Children and young people born since the year 2000 have lived through a period of significant social and technological transformation. This period of rapid change has disrupted the social status quo and challenged previously held understandings and constructs. We have been rocked by the scrutiny of Royal Commissions, investigations and enquires that have pulled back the curtain on so many of our once revered institutions and professions. Is it any surprise then that we are left with diminished trust in civil institutions and formal leadership, and growing concern for how people from diverse backgrounds experience life, and power, and opportunity? For some it has even called into question how we view representation, democracy and citizenship.
At a more day to day level the enhanced access to information and services flowing from the digital avalanche has influenced our young people’s views, how they want to be communicated with, as well as how they want to participate in, and influence society. They no longer passively accept authority and hierarchy, and they have a more nuanced understanding of who and how we are represented, who they can and can’t trust, and who is and isn’t being treated fairly and justly.
As a generation they see themselves as global citizens whose relationships cross continents, sovereignties and ideological lines. Tuning into global trends this centuries young people maintain world views and understandings that extend well beyond state and national borders.
This is often expressed through their increasingly vocal concerns that the world they will inherit will be one grappling with some of the most complex issues our planet has faced to date. They want us to know we got things wrong. They’re telling us they want action on the growing inequality they see around them. They want to repair the fragmented and fractured societies they live in and they want more future focused thinking about social and environmental injustice. In the 21st Century these concerns are increasingly seen as the failures of contemporary civic leadership.
As young citizens, they are well placed to identify the impact these issues are and will have on themselves and future generations. They are more than capable of generating ideas around what can be done to improve their own and others’ situations. Yet their insights and opinions are rarely sought and when they are, mostly overlooked. Not surprisingly this is generating a growing lack of trust in and a disillusionment with representative democracy. Young people repeatedly say they want to trust leaders and representatives, trust their government, and have faith in its effectiveness. But just like building trust between people, it must be earned.
This should ring alarm bells for all of us. Democracy works when citizens actively engage with both democratic ideals and values, coupled with the experience of “doing democracy”. We can’t let a generation of citizens grow up not trusting in civil society and its institutions, and feeling their views as individuals are not included and respected.
They want those with power to take into account the views of those affected by power, which in this 21st Century should be achievable. Whilst adults have numerous opportunities for action civics as a voter, a parent, a worker, and as a consumer, these opportunities do not map equally onto the lives of young people.
We must try harder by deliberately working to acknowledge and legitimise the view that children and young people are critical stakeholders in government, business, community and schools. If we build a future where leaders listen to children and young people and consider their ideas, validate their contributions, and implement strategies that reflect their input, then the big hairy issues we know we must address may well be within reach. But this has to start local.
One of the consequences of a global world is that young people’s connections to their local community are decreasing. More young people feel less attached to where they live, while public investment in the local community infrastructure young people need for their wellbeing is at an all-time low. Young people are being actively dissuaded from having a physical presence in their own neighbourhoods, through a lack of resources and meeting places designed specifically for them.
Those of us who have contact with children and young people must do all we can to create opportunities to help build positive associations with their local communities. Our role is to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully participate in the community and through this experience firsthand what having an Australian citizenship means.
During the COVID pandemic many young people reflected on how disconnected and disenfranchised they felt. Although they experienced the effects of the crisis in unique ways, the short and long term impact of the pandemic and accompanying economic recession must not be underestimated.
As new ways and new platforms were being developed, it became apparent that young people were left out of the growing discourse on the impacts of COVID-19 on their lives and the post-COVID response that will be needed with much of the national and state debate at the height of the pandemic more about children’s attendance at school, rather than the need to create a dialogue with children and young people about what was happening in their lives.
To seize this moment in history and in response to the increasing marginalisation of children and young people’s voices in civil society is the reason yChange was developed.
The first set of yChange resources are designed to support schools to act as a bridge and create pathways for young people to actively contribute and foster learning outside of the classroom. Young people want their teachers to encourage them to take risks and use their imagination to address the things that matter to them. They want adults to help them get a foot in the door, so that they can make a start and create a fairer world.
yChange delivered by adults who are committed to nurturing young people’s active and informed citizenship identity, can help avert the helplessness and hopelessness young people are expressing. Instead it will ensure that SA young people are ready and equipped with the skills needed today to face the uncertainties of tomorrow.
Stay tuned for the second set of resources designed to scaffold young people’s capacity for active citizenship in their local and wider communities and get behind supporting young people to experience active citizenship in a way that enhances us all.
To find out about yChange go to www.ychange.com.au