What it means to be 21 in 2014

To­day’s typ­i­cal 21-year-old is on a path very dif­fer­ent from the one their par­ents fol­lowed. Four Gen-y Queens­lan­ders share their jour­neys.

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Rose Bren­nan

At 21, you have the world at your feet. Any­thing is pos­si­ble and an ex­cit­ing fu­ture awaits. So what’s it like to be 21 in 2014? De­mog­ra­pher Bernard Salt says the first gen­er­a­tion to grow up on so­cial me­dia can seem “cod­dled”, due to in­creased time in ed­u­ca­tion and longer in the fam­ily nest. “A 21-yearold male in 1940 or even 1970 was far more self-suf­fi­cient, ca­pa­ble, could chop wood, fix a car, turn his hand to any­thing,” Salt says. “If you’re in­de­pen­dent and have earned an in­come for a few years, by the time you’re 21 you can take on a re­la­tion­ship and a fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­ity, but you can’t re­ally do that if you’re still liv­ing with Mum and Dad and ex­ist­ing on stu­dent al­lowances.”

Salt says to­day’s youth are late starters. “They might not be out there and self-suf­fi­cient at 18 like pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, but by their mid-twen­ties or early thir­ties they catch up and can deal with more com­plex is­sues than pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tions could.” Start­ing a fam­ily typ­i­cally is not a pri­or­ity: “skills, train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence are what they value”.

And if older gen­er­a­tions are in­clined to view their youth through rose-tinted glasses, Salt says each gen­er­a­tion rebels. “Baby boomers cer­tainly re­belled through the hip­pie move­ment, mar­i­juana and LSD but that phase was short, say from ages 17 to 21 in the late 1960s, early ’70s. By the 1980s those hip­pies were cap­i­tal­ists like Gor­don Gekko [the fic­tional character who es­poused the “greed is good” phi­los­o­phy in 1987 film Wall Street] and by mid­dle age they had be­come con­ser­va­tive.”

Gen Y’s re­bel­lious phase lasts much longer, mak­ing them the “most ex­treme gen­er­a­tion in his­tory”. “Is­sues around em­ploy­ment, in­come, re­la­tion­ships, the work they do, com­mit­ment to re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions fall­ing by the way­side … it’s very hard to find an area of con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween to­day’s 21-year-olds and their par­ents. I would say 21-year-olds now dif­fer more from their par­ents than their par­ents did from their par­ents.”

Univer­sity of Queens­land School of Psy­chol­ogy PhD stu­dent Megan Weier is study­ing “emerg­ing adult­hood”, the pe­riod of de­vel­op­ment be­tween 18 and 29 years. She says the av­er­age 21-year-old Queens­lan­der is well-trav­elled and in ter­tiary study. Mar­riage is at least eight years away – the me­dian age for men is 31 and women 29, much older than the re­spec­tive 24 and 22 in 1979. Women are hav­ing fewer chil­dren and the me­dian age of giv­ing birth is 31, up from 27 in the ’70s.

De­mand for higher lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion means full-time work is pushed back. While risk-tak­ing be­hav­iour with drugs and al­co­hol is con­sis­tent across gen­er­a­tions, Weier says to­day’s youth are at greater risk of men­tal ill­ness, with 26 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds hav­ing had a men­tal disorder. “There is far more di­ver­sity in their path­way but it’s as­sumed they are de­lay­ing adult­hood out of self­ish­ness rather than ne­ces­sity.”


There’s pres­sure to have stuff up on so­cial me­dia all the time so you can main­tain an

im­age. Shar­ing your life on so­cial me­dia is nor­mal; peo­ple over­share, if any­thing. It feeds FOMO [fear of miss­ing out] and for me it can lead to jeal­ousy be­cause I com­pare my­self to oth­ers my age. If some­thing in your life hap­pens, like grad­u­at­ing from uni or get­ting a job, you share it be­cause you want to show off a bit. Then ev­ery­one will be con­grat­u­lat­ing you and I think, why hasn’t that hap­pened to me? I want to have some­thing to post.

