As the saying goes, at some point we all fly the nest. The little bird who once depended on the mother to show it the way and provide necessary food for strength and growth, is now a beautiful blue bird, with mesmerising feathers gracing its wings, ready to fly off and flourish as it departs from the nest and begins its journey to the final destination. Despite birds being aves and humans falling within the group of mammals (biologically speaking), the former’s cycle is starkingly much similar to how the life of the average person today goes on. Or is it?
A recent survey carried out by EY, the Generate Youth Survey, showed that 60% of young people would rather live in another European country than in Malta. This took some people by surprise, preaching that today’s opportunities are servings on gold platters compared to what was available to them in their prime years. Others encouraged them to leave immediately and agreed that several obvious factors are catalysts as to why young people would want to leave in the first place.
I do not really indulge in taking sides on such issues, as one has probably gathered by now. Rather, in this contribution we will discuss a little why our young people wanting to leave is not necessarily a bad thing in the first place. Obviously, this is by no means an expert opinion, but mere observations and reasons as to why this might be happening, from a common person’s experience. Without further ado, let’s get cracking.
The Maltese are not exactly ones to let go of their mother’s food so easily
This sub heading should obviously not be taken literally. But, if we are going to be blunt, the statistics here are not exactly in our favour either. The average age of Maltese still living with their parents is 30 years of age. There are many reasons as to why our young people would not wish to leave their parents’ house, however, let’s start from some basic ones. Some examples however may include, stemming from the expenses of life, saving up to buy a first property in today’s arguably impossible market, being raised to be attached to our parents or simply wanting to have access to our mothers’ cooking on a daily basis because if we did the cooking, we would simply fail to even cook rice properly.
The average age of Maltese still living with their parents is 30 years of age.
But let us also look at our other fellow European countries. The estimated average of Sweden leaving the parental household is 17.5 years of age, followed by Luxembourg, Denmark and Finland. According to Gunnar Anderson, a professor of demography at Stockholm University, his interpretation is that in Sweden it can be considered problematic to depend entirely on your family and that there is a “culture of individualism” ingrained in Swedish teenagers, which goes back to centuries.
“In Sweden, the goal is to create an independent individual…there’s seen to be something wrong if the child stays at home”
It would however be ignorant to assume that everything is easy for young people leaving their parents’ house, in fact some of those leaving the parental household at such a young age have reported feelings of loneliness and cluelessness on how to perform basic tasks expected from adults.
So, with this new information from the EY Survey, is this perhaps a new ray of hope and a chance to change the label which we have been carrying for a while now? Maybe so, this is obviously not definite, however it is a sign that young people wish to be independent and are not totally afraid to leave the nest and explore how far their wings can take them and if they can flourish. However, it is also a sign that maybe, this is an opportunity to brush up the areas in which we lack in, if we genuinely want the next generations to excel here, but we will discuss that later on.
Wanting to leave one’s country for something better is normal
Wanderlust, derived from the German language, is defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as a strong desire to travel. From my observations, it is something that is natural and that many feel the desire to fulfil. Some others are happy in their nest and wish to keep things unchanged, and that too, is okay. But here, we are discussing the former cluster.
Students in tertiary education have the opportunity to spend a few months away in another country and university of their choice, as an opportunity to study and familiarise themselves with a new culture and have the opportunity to make friendships that last a lifetime. When offered this opportunity, the majority of students would leave at the first chance they get.
Wanting to grab a plane ticket and leaving your country to discover something new, take a new opportunity, whether professional or academic, and possibly flourish there is something very normal.
Wanting to grab a plane ticket and leaving your country to discover something new is something very normal.
Robert Neelly Bellah himself described it as a second birth, and rightly so. This is not something that the Gen-Zers or the Millennials collectively started, even our family members who have travelled to places before today’s generation was born, when travelling for the first time, being mesmerised and feeling lucky to be going on a plane and arriving in a whole new land and made memories to treasure. As time passed, it was made more easily available to the upcoming generations and encouraged through many different ways, by that presentation you gave at school about the language spoken in a different country, by being sent photos from your friend of how he found peace in the hills of Ireland, or by a simple search on an online platform or a video of a sibling of Rome which a sibling sent you, as an idea for the next destination.
If your daughter’s hard work has paid off and she has been given an opportunity to study at a top university, you should encourage her and help her. If your son’s work has been recognised by a foreign company and has been awarded a placement, we should wish him the very best, and if you miss him, consider going back to the roots that kept us connected during the pandemic in the first place, by online video calls, or by visiting every now and then.
If you want to keep the young people, set them free…or create a better quality of life
As the saying in the famous song which your dad probably still listens to by Sting goes, ‘If you love someone, set them free’. Yes, that is exactly what I mean. In the example mentioned in the beginning of this contribution, we spoke about the magnificent bird leaving the nest, bidding farewell to the mother who nursed it and helped it grow into what it is today, is leaving the nest, to grow further. We might owe a lot to our parents, we can be what we are today thanks to them, but the reality is, we also have our own identity, distinct from that of the parents, and how far we have come is a result, is not just a result of how parents guided us so far, but also a result of our own choices, and because of those choices, we have our own unique identities, which is reflective of the Swedish approach. The point of parental love ultimately is, not to have a clone, rather, it is to give encouragement to the child as they become a new member of society and prepare them for the paths and obstacles which they will come across in the course of this life.
But, from a more practical perspective, it also is an opportunity for self-reflection. The top concern for young people was overdevelopment, coupled with environment, so it is no surprise that these ideas are their priorities. A staggering 89% of Gen-Z and 89% of Millennials believe that Malta’s environment is in fact, getting worse. So here, we have a very obvious problem.
The EY survey is an opportunity for
Are there any gaps we can fill, to build them a better future? The survey took into account ideas for a better future and these 4 ideas stood out the most:
- Greenifying our surroundings
- Promoting Healthy Lifestyles
- Raising living standards and control the rising costs of living
- Pushing Education to the max
One cannot say that all hope is not lost after all, however, after this excruciating discovery, our young people are pleading to us here, on what we can do to make their potential futures better, and if the option to stay in Malta is still an option, these factors must be taken into account if they are to stay here.
How can we have a greener future? How can we make property more affordable and make buying a first property something to look forward to, rather than something unrealistic? How can we fit in healthier lifestyles in this busy life we have presented to them? This might be a more personal experience and might go hand in hand with the fourth idea. There is a sentiment that we have also lacked in teaching our youth the basics on how to go forth with becoming an adult without entirely depending on parental guidance. How is our tax estimated? How do we get a loan? What are our options after we get our first degree? Is there such thing as work-life balance?
This is where we sit down, think and hopefully realise that maybe, what we have created so far is far from perfect, but we do have a chance to make things right. At this rate, it is clearer than ever that our young people do not want talk from our politicians, patting on the heads or empty promises from a conference. They want action. They want us to sit down with them, plan things out, listen to them and get to work, and more importantly, take them seriously.
To you, young people
I am sorry if this country is no longer what you envisaged it to be, maybe you need a break, maybe you feel like our culture leaves you out, or maybe you feel that your talents would be much more appreciated in another land. I am also sorry if our priorities overlooked what you need for a better future. I hope that someone will wake up and smell the coffee and do better.
To you reading this, wherever you are and whoever you are, do what makes you happy, do not be afraid to spread your wings, leave the cage and make something of yourself, even if that means going away for a very long time or maybe even never coming back. Take every opportunity that comes and be open to mistakes, and more importantly, embrace change.