Despite these challenges, many young people remain committed to starting the next phase of their lives. Arnett says this is because of their resiliency, or their ability to bounce back from even the most daunting of circumstances.
But why can they bounce back seemingly so easily? In his 25 years of studying this age group, Arnett says he has noticed a phenomenon. Young people are often confident that whatever struggle they are facing now is temporary and will soon pass. Even young people who have little going for them seem to believe that they will eventually get what they want out of life. "The power of their belief in the future is enough to motivate them to press forward," Arnett tells CNN.
Findings from the Harvard Public Opinion Project support Arnett's theory. While a recent survey of people between the age of 18-29 showed that their faith in government institutions had waned, it also revealed that "they have a vision for the future, and it includes an acute sense of altruism and optimism," write student researchers Katie Heintz and Will Matheson. "In poll after poll and focus group after focus group, we've found a prevailing narrative of change toward hope and hope toward change." And a study by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of nearly 4,000 Black, Hispanic and low-income young people found that they often see themselves as the best agents of that change.
Arturo Ballesteros, a recent graduate of Back of the Yards College Prep in Chicago, agrees with these findings. In conversations with his friends and classmates, he says there is a general consensus that government institutions -- from the local to the national level -- have failed to adequately address their concerns about racism and other forms of discrimination.
But, he adds, his generation isn't without options. "If you look at the protests from the last month, you'll see that young people are taking to the streets, demanding justice and proving that we have an important role to play in reshaping our country." Rather than waiting for state legislatures or even Congress to act, they are reclaiming our power as drivers of change, Ballesteros says.
Arnett also notes there may be a more practical reason for young people's activism -- the stakes of their actions and decisions are not as high as that of their older cohorts. As students graduate, most of them have a limited number of personal responsibilities and financial commitments. With young people marrying and buying homes later in life, they are freer to take risks in their early 20s. Some of them even have the option to move back in with their parents if all else fails.
Psychologists at the University of Manchester have found another factor critical to young adults' resiliency -- the strength of their social bonds. While they report that older people have stronger problem-solving skills, they find that young people (under the age of 26) have stronger social networks that provide them with the support needed to weather the worst storms. And when the pandemic began, we see that many students activated those social networks -- booking flights home to their families, who took them in when their schools no longer could.