How high school students imagine the future in times of crisis


Adolescence has long been perceived as a period of irresponsibility, where the important thing was above all to “have a good time” and enjoy the present moment. Today, this is no longer the case, far from it. The future is a major concern, both for parents and for young people.

More than 80% of the high school students we surveyed in a socially mixed establishment of 3,000 students in the west of France, as part of the “Childhood, well-being and parenting” chair , think about it at least once. times a month, and about a third of them do it daily.

If their educational and professional future is very much at the top of their concerns, the future of the world and society occupies a significant place in adolescents’ thoughts. Ecology, social inequalities and national and international political situations arouse their interest and attention more than the future of their loved ones and the relationships maintained with them.

However, this ability to project oneself into the future is not uniformly distributed in society. It is marked by strong social differentiations: girls and students from upper classes are more inclined than boys and students from working classes to worry about their own future and the future in general.

Not only are the former much more numerous than the latter to have study and professional projects, but they are also more likely to detach themselves from an individualistic vision of the future to question the world of tomorrow, and more particularly on its ecological side.

Among high school students, quite contrasting visions of the future

When asked what the term “future” makes them think of, three words particularly stand out: work (64%), independence (64%) and global warming (40%). If the prominence of the words “work” and “global warming” only reinforces the observation already established on the importance of their professional future and their questions about the ecological situation to come, the frequent use of the word “independence” highlights shed light on another element of young people’s relationship to the future: the centrality of the process of empowerment induced by the transition from adolescence to youth, then to adulthood.

The future is, for a large part of these young people, the sign of a (long-awaited) detachment from the control of adults and parents. The analysis of the words that adolescents associate with the future makes it possible to highlight four visions of the future, structured by a double opposition: on the one hand, between a positive and a negative relationship to the future; on the other, between an individual relationship and a collective relationship to the future.

The future as an uncertain horizon

In the first vision, which brings together 45% of respondents, the terms that come up most often are: “uncertainty”, “elsewhere” and “fear”, while “joy” and “freedom” are among the least used words. Adolescents in this group have a more individualistic perception of the future: if they are among the most numerous to question their own future on a daily basis, and more precisely about their educational future, they are also the least likely to worry about the future of their family and society in general.

The future as a crisis situation(s)

The second vision, bringing together 10% of young people, also has a negative and worried tone but applied to a more global and collective dimension. The most frequently used words are “social disasters”, “economic crisis”, and “global warming”. Terms linked to more individual connotations such as “fear”, “freedom”, “joy” are rarely used. The high school students in this group appear as much, if not much more, worried and concerned about the future of society as a whole than about their own future.

The future as a period of freedom

The third vision, which brings together 30% of respondents, contrasts sharply with the previous ones in that it is largely positive. Words associated with the future are “freedom” and “independence”. There is little trace of “fear,” “uncertainty” or “concern” in the responses. The teenagers in this group seem confident. The future social and ecological situation and their professional future worry them little. Only their future lover and friend is the object of daily questioning – no doubt because he will be at the center of their life (student to be).

The future as entry into an (idealized) adult world

The last vision, which characterizes 15% of those questioned, is also positive, but is placed, unlike the previous one, under the sign of family and professional achievement rather than personal. The terms “family”, “joy” and “work” are the most used, far ahead of “independence” or “freedom”. If the young people in this group want to work quickly (most have a clear idea of ​​the profession they intend to pursue), it is to be able to start a family or help their parents or brothers and sisters. It’s not to enjoy a period of freedom. What matters is the future of the people they care about.

The influence of family education styles

These four visions of the future are not found randomly in society. They depend on the living conditions of adolescents but also and perhaps above all on the styles of family education received, and in particular on the level of involvement of fathers and mothers in the different areas of their children’s lives.

Educational style focused on academic success

Adolescents who have an uncertain vision of the future are distinguished by having parents who are very involved in their school life and who constantly control the social and romantic lives of their children, in order to make them more inclined to invest fully, or even only in the academic domain.

In these middle-class families, academic success is fundamental and occupies a large part of parent-child discussions to the extent that strong material and symbolic rewards are expected from school and educational investment, especially since their children are mostly in Terminale, where orientation questions clearly arise.

An educational style centered on politics

High school students who perceive the future as a period of crisis come from very politicized families, who give more room to the autonomy of young people and where academic issues seem less important, on the one hand because of good academic results children and on the other hand because of less pressure to find their way since they are still in Second or First class.

The parents of these adolescents favor discussions around economic, political, ecological and social subjects, with particular attention to social inequalities. It is therefore not surprising to find among these young people a relationship of confrontation with the world with a strong desire to act against injustices.

An educational style centered on negotiation and autonomy

High school students who see the future as a period of freedom have had a very liberal education, based on negotiation and learning to self-constrain, with friendly sociability highly valued. In these families, which tend to come from higher classes, it is important that children, and particularly boys, are independent from an early age and learn to manage and control time well, to the extent that it is These are skills deemed necessary to access the dominant positions they will have to occupy later.

But it also seems essential for these parents that their children value their social relationships, a (worldly) sociability with the aim of creating and maintaining social capital useful in adulthood.

An educational style focused on achieving personal aspirations

Finally, young people who see the future as an entry into an idealized adult world are distinguished by the fact of having received a family education focused on the realization of personal aspirations. In these families belonging to stable working classes, parent-child relationships are warm and are characterized by a high level of complicity and by significant support from the former with regard to the school and daily life of the latter.

While academic success is important, it is not an end in itself. The goal of the strong moral and material involvement of parents is that their child can be happy in what he does. It is therefore not surprising that the future depicted by these young people closely resembles the family situation experienced with their parents. The levels of well-being that they themselves perceive and feel as children seem to contribute to the desire to reproduce this situation for their future children.

Young people’s relationship to the future is therefore far from being homogeneous and defeatist, despite situations of economic, ecological or health crises. Depending on their living conditions and the styles of family education received, adolescents do not have, on the one hand, the same dispositions to project themselves into the future and, on the other hand, not the same representations of the future and what matters or will matter in the future (study, family, work, etc.).

As interesting as these results are, it should however be remembered that the trends identified here deserve to be corroborated by other surveys to the extent that this is an exploratory survey in which girls and upper classes are slightly over-represented. .

Author Bios: Kevin Diter is a Lecturer in sociology at the University of Lille and Claude Martin is a Sociologist, holder of the research chair Childhood, well-being, parenting at the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health (EHESP)
This article was co-written by Kevin Diter, Marine Lecœur and Claude Martin.