Re­la­tion­ships play out on so­cial me­dia too. On Face­book, when your sta­tus is changed to “end of re­la­tion­ship”, it has a lit­tle pic­ture of a bro­ken heart. That is so in­tense and heart­break­ing. If I start see­ing a new guy, it’s weird, but if I don’t have him on all the so­cial me­dia out­lets it feels like it’s not se­ri­ous. Like, I’ve been talk­ing to him for two weeks but I still don’t have him on In­sta­gram.

I never saw drugs at school [at Ke­dron State High, in Bris­bane’s north] but I see a lot now. I think my friends just know drug deal­ers. A lot of my friends do weed and they of­fer me pills and ask if I want to buy them. I’m not that cool. There’s not re­ally any stigma around drugs at all, peo­ple talk about it a lot when we’re out. I just stick with drink­ing and plus, I don’t know what drugs would do to me. I just have this re­ally big fear of not be­ing in con­trol – one minute feel­ing fine and the next minute not know­ing what’s go­ing on and not know­ing how to stop it.

I feel like I still have an im­ma­ture and ir­re­spon­si­ble mind­set. I’m only two years into a new [univer­sity] de­gree. I change my jobs a lot [cur­rently work­ing in a cloth­ing store]; I don’t drive so I don’t have a li­cence. There’s a cou­ple from my school who have just had a baby. It’s crazy. I can’t imag­ine get­ting mar­ried or hav­ing a kid – that phase of my life seems re­ally far away.

I’m do­ing business man­age­ment and jour­nal­ism

Chang­ing my name was a huge decision FOR ME BE­Cause i’m so close to my fam­ily.


at UQ [Univer­sity of Queens­land]. I was study­ing cre­ative and pro­fes­sional writ­ing at QUT [Qld Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy]. They scare you at QUT with all this stuff about a lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties when you grad­u­ate. [But] if I get this business man­age­ment de­gree un­der my belt, I can com­bine the two and test things out. You don’t re­ally think about get­ting a job when de­cid­ing what to study, you just think about what you’re good at.

I’ve lived with my mum [Sue, 52] my whole life. We’re re­ally close. I don’t re­ally know my dad. I’ve never met him. I’ve talked to him a few times over email and I know that he lives in New Zealand and he’s mar­ried and has a four-year-old daugh­ter. But I’m not re­ally that in­ter­ested, to be hon­est. Mum and Dad were to­gether for a year. And when Mum got preg­nant she just told my dad “you can choose how much in­volve­ment you want to have” and he just de­cided he didn’t want to be in­volved. I guess it hap­pens. I was 18 when I first heard from him. He mes­saged me on Face­book and then gave me his email ad­dress. I’m not in­ter­ested in hav­ing him in my life when it took him all that time to get in touch.

When I was grow­ing up, from the age of about six months to seven years old, Mum had a part­ner that she was en­gaged to and I still keep in con­tact with him and I called him Dad when I was grow­ing up, so that’s who I con­sider my dad.

I have a lot of wor­ries about the fu­ture. I worry about my HECS debt, find­ing some­thing to do after uni, and whether I’m go­ing to be mak­ing an in­come that’s go­ing to sus­tain the life that I want. I worry about re­tir­ing as well; it’s go­ing to be re­ally hard. Buy­ing a house is another big thing. I’d just like to have a job where I’m en­joy­ing what I’m do­ing. Not be filthy rich, but just live com­fort­ably.

Money has def­i­nitely been a worry for my fam­ily so I think my mum wants the same thing for me. I didn’t no­tice it that much when I was a kid; it was more when I started high school and even now. If I ask to bor­row money for my go card she will say, “I re­ally don’t have any­thing to spare this week”. But I think we all def­i­nitely have enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to live well if we try hard.


