According to the United Nations, young people is the group of people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. It is the transition from childhood to adulthood where people start to take responsibility and become an active part of their community. The youth, who are full of energy, ideas, and potential are woefully underestimated around the world. Unfortunately, this underestimation is so severe that it is not only limited to social norms but is also translated into law. For example, the legal age to run for parliament in Turkey is 25, in Iraq it’s 40, and even in the United States, which is considered to be the pinnacle of development and equality in the world, is 25. If the laws do not give youth the chance to become leaders, then how do we expect society to do so as well?
Many members of the society often view the youth as arrogant and reckless individuals with no promising future, and they believe that their ideas are absurd and don’t go well with society. Society’s constant rejection of the youth and their creativity causes the youth to rebel against it and its traditions. This, in turn, causes society to dig in its heels and resist the change that the youth bring even more. This rejection and resistance to the power of the youth are done in several stages throughout the young person’s life:
This problem of underestimation starts from the fundamental unit of society which is the family. Up until to this day, many families underestimate their children’s ideas and right to express themselves. The scenario usually starts with a parent or a group of adults talking and exchanging ideas and when the child or young man/woman’s interest is peaked and wants to contribute to the conversation he/she is often told by either a parent or a relative that he/she should not talk since they are still young and assume that they do not know enough about the topic. While parents have the best interest of their sons and daughters at heart, this way of acting damages the young person’s self-esteem and creativity and negatively affect society in the long run.
The underestimation, however, does not stop with the family. When the child becomes a young adult and enters university, he/she supposedly becomes independent. However, this is not the case because of the suppression of teachers. For example, in some Syrian universities, the teachers are not very open to listening to the ideas of the students and are used to telling them what to think whilst refusing to explain why. This act will make students lose motivation and interest in their major and their university.
After graduating, the young person enters the job market. When he/she start working, they think that this is the opportune moment for him/her to express his/her ideas and create positive change. However, as the young person soon discovers, it is not the case. The boss starts to oppress any ideas that try to change the way the company initially works. Therefore, the person ends up suppressing his/her ideas to avoid losing their job.
After all of the suppression that the youth go through in all of the stages mentioned above, most of them get used to this system and start to act in the same way, suppressing all the youth that come after them. This problem of underestimation and the suppression that results from it consequently leads to a vicious cycle which makes it an experience for every generation.
The reason why I am writing this today is to help in breaking this cycle and calling on society to give the youth a chance to create impact and realize that today’s youth are much more mature, open-minded, and creative. Engaging them in building the society is the key to development. The old ways still work, but it only needs a youthful touch to lead us to a better society.
What I am sharing comes from the fact that youth have proved to be able to develop the society. An example of this would be in the 2012 congressional elections in the United States(US). When the youth came forward to offer their assistance to the GOP, the party refused. As a result, the youth gathered themselves and picked candidates who represented them in the Republican Party. They wrote letters, talked to their neighbors and peers to vote and managed to work tirelessly on their representatives’ campaign and candidacy while maintaining a proper work-life balance. This resulted in the victory of their chosen candidates. Another example is the winners of YALLA; a civic-engagement program. One of the winners was Rakan; who was only 20 years old; he devoted his photographic skills to show the beauty of Palestine to both foreigners and Palestinians alike. 14-year-old Dima and Rema did a campaign to make people more aware of their unhealthy eating habits. Also, Wala, another winner, was able to bring joy to over 700 children in three villages through establishing a park for kids which is still bringing entertainment to them and their families to this day.
As a matter of fact, this website that you are reading this blog on belongs to an organization that was created by the youth. Anna Halpine was only 21 years old when she was invited to work with the United Nations and the youth to defend human rights after she stood up against 3 radical demands that were presented in the 1999 ICPD Cairo +5 Conference. Later on, she became the founder of the World Youth Alliance which is now one of the organizations that work to promote human dignity and youth leadership development.
The question remains, how do we solve this problem? How do we alter society’s negative view of the youth and eventually allow their active participation by law? The solution requires multistakeholder collaboration which includes international organizations like the United Nations, civil society organizations, the government, academia, and youth organizations like the World Youth Alliance that work to promote youth and encourage them to become great leaders. However, this still not enough since the organizations that practice what they preach on this issue are too few, their level of engagement is still in its infant stages, and their influence on society is minimal and progressing very slowly. Therefore, these organizations should alter their approaches to reach society.
Written by Sara Harba, a current intern from Syria at the WYA Middle East office.