By CIC Youth Advisor, Jacqueline Stark
OUR TODAY, THEIR TOMORROW
The goal should be to open channels for purposeful connection and contribution, facilitating conversations and experiences that give young people the space to explore the issues that matter to them. This does not need to just include ‘traditional’ avenues of advocacy and politics but can be broadened to involve students working with established programs or businesses or developing their own pathway to change – just look at Greta!
Regardless of the method, it is important to see and hear young people for who they are and the value they can offer society and give them the tools to allow them to innovate for both today and the future.
The possibilities for positive progress, that come through engaging young people as active citizens, are far-reaching. But - and this is important - this engagement requires the creation of channels that facilitate and encourage youth engagement. Society will see the best results where there is a deliberate focus on hearing the stories of people from all backgrounds, and then use these to guide our responses and actions.
The acknowledgement of these diverse voices is the key to lasting change, however young people are too often excluded from these conversations, whether consciously or otherwise. This means that we are not given the opportunity to voice our concerns and ideas about decisions that directly affect us.
Youth engagement has the potential to offer our society incredible insights, but it cannot be tokenistic. It is not about ticking a box. It requires us to actively involve young people in the decisions that shape our collective today and their tomorrow.
The complex problems our society is facing today require creative solutions, so supporting and encouraging the creativity and innovation young people bring to the table is beneficial to everyone.
Throughout school I paid a lot of attention to the news. The trouble is it only ever seemed to highlight problems with the world. As a young person, I had a number of ideas about changes that could be made, ranging from small suggestions for my local community, to ideas that were too large to ever feel practical. However, like many young people, I was not offered the guidance or knowhow to action these ideas. When platforms or guidance were available, it was overwhelmingly in the form of programmes targeted at an older audience.
As a society, we often describe young people as the leaders of tomorrow, but this discounts the amazing contribution young people can and do offer us today. It is young people, with their passion and determination, that are seen at the forefront of movements such as the climate protests, marriage and gender equality, and Black Lives Matter.
Today, according to the UNFPA, over half of the world’s population is under 30, making it the largest youth population in history. These young people are in the unique position to be able to disrupt power structures and shift the course of global issues such as climate change and poverty. However, despite the trend towards supporting greater youth engagement and participation, there is still a long way to go.
On a more practical level, encouraging youth engagement and participation allows these young people to develop the necessary skills to become powerful advocates for the issues that matter to them. The experiences that I had while at school, such as working with the Foundation for Young Australians to create my own social change platform, taught me practical, applicable skills, and inspired me to work for change. I would love to see these opportunities made available for young people nation-wide.
Leadership programs and similar school-based initiatives too often focus on developing soft skills in small-scale situations to equip young people with workplace tools. While there will always be a place for this, the most meaningful opportunities are those that allow young people to put their learning into practice, giving them the chance to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills.
We need to be creating safe spaces for young people to question and challenge the issues around them, giving them a voice and allowing them to disrupt established systems. Currently, there is a huge opportunity to broaden youth participation and engagement within schools and local communities. Even just starting to open pathways for young people to voice their concerns and suggestions will go a long way to breaking down the barriers that prevent these voices from being heard.