In Grade 11, my [now] hus­band Ty­rone got a chick at our school [Bracken Ridge State High, on Bris­bane’s north­ern bay­side] preg­nant. Their re­la­tion­ship was just a fling. I guar­an­tee that many teenagers wouldn’t have stuck around like Ty did. They’d just be like “that’s your prob­lem now, I’m not be­ing a part of this”, but he stood by it and stepped up; it was a big thing for a 15-year-old. He had to ma­ture ba­si­cally overnight for his son, Jett [now 5], as he wanted to be a good dad. He tried harder in school, got a job and tried to be bet­ter for him.

once you reach a ma­ture age, that’s it. it’s easy to start some­thing and not fin­ish it. – ANDY YIP

We dated for a few weeks in Grade 10 but we fell out, and after the preg­nancy I said “I’m never talk­ing to Ty again”. Then the year I started uni [2011], he be­gan tex­ting me out of the blue and we started hang­ing out. We talked about get­ting mar­ried one day but it was a big sur­prise when he ac­tu­ally asked me. We got mar­ried in Au­gust.

Chang­ing my name [from Fer­nan­dez] was a huge decision for me be­cause I’m so close to my fam­ily and I feel like my last name is a part of me but I did it be­cause I thought of Ty and my [fu­ture] kids and want them to have the same last name as me and their dad. I’m go­ing to keep Fer­nan­dez pro­fes­sion­ally. When we got to­gether Ty was do­ing se­cu­rity work and it was such a crap job with late nights and hardly any money and I said, “you’re worth more than this”. He re­ally did ev­ery­thing he could to bet­ter him­self for me. And he let me into his son’s life, which was im­por­tant.

It was hard for me with Jett at first be­cause it was dif­fi­cult to ad­just to hav­ing a child and it was messy be­tween Ty and Jett’s mum. They share cus­tody now and the re­la­tion­ship is civil. I love Jett to pieces and treat him like my own. I used to go out ev­ery week­end, drink­ing, night­clubs, the [For­ti­tude] Val­ley, lo­cal pubs. I met a lot of new peo­ple but grew out of it. It’s hard to re­late to my friends who go out a lot or are still sin­gle and not re­ally sure where they’re go­ing in life.

We strug­gled with money a lot when we were grow­ing up be­cause Mum [He­len, 40] was a very young mum. Dad [Ricardo, 40] was 18 and Mum 19 when they had me. I was not planned. I wasn’t aware of the money is­sues when I was lit­tle and we had such a good child­hood but I found out later. I felt bad, like I’d pushed them to that, but they said “we wouldn’t have it any other way”.

My par­ents live in Warner [north­ern Bris­bane] and Mum runs a life coach business from home. She’s what peo­ple call a medium. She chan­nels en­ergy and ad­vice for peo­ple and helps them with blocks in their lives and tries to get them into the ca­reer or re­la­tion­ship they want. I see spir­its too but not as well as Mum. A tall Kenyan is my spirit guide. I first saw him when I was 13 years old at my birth­day party and he was pat­ting my dog. I started see­ing him more of­ten but not much now. My sis­ter, Is­abel [17], is to­tally into it. She med­i­tates all the time; she’s big on crys­tals. Dad thinks it’s awe­some but it’s not his thing.

Since Ty and I got mar­ried, we’ve been liv­ing with my par­ents but last Fri­day we fi­nally moved into a place of our own [in Warner]. Ty has a full-time po­si­tion in a fac­tory [vi­ta­min and sup­ple­ment company Na­ture’s Own] that’s re­ally good money but the majority of it goes to Jett. I fin­ished a BA in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, jour­nal­ism, writ­ing and lit­er­a­ture at Grif­fith Univer­sity last year. Although I passed ev­ery­thing with fly­ing colours, I strug­gled for eight months to find any work re­lated to my de­gree. I thought it would be easy but I kept get­ting knock­backs be­cause I didn’t have any ex­pe­ri­ence. It was re­ally dis­ap­point­ing. Then in Au­gust, I got lucky. Some­one fi­nally took a chance on me. I’m now em­ployed full-time at Cus­toms Bro­kers and For­warders Coun­cil of Aus­tralia at [in­ner-north] Al­bion as a support ser­vice of­fi­cer – writ­ing me­dia re­leases, man­ag­ing mem­ber­ship and PA work.

My ul­ti­mate dream is to be an au­thor. I’m go­ing to do any­thing I can to get there. I’m writ­ing a sci-fi young adult book and am in the last stage of edit­ing it. I’m go­ing to self-publish it as an e-book.

