What does it mean to be young in 2016?
I’ve been wondering about this for a while now, not just because it is a question which pertains to me, a teenager, but because it’s been written on my whiteboard all year. Long story short: in January I was planning to write for an online publication with that question as the focus of my article, so I brainstormed ideas on my whiteboard. The article didn’t end up panning out as I quickly became swamped with exams and applying to university. Nonetheless, the question remained on my whiteboard.
Seven months later, every time I look at it I am reminded that it needs to be cleaned. I rarely procrastinate but with this, I have. Today, though, I’m glad I haven’t erased my whiteboard of thoughts on what it means to be young in this day and age: because today is International Youth Day. I thought I would spend a bit of time reflecting on, well, being young!
I’d be willing to bet that when most people think about today’s teens, their minds quickly turn to technology and social media. The rise of the hashtag. The selfie craze. The fact that “tweet” is no longer the sound birds make at 6 in the morning when we’re trying to sleep, but a 140 character message sent out for the world to read. These things, in part, have defined today’s youth. There’s another important aspect of technology, though: communication. Not only are we able to communicate with people around the world, but we can instantly read and see news about what is happening all over the world.
With the changing face of communication comes an increased awareness; an awareness both of the good and grisly things in the world. We can livestream the Olympics in Rio from a screen in our palm, and watch cute puppies chase their tails—but we are also inundated with stories of murders, of poverty, of wars. The benefit to seeing these things, becoming aware of them, is that we can work to change them. I know I don’t only speak for myself when I say that I use the Internet to stay on top of issues I’m passionate about.
Today’s teens aren’t the only ones to have strong social justice roots. The 1960s Counterculture, for example, fought for women’s rights, peaceful resolution to conflict, and freedom. We are, however, one of the first generations to have constant exposure to what is happening around us, thanks to technology. Perhaps this, paired with the strong convictions already existing within teenagers, will lead to lifelong quests for justice and equality.
Jumping off of the brainstorming bubble on my whiteboard are the words “safe from war”. An arrow jars off that point, though, with the words “terrorism” attached. Today’s youth are growing up in a post 9/11 world: a world that tries to be hopeful, one that hides quivering fear behind a face of resilience. I am writing from my perspective as a Canadian teenager; the reality is, I am very lucky. While terrorism is a threat in developed countries, as it is in all countries, war is not. I grew up listening to O’Canada in the mornings at school feeling thankful to live in the true North, which is not only strong and free, but is also, for the most part, safe.
This is not a statement that all of the world’s youth can affirm, sadly. According to the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth’s website, 14 million youth were displaced as a result of international conflict in 2011—the number is likely even higher today. Not only this, but over 200 million youth are living in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than one dollar per day), reports Advocates for Youth’s website.
So today, on International Youth Day, it is important not only to reflect on what defines the lives of today’s youth, but to hope for a better future for all youth. It is also important to celebrate the leadership of youth who are working to create this better future. Young people all over the world: keep being passionate about issues that matter to you, keep being leaders, and keep trying to change the world. One day, you will.