Chelsea Hill, Queens University.
“We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable”
Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. Everyone’s opinion matters. So why is it that when it comes to young people, it’s okay to silence them?
When it comes to political issues, children’s voices are often disregarded. They’re seen as clueless, helpless, and even too idealist for their own good. People seem to think that young people don’t know what they want.
However, if we have learned anything from the past couple of years, it is that young people have the power to make waves. From climate strikes to marches against gun violence, there is no doubt that youth activism is on the risearound the world. If this has proven anything, it’s that young people are far more capable than we give them credit for.
Just last year, climate change activist Greta Thunberg was the youngest person to be named Time’s 2019 Person of the Year, at sixteen years old. TIME’s editor-in-chief made a statement to explain their choice, saying:
For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019.
In addition to Greta, there are thousands of other young people who are fighting for notable causes the world over. And though they may not be given the same recognition, their efforts are important in contributing to change.
The phenomenon of youth leadership is nothing new. Young people have been at the foreground of social movements many years. For instance, during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, a 10-mile march was led by high school student Charles Avery to Birmingham City, which had broad implications for the movement as a whole.
So, what can we do to harness the power of young people who genuinely want to change the world? World Vision’s model of youth activism has determined that the most significant issue to overcome is the widespread belief that youth are not capable of affecting change. But as we can see, time and time again, this narrative has been proven wrong. There seems to be a kind of social amnesia that occurs when people try to discredit the impact young people can have, but their efforts mustn’t be forgotten.
Jessica Taft, a scholar who studies youth activism, has observed that societies like the US tend to discount children as agents for change. She argues that “The exclusion of children from political engagement isn’t inevitable. It’s a product of cultural assumptions about childhood and adulthood.” Therefore, it is possible to counter the narrative that children and young people lack the ability to impact their communities.
When a social group is being affected by a political policy, those effected have a right to voice their opinions. The voices of children are not an exception to this rule. Only good can come from empowering more young people to become engaged in the issues that concern them. Adults not only need to start listening to what youth are saying but help to empower them in their efforts to change the world.
As we enter into a new decade, youth leadership will hopefully continue to grow. As adults, it is our job to encourage young people to speak up, because when everyone’s voice is heard, polices are better attuned to the concerns of us all.
BBC. “Greta Thunberg quotes: 10 famous lines from teen activist.” BBC 25 September 2019.
Birnbaum, Elisa. “Never Underestimate The Power Of Young People To Effect Change.” Huffpost 6 March 2018.
Felsenthal, Edward. “Time 2019 Person of the Year: The Choice .” Time December 2019.
McNulty, Jennifer. Youth activism is on the rise around the globe, and adults should pay attention, says author. 17 September 2019. 30 January 2020.
World Vision . “Y-EMPOWER| a model for youth activism and empowerment.” 16 December 2015. World Vision International. 30 January 2020.