COMING of age is a rite shared by all people. Its forms are as varied as national flags and religions, as favourite dishes and iconic tunes. It defines us and yet, as we grow into adulthood, we leave that stage of our lives behind.

These thoughts are triggered by my eldest son reaching the ripe age of 18. Anyone with kids will either have experienced that milestone or can anticipate it. But a thought troubles me. What kind of world are we bequeathing those who ‘come of age’?

According to research by the charity, the Prince’s Trust, young people’s happiness across every single area of their lives has never been lower. The charity reported that the results of its annual UK Youth Index, which gauges young people’s happiness and confidence across a variety of areas, from working life to mental and physical health, should “ring alarm bells”.

Worryingly, the comprehensive national survey showed young people’s sense of wellbeing has fallen over the last 12 months and is at its lowest level since the study was first commissioned back in 2009.

Personally, I can understand why young people should feel that way. When you consider the major issues they face, it reads as a depressing tick list. I would argue many of those problems are things the older generation should not be bequeathing to them. Here are a few that come to mind instantly.

First off, the environment. It is now only disputed by cranks and people with lots of shares in petro-chemical companies that we are facing potentially devastating climate change. The exact consequences are unknown. Ironically, it is my son’s generation, when they reach middle age, who will face the first really serious effects of global warming.

Early indications of what these might be are scary. Rising sea levels, extreme weather events on a regular basis, droughts, famine, mass migration and water wars are all predicted by experts. Not to mention toxic tides of plastic and the mass extinction of precious animal and plant species all over the world.

Depressing thoughts. But I believe the only way you find a solution to problems is acknowledging they exist in the first place. After all, the immense human ingenuity and talent that created our industrial and consumer society could be applied to creating a more environmentally-friendly way of living. Surely the lesson of history is that the only constant is change. If we choose, we can be the careful driver of that change rather than crash and burn out of control.

The Prince’s Trust’s research also highlighted that young people’s wellbeing is adversely affected by fears about their economic future. Again, this is understandable. The policies of austerity pursued by the current government since 2010 have particularly targeted certain groups, such as disabled people and people on low incomes, especially women. Chief among the groups chosen to pay for the banking crash are young people.

The evidence is everywhere and again it makes a depressing tick list. Huge numbers of our brightest and best are trapped in cycles of insecure employment, minimum wage earnings and a lack of meaningful career opportunities. Of course there are exceptions. Nevertheless, for millions of our young citizens that reality dooms them to never being able to buy their own home, with all the emotional and financial benefits home ownership brings. In addition, they are denied the secure retirement prospects my generation takes for granted. Far too many are saddled with huge student debts that they can never realistically repay.

It is also impossible to ignore another great unknown that must inevitably affect the upcoming generation. Brexit is coming at us fast and nowhere do we receive reassuring indications of what it will look like once the transition period is over.

The Prince’s Trust is advising that in order to increase young people’s emotional wellbeing and confidence in the future “it is vital that government, charities and employers across the UK invest more in developing young people’s skills and in providing opportunities”. Whether that happens depends largely on the older generation. We owe it to our children to seriously address the dilemmas facing them, rather than pretend they do not exist.