There are peo­ple who don’t know what they’re do­ing with their lives but then there are oth­ers like me who have their life to­gether and are re­spect­ful of oth­ers. It’s the younger gen­er­a­tion we have to watch out for, the “twelvies” [sub-teens] who are all over so­cial me­dia and they’re so bad for it. It’s all hooker heels and fake tans. They’re so young, they’re drink­ing, smoking, wear­ing re­veal­ing cloth­ing and it’s out there for ev­ery­one to see. It’s crazy how times have changed in one decade.


Tat­toos are so nor­mal now, [just about] ev­ery­one has them. Mine are all about my jour­ney. I con­sider tat­toos another out­let for my cre­ativ­ity. I’ve wanted them since I was young. I have full sleeves [both arms] and tat­toos cover my knees to my an­kles also.

I have a tat­too of David and Go­liath on my up­per arm. I’m not re­li­gious but I ad­mire the story. It rep­re­sents me do­ing what I want to do, which is hair­dress­ing. A lot of peo­ple, es­pe­cially as I came from the min­ing in­dus­try in Emer­ald [880km north-west of Bris­bane], said I couldn’t do it. I did and that was the gi­ant I de­feated. Peo­ple didn’t get why I would want to do hair­dress­ing but I get to sur­round my­self with beau­ti­ful peo­ple ev­ery day.

I’ve got a tat­too of a tree on my leg, like the tree of life, and I’ve my box brownie [cam­era], and an ele­phant for good luck. I’ve a girl on my up­per leg al­ways keep­ing me company – just a lit­tle joke.

I’m one of the lucky ones, es­pe­cially with my

i think turn­ing 21 is a time to take stock of where you’re at … what lies ahead?


fam­ily, which is why I’ve got “fam­ily” writ­ten on my hand. They’ve al­ways been there for me. We’re not wealthy but I’ve had great support.

I moved to Emer­ald when I was 15 to do my hair­dress­ing ap­pren­tice­ship. It is a good hour-anda-half from our prop­erty which is a hobby farm out at Dingo [120km east of Emer­ald]. It’s in the mid­dle of nowhere on the road to Rock­hamp­ton. My par­ents [Delma, 50 and Greg, 50] gave me and my brother Cory [26] a choice – ei­ther go to board­ing school at St Bren­dan’s in Yep­poon [40km north-east of Rock­hamp­ton] or do a trade and we’d get our rent paid un­til we were 18. You ei­ther love school or you hate it and given the choice, I left school [Black­wa­ter State High] and did my trade. I was so cer­tain about what I wanted to do at a young age. My whole fam­ily is cre­ative, we’re good with our hands. My brother fixes things – he’s a diesel fit­ter [in Yep­poon].

Mine was a tough ap­pren­tice­ship. If I spoke back to the boss I would have lost my job – their way or the high­way. That’s common sense re­ally, you shouldn’t talk back to your su­pe­rior. I find for trades th­ese days the ap­pren­tices get it very, very easy, es­pe­cially in the hair­dress­ing and ser­vice in­dus­try. You shouldn’t get in un­til you qual­ify.

Emer­ald is very money-driven and it’s easy to get caught up. If I had got a job there, say in the mines, I’d have been paid ten times more than any ap­pren­tice hair­dresser wage, but hair­dress­ing is not about money for me. It’s about ed­u­ca­tion and the peo­ple I sur­round my­self with and share cre­ativ­ity.

I moved to Bris­bane when I was 18 and now work at Vogue Na­tionale [in in­ner-north New­stead]. I went to London with work in 2013 and have been at the Mercedes-Benz Fash­ion Fes­ti­val in Syd­ney the last few years.

I have to plan and know how to save – not go­ing out, not tak­ing a [credit] card out when I drink. I don’t want to waste my money. I’m not a typ­i­cal 21-year-old. I had to grow up re­ally fast. I be­lieve once you reach a ma­ture age in your mind that’s it. It’s so easy to start some­thing and not fin­ish it – it’s okay to do that, ap­par­ently. I do 38 hours of work across four days a week and I work in [fash­ion] re­tail at Scotch & Soda too. I’m break­ing into both fields. It’s hair, makeup and fash­ion, and put to­gether it makes a beau­ti­ful im­age.

