, takes them out for
walks, puts them to bed, teaches them to keep things tidy, paint, model,
read, write, sing and dance. It also teaches them to be kind, considerate
and honest, organizes parties for them, and takes them for health check-ups
(Vishneva, 1984, 161). While the biological parents work, the state
educational system becomes a new “parent” to the child. The close
relationship between child and parent no longer exists, however, “the state
sees the family as respon-sible for the children’s welfare and for
instilling in them behaviour acceptable to the existing social norms. The
broken family is seen as a factor in juvenile delinquency. Good citizens
are obligated to “monitor the political conscience of family members,
especially that of children” (Shlapentokh, 1988, 34).
Another negative aspect of the decline in family life is the rising
incidence of divorce which is said to be caused by sexual incompatibility,
inadequate housing, infidelity and a high rate of alcoholism (Traver, 1989,
64/65). These all leave the child confused, feeling alone and angry at
society. He then looks for ways to express himself and usually finds it in
a youth group culture with similar concerns.
The Samoan villages have a very strong system of discipline, respect
and authority. Villages contain thirty to forty households each presided
over by a head man with chiefly titles. They are the official orators,
spokesmen and ambassadors and are responsible for all the members of their
household. Everyone else in the household has authority according to their
age, even the adolescent (Mead, 1973, 42/43). From the age of four or five
years old, Samoan children perform definite tasks according to their
strength and intelligence and which have a meaning in the structure of the
whole society (Mead, 1973, 164). This gives a feeling of self-worth and
shows that everyone is a valued member of the community.
In contrast, Russian youth have no control over others and little
control over their own lives. Soviet society stresses more importance on
society and the current political regime. They see social interests as
much more important than individual ones. Personal interests must always
be sacrificed if in conflict with societal interests (Shlapentokh, 1988,
19). Youth coming from broken homes and living in a society which gives
them little freedom, look for ways to show their discontent with authority.
“Mocking the police has become the Moscow rockers’ favourite game. Another
kick was to taunt the Militia…have drunken parties, group sex” and hire
young prostitutes (Wilson, 1988, 138).
Many informal groups were organized in Russia in the late 1980’s,
especially in the working class districts. Young people who were not always
welcome in official clubs found it necessary to form their own clubs to
combat loneliness and reveal their reactions against a world of
over-organization. They want to make contact with one another as human
beings and do something “real” (Wilson, 1988, 139).
The influence that Western culture has had on the youth of the Soviet
Union has been a source of worry for the political leaders. Western
culture is seen as “shallow and harmful to Soviet youth” It lures the
“young away from rich communist ideals”. Seen as “untidy” and “vulgar”,
“Soviet rockers were given an ultimatum: clean up or break up”. Some
groups went underground, others conformed to official approval and found
themselves confined and suffocated, “their lyrics purified and their
costumes polite”. Official rock music was then easier to control and
supervise. One of the sanctioned groups played in a youth club of a
working-class suburb of Moscow. Some of the fans wore clothes with foreign
labels and were known as “golden youth”. They were children of the elite
who had travelled and brought home Western goods. Some punks wore black
leather jackets and had splotches of pink and orange hair. They and many
others in the audience knew the “taboo” words, to the Beatles’ songs, which
the band were not allowed to sing as total artistic freedom was not allowed
(Traver, 1989, 190/91).
The Soviet educational system’s most important goal is the teaching of
collectivism (kollektiv). Students learn that improving society is more
important than self well-being which is selfish and not for the good of the
whole. “Children are not praised for being different from their
classmates; rather, they are told that it is impolite to show off what they
know…Games also emphasize the group rather than the individual…the
concept of uniformity dominates almost all of their lessons.” They begin
kindergarten at three or younger and are subjected to strict military-type
discipline and collective behaviour. At nap time, which is for one and one
half hours, they are forbidden to get up, even to go to the washroom
(Travers, l989, 8).
The Samoan education system allows a child to learn at its own pace.
While the slow, laggard and inept are coddled, brighter students are
allowed to display their individuality through dance which allows a
“blatant precocious display”. This allows the bright child to drain off
some of the discontent they feel. They live in a peaceful, complacent
society in which the hot climate dictates a slower pace (Mead, 1973, 162).
Although religions such as Russian Orthodox, Moslem, Judaic and
Lutheran are recognized by the Russian government, they are under strict
control. They see attendance at church and religious rituals as
politically disloyal acts (Shlapentokh, 1988, 124/25). Schools advocate
parental attendance in after-school lectures encouraging atheism. Schools
publish atheist magazines which mock religion and say that “religion is
poison”. History classes teach that Christianity started wars, killed
millions and oppressed the masses. The young are taught that religion is
only for the old. This causes confusion for many young children who grow
up with religious instruction from grandparents and then come home to a
family divided on religion and attend schools that ridicule it. Many
families have Christian mothers and atheist fathers which caused arguments
and alienation in the home (Traver, 1989, 172-74). Coming from such an
unstable background, they find security and stability in a youth group with
their own ideas.
