Our Instant Gratification Generation

One of the root causes of poverty is our education system’s inability to accommodate the differing learning styles and needs of our instant gratification generation. Rote teaching methods do not inspire, capture the imagination or hold the attention of students today and high school drop out rates are a concern.

To link this to poverty, if youth aren’t dropping out into jobs they are quite likely dropping out onto the streets. In my experience working directly with youth experiencing homelessness either as a youth worker in a teen homeless shelter or as a social entrepreneur with my latest social venture SEA Change Nation, I’ve identified three general categories of street youth.

They come from either (a) families living in poverty and/or chronic homelessness, (b) abusive homes or (c) good homes, but their parents no longer know how to deal with them. What many of these youth have in common is that they have gotten labelled as youth with the harmful and misguided behavourial or developmental disorders such as ODD or ADHD and the doors to the public school system eventually close to them.

I’m not saying ODD and ADHD etc. aren’t real, but they aren’t “disorders”. They are challenges associated with an active mind that when understood could be transformed into gifts that will benefit our society.

Most youth I know who aren’t in school don’t initially complain too much because living on the streets allows for the flexibility, independence and freedom universally desired by teens. In addition, our current mainstream path to wealth and self-reliance – go to school, get a job, and claw your way up the corporate ladder – does not appeal to our instant gratification generation.

The issue is in order to survive, youth become entrenched in street culture realities such as joining a gang, theft, panhandling, selling drugs or prostitution.

“When asked, none of the youth interviewed (during the Calgary Youth, Health and the Street Report) wanted to stay on the street and 90% had goals of gaining better employment, having a family or finding housing. – Calgary Youth, Health and the Street Report (Worthington et. al, 2008)

By the time the youth experiencing homelessness realizes that the illegal alternative to the mainstream one isn’t a path to wealth and freedom for most, the doors to the mainstream are closed to them because of addictions (mainly started by self-medicating their active minds aka “disorders” with marijuana), criminal records (eg: theft under $5000), etc.

The cycle of poverty in our cities therefore continues because their only option is to continue to hustle on the streets to survive.

Contrary to popular belief, this generation isn’t inherently lazy and disengaged. They are just uninspired.

This generation is sensitive, creative, adventurous, risk-taking, compassionate and kind. The need to be instantly gratified exists within them because it is what our society needs to further advance.

Today’s youth aren’t wrong to want to be instantly gratified.

At the core of a desire for instant gratification is the desire to do something with your life TODAY. You don’t want to bus tables or shovel sidewalks to get to some seemingly impossible destination in the future. You want to unleash your creativity and pour your passions into making a difference NOW.


Each generation has a main purpose. If I use my own family as an example, my grandparents immigrated to Canada from Japan. The purpose of their generation was to put their noses to the grindstone and do whatever it took to get their family out of extreme poverty. Their children were mainly left to fend for themselves and pitch in wherever they could.

My parent’s generation, the Baby Boomers, are what I like to call the work ethic/parenting generation. It never crossed their minds to follow their passions. They poured themselves into their work and their children. This became their purpose. Not only did they drill into us that gaining financial security was more important than following your dreams, but they also ensured we had a better childhood than they did by working equally as hard as their parents. I’m certain they were driven in part by a conscious or perhaps unconscious resentment towards their own parents who didn’t pay enough attention to them :)

Which brings us to my generation, Generation X. I am now two generations removed from extreme poverty. For those in my generation who have children, it is their purpose to ensure their children get to live their lives as an expression of who they are. They don’t put as much pressure on their children to get jobs just for the sake of earning money (because they don’t need the money), they instead encourage their children to discover who they are and follow their dreams. I’m certain they are driven in part by a conscious or perhaps unconscious resentment towards their own parents who didn’t allow them this opportunity :)

I’m generalizing here, but you get the gist.

First Generation Canadians, Baby Boomers and to a certain extent Generation X fulfilled the important societal role of getting our economy to where it is today. The majority of people have jobs, but the time has come to shift our focus from job creation to wealth, health, happiness and meaningful work creation. Generation X’s “enlightened” parenting style provides evidence for this fact. (Read also: Our Move from Job Creation to Wealth Creation )

Which leads me to the new generation of youth currently in school. Generation Y (also known as the Millennial Generation) or as I like to call them our instantaneous gratification generation’s purpose is to live their lives as an expression of their passions and strengths.

We aren’t supposed to try and change the youth of today to make them more like the generations that preceded them, we are supposed to accept them for who they are and design classrooms and business models that leverage their unique gifts and active minds.

It is EVERY generation’s purpose and responsibility today to evolve our systems so they unleash the hidden and unique passions, gifts and strengths of our instant gratification generation.

But don’t take my word for it, check out this great animate. It was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award.


Seemingly ordinary. Except they’re not. They carry inside them the genetic code that will take their species to the next evolutionary rung. It’s destiny. ~Heroes (TV Series), Season 1, Episode 1

(I’ve been waiting a long time to use this Heroes quote in a blog :)

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