I’m not in a re­la­tion­ship be­cause I’m mov­ing to London this month. I don’t want to set­tle down. It hap­pens to so many of my mates, then they break up and it’s like you’re stuck, you wasted seven years of your life. I don’t want to do that. If I get to travel the world with hair­dress­ing that would be amaz­ing. The best thing at the end of the day is a re­ally good hair­cut.


I’ve dropped most of my high school friends. I went to an all-boys school [Padua Col­lege, in Bris­bane’s north]. We did the usual Schoolies Week and some of the stuff I saw there I was a bit iffy about. There was binge drink­ing, friends get­ting ar­rested, and drugs like pills, weed and co­caine. The drugs were so easy to ac­cess and my friends had no re­grets about us­ing them. It was peer pres­sure; they were just do­ing it be­cause ev­ery­one else was.

In school you have to be re­ally great friends be­cause you’re in that en­vi­ron­ment ev­ery day for five years, so you make an ef­fort. Once Schoolies hap­pened I just went, “I don’t see any value in your friend­ship and there’s noth­ing you can re­ally bring to my life that’ll help”.

It was a hard decision and I look back on it and some­times wish I had stayed close with more of them.

When we grew up, Dad [Peter, 45] was in the navy so we [Mum Donna, 43, brother Jakob, 11, and sis­ter Amelia, 23] moved around a lot. I was born in Bris­bane and we’ve been back here for about eight years. At the time I hated hav­ing to move but, look­ing back on it, it’s made me who I am. It taught me a lot, es­pe­cially the abil­ity to con­nect with peo­ple and make new friend­ships. Amelia’s been my best friend in a sense, just hav­ing that con­stant con­nec­tion with her. We re­lied on each other. What you’d nor­mally see with friend­ship cir­cles, I went through with her.

After Dad worked on the navy ships as a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer he worked in the ADFA [Aus­tralian De­fence Force Academy] run­ning the lead­er­ship train­ing for small groups. That was when we were in Can­berra and I was in Grade 5 so I’d tag along and join in. It’s sim­i­lar to what I was do­ing as a pre­sen­ter with yLead for the past two years. It’s an in­de­pen­dent, not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that runs youth lead­er­ship cour­ses in about 300 state, in­de­pen­dent and Catholic schools. A lot of it is en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to re­alise that it doesn’t need to be the per­son with a badge or a ti­tle who makes a dif­fer­ence.

I started study­ing pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion straight after high school and I’m still chew­ing away at the de­gree even though I re­lo­cated to Mackay [Cen­tral Queens­land] last month to be with my girl­friend, Sarah Chisholm [22], an en­gi­neer with Cardno Ull­man and Nolan. I’m now man­ag­ing the Hog’s Breath Cafe there.

Even­tu­ally, I want to teach Prep to Year 2. Those are the years you can have a real im­pact. Look­ing back on the teach­ers I had, there were five or six that in­spired me. One used to look after kan­ga­roos and bring them into the class­room. That’s the type of thing I’d like to in­cor­po­rate – get kids in­volved, make sure they’re en­gaged.

So many men are afraid to go into teach­ing. Male teach­ers are per­ceived to be creeps and pae­dophiles, es­pe­cially when they choose to fo­cus on young chil­dren. It’s sad. That is the re­al­ity of it, though, un­less that cul­ture’s re­de­fined.

One thing that wor­ries me about my gen­er­a­tion is peo­ple los­ing their abil­ity to think for them­selves and so they just go with what they hear. It is some­thing that can have se­ri­ous ef­fects mov­ing for­ward. You see on Face­book peo­ple who whinge about pol­i­tics but don’t see both sides or take in the big­ger pic­ture. I think turn­ing 21 is a time to take stock of where you’re at and it’s that age where you’re get­ting close to fin­ish­ing your de­gree or your ap­pren­tice­ship or what­ever you do, and it gives you the abil­ity to stop and think, what am I do­ing? What lies ahead of me?

Go to couriermail.com.au and tell us your ad­vice to your 21-year-old self and watch our spe­cial video.

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