Faced with the choice between contributing to superannuation or having a few extra dollars to spend at the pub on the weekend, young men will choose a beer every time. Young men don't understand responsibility very well. No one is teaching us.
But the NSW Premier, Bob Carr, believes a beer at the pub is a good place to start. He suggests we can legislate to make young men more responsible with alcohol. One suggestion was that people be fined $1,100 for shouting a round for a friend if they are drunk.
If such legislation is backed by adults offering strong role-models and a shift in Australians' attitude to alcohol, then we might see young men change their behaviour. But a new law is not enough; young men need encouragement and support. The public response from young male drinkers was probably best summed up by a 25-year-old who was quoted as saying the proposal was "very poor".
My generation is the "now" generation. "Hang the expense", we say, "we might step in front of a bus tomorrow". And we might. We are very careless with our own lives. And our society isn't helping young men see the need for responsibility. We don't understand that the affluence our parents now enjoy is the result of hard work and shrewd financial management.
A 21-year-old man I know got a job managing a caravan park. His wage was about $30,000 and the job was not a secure one. Within a week, he had secured a $25,000 loan for a brand new car. There was not a word of concern from his parents, and obviously none from the bank. Yet a young man with no assets had taken on a debt almost the size of his yearly income. No one had helped him realise the responsibility he had taken on.
If he loses his job, he is stuck with repayments that he has no capacity to meet. Baby boomer parents who let their children rack up huge mobile phone bills and then bail them out are not teaching their children the dangers of credit.
Parents prepared to lavishly provide for their children's extravagant wants are not imparting responsibility to young people. And young men who let their friends binge until they vomit need to start showing more concern for each other.
The recent abortion debate highlights the lack of responsibility demanded of young men. While often regarded as the silent and unseen culprits of teenage pregnancy, who cut and run when consequences reveal themselves in the two pink lines of a positive pregnancy test, young men are allowed to get away with it. It isn't surprising; we're not asking young men to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, we thrust all the responsibility on the young women's shoulders. Is it their choice alone?
There is no public voice demanding young men join young women in taking responsibility for their sexual activity. The consequences for young women, with the lack of a supportive society or partner, are very stark.
If young men were held to account, made a part of the decision and taught their responsibilities as sexual beings, the abortion rate would likely reduce without any change to the law. How can young men be supported to see the value of fatherhood when they are not encouraged to engage in the public abortion debate, or the private decision-making process when their girlfriend gets pregnant?
I discovered I was going to be a father when I was 23. In accepting parenthood, I quickly learnt a lot about responsibility, and developed very quickly the capacity to look after my new family and myself. Instead of spending the next 10 years living in share-houses and deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I found a purpose. In not taking on responsibility, young men happily insulate themselves from the broader community. It is their loss and that of the community.
We should be encouraging young people to seek out responsibility.
Financially supporting our children into their 20s isn't teaching them to be economically independent. Telling young men to be responsible with alcohol is no good if they are surrounded by a culture that abuses it.
Allowing them to live at home, and doing their housework for them when they have a full-time job, is not helping them learn basic living skills. Not promoting the joy of partnership and family is making them cynical about ever settling down.
Sure, it is a tough world. But the generations before mine made it. Young men deserve the chance to prove themselves as well.
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