Another form of confusion for young soviets is the lack of discussion
in the home about sex. Parents and teachers feel that talking about sex or
contraceptives would likely encourage early sexual relations. Often this
psychology backfires and many teenagers start sex without their parents
knowledge. Their inexperience often leads to pregnancies which are
terminated by abortions. In fact, the Soviet Union has one of the highest
abortion rates. Although abortions have been legal since 1955, the State
clinics are intimidating. No one talks to the patient, she is one of a
faceless stream and often she gets no anaesthetic. There is a lack of
confidentiality as it is impossible to have an abortion without one’s
employer knowing. “It is possible that the cruelty of the System is
intended to teach women a lesson”. Hundreds of thousands of women have
pregnancies terminated elsewhere (Wilson, 1988, 201). This system leaves
the young adult humiliated and angry at society. A youth culture may offer
the freedom and confidence that society does not.
In contrast, “the Samoan child faces no such dilemma. Sex is a
natural, pleasurable thing (Mead, 1973, 148). “When a Samoan woman wants
to avoid giving birth to a child, exceedingly violent massage and the
chewing of kava is resorted to, but this is only in very exceptional cases
as even illegitimate children are enthusiastically welcomed” (Mead, 1973,
118). This cultural attitude relieves the stress of guilt on the young
adults and they still feel they are a valued member of the tribe.
Self esteem is important for the young adult, but the Soviet youth
often find themselves lacking in it. There are several reasons for this.
The collective ideal has the stronger and smarter students take care of the
weaker. This can lead to cruelty and rejection and children are often
subjected to humiliating interference in their private affairs. One
student was humiliated in front of the whole class for having a “modern”
hair-cut. Another, although pregnant, wanted to continue her studies at
night school. She was treated like a delinquent and reprimanded for “loose
behaviour” (Wilson, 1988, 47/48).
Russian schools often cover up scandals to preserve their good name.
In one instance Sasha Traskin was so badly beaten by bullies that he had to
be hospitalized and the whole school board smothered the affair. In a
collective, the failure of one pupil becomes a failure of the whole
collective and the feeling of guilt is very strong. To avoid this,
teachers often fix marks to cover up what should be seen as an “alarm
signal” to help the child. This results in arguments about who is
responsible for the discipline of the child, the parents or the school.
The child is left in total confusion as to who he should obey (Wilson,
1988, 48). The lack of firm rules and guidance leave the child uncertain
about what is right or wrong and leaves him or her with a strong guilt that
lowers self esteem. This self esteem is often rebuilt through contact with
youth groups having similar interests to the student.
The Samoan youth is taught to obey any elders, no matter who they are.
Proper behaviour is standard throughout the tribe and there are no doubts
about a child’s upbringing. Also the youth has the authority to chastise
anyone younger than themselves which gives them a sense of self-worth
(Mead, 1973, 43).
It is interesting that it seems most human beings not only need to be
in a social group, but, one that accepts him or her as they want to be.
The Samoans and the Russians have some very close similarities. The Samoan
tribe and the Soviet Political party both try to keep decision making to a
minimum. Both have little regard for Christian beliefs and try to control
their people with strict guide-lines. The differences, which seems to make
all the difference in the world, is that everyone in Samoa has the exact
same guide-lines to follow, everyone has some authority over others and
individual decisions about one’s own life are respected by the others.
This seems to show that self-esteem is a very important ingredient in a
person’s life. Without it people rebel, with it there is no need to.
Samoan’s have no problem searching for a place in society where they
feel comfortable and possess self esteem. They are allowed much more
freedom than larger societies. Girls, for instance, are allowed to decide
in whose family they should live. She can live with an uncle or father and
her choice raises no ethical problems. Her decision is taken as a personal
matter. Others will understand that her choice was for perfectly good
reasons, perhaps the food was better, she had found a new lover or had
quarrelled with an older one. The choice was easy because she was never
asked to make a choice involving a rejection of the standards of her social
group (Mead, 1987, 149/50).
In searching for a place to belong, Russian youths look for a culture
they can feel comfortable with. Although rejecting formal society and
parental authority, they end up in a group that still has rules to follow.
Each particular youth culture has its own style of clothing and hair.
Members must conform to these styles as well as to the “political” values
of the group. In essence, these groups become rooted in a social system of
their own. Although often radical, they reflect what they are challenging.
Mead, Margaret. Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: Dell
Publishing Company, Inc., 1973.
Shlapentokh, Vladimir. Public and Private Life of the
Soviet People. Changing Values in Post-Stalin Russia.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1989.
Traver, Nancy. Kife. The Lives and Dreams of Soviet
Youth. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Vishneva-Sarafanova, N. The Privileged Generation:
Children in The Soviet Union. Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics: Progress Publishers, 1984.
Wilson, Andrew and Bachkatov, Nina. Living With
Glasnost. Youth and Society in a Changing Russia.
London: Penguin Books, 1988.