I'm older now. I've reached the age where I look at the younger generation and realise that I don't fully understand them. Yes, it is true that I was once that age myself, though it was in another time. As much as I resist the thought, the world around us has not really changed very much; I am the one who has changed.
I've seen many commentators label the current generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings as "the me generation", because they are apparently self-absorbed and use new technologies to take "selfies" (narcissistic photos of self) and post them on the internet for all to see. What we must question, however, is whether this is a change from how previous generations would have acted.
Yes, I find the focus on image as distasteful as anyone, and I blame the broadcast and print media for the current obsession with image. In its most damaging form, it has invaded the music industry: a business which thrives on capturing the youth market. At the same time, I know that I, and friends of my generation, would have been just as keen to post "selfies" at a similar age, if the technology had been so developed. What has changed is that we no longer feel the need.
I remember the transition from childhood to being an adult clearly. There was an almost constant need for approval, to be told that I was doing things right on the way to becoming a young adult. Conversely, there was the need to rebel against the previous generation and do things my own way, but that's a whole other story.
Now, I see the damage that was wrought by that need for approval, and I feel a great deal of sympathy for those who still seek that approval. If there is one piece of wisdom I have gained from being older (and I hoped there would be at least one), it is simply that winning the approval of everyone you come into contact with is impossible, and it is not in anyone's interests to seek universal approval. Our self-esteem takes a battering in the process, and we hide who we truly are in order to mould ourselves to some idealised "acceptable" persona which we wear as a disguise. This, in turn, leads to unhappiness, and the feeling that the person we are inside must never be shown, unless we wish to be ridiculed or rejected.
We are seeing another generation who are doing all they can to "fit in" with their peers, in their attempts to establish an identity that is deemed acceptable. The familiar pattern of liking the same music, films, TV programmes and celebrities as their friends, regardless of their actual thoughts and feelings on these subjects, plays out once again. Later in life, they may look back and realise they actually had little in common with the friends of their youth, and should have sought friends who accepted them for who they were, no matter how "different" they were.
Sadly, I was always the nerdy kid: the one who never quite "fitted in". As a result, I had few friends. No matter how much I tried to integrate, I found myself on the fringes. To me, this says I remained individual enough to be unacceptable to those who chose conformity.
So, if there is one piece of wisdom I would pass on to the young, it would be to stop seeking approval. Look at those who have gained widespread respect throughout history, and you will see that they were non-conformists, who challenged the accepted views of their time. Be yourself, and force the world to accept you for who you are. It is impossible to please everyone.