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Selected Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt

Facing the Problems of Youth
Eleanor Roosevelt

Publishing Information

    Originally published in National Parent-Teacher Magazine 29 (February 1935): 30.

  1. Education today is not purely a question of the education of youth; it is a question of the education of parents, because so many parents, I find, have lost their hold on their children. One reason for this is that they insist on laying down the law without allowing a free intellectual interchange of ideas between themselves and the younger generation. I believe that as we grow older we gain some wisdom, but I do not believe that we can take it for granted that our wisdom will be accepted by the younger generation. We have to be prepared to put our thinking across to them. We cannot simply expect them to say, "Our older people have had experience and they have proved to themselves certain things, therefore they are right." That isn't the way the best kind of young people think. They want to experience for themselves. I find they are perfectly willing to talk to older people, but they don't want to talk to older people who are shocked by their ideas, nor do they want to talk to older people who are not realistic.

  2. We might just as well accept things which are facts as facts and not try to imagine that the world is different, more like what we idealized in the past. I have a letter just the other day from a mother who told me that she had brought up several daughters, and that they never did certain things which are very common today among young people. She was sure that if we never countenanced or spoke of certain things in our homes our children would never do those things. Well, it just so happens that I have a number of boys and they happen to know the mother's girls. I have, therefore, seen a good deal of them, and they did every single thing that their mother told me they never did. I think it would have been far better if she had established a type of genuine relationship with her children which would have allowed them to be honest with her. Then she would have had an opportunity to put across her own ideas with some kind of hope that they would at least be considered.

  3. But if the relationship is such that youth has no desire to talk to older people, then, I think, it is entirely impossible to help the youth of today—and they need help badly. I think they are very glad to have it, too, when it is given in a spirit of helpfulness, not self-righteousness. We don't need to idealize things that are past; they look glamorous, but perhaps they were not so glamorous when we really lived through them.

  4. My own feeling would be that the most important education is the education which will enable us, both in our homes and in our schools, to understand the real problems that our children have to meet today. It is easy enough to impart book knowledge, but it is not so easy to build up the relationship between youth and older people which is essential to the working out of their problems—very difficult problems on which young people need our leadership and our understanding.

  5. We cannot pass over the fact that the world is a hard world for youth and that so far we have not really given their problems as much attention as we should. We smile—I smiled myself the other day when one young boy said that he hoped to go in and clean up politics. Politics need to be cleaned up, of course. Everything that is human needs that particular kind of enthusiasm. But we older people know that we don't always succeed as easily as these young ones think they can. Yet I doubt if we should smile. I think that we should welcome their help, and find places where this tremendous energy that is in youth—if it cannot be used immediately in making a living—may at least be used where it is so greatly needed today.

  6. I should like to leave with you this one idea which I have been thinking about a great deal of late: the necessity for us as parents, as teachers, as older people, to put our minds on the problems of youth, to face realities, to face the world as it is and the lives that they have to live—not as we wish they were, but as they are—and, having done that, to give our sympathetic help in every way that we can.