This article was originally published in 2017.
Even when the forecast is "sunny," our daily news seems to rain down reports of global woes and prevailing disasters. Every day seems to bring a new tragedy, a discouraging statistic, or a cynical review of the intractable problems facing our world. A brutal civil war forces thousands to flee. Temperatures are at a record high due to global warming. Yet another shooting.
When I hear these stories, I struggle to remind myself that the sensation-driven media often ignores the more positive narratives of progress and resilience. Yet it is an unfortunate fact that many of the world’s problems are outpacing new solutions.
Luckily, there is encouraging news. A massive source of energy, creativity, and new ideas has been building just beneath the surface of our communities, barely tapped so far but nearly bursting to emerge. This force is the 1.6 billion young people globally between the ages of 5 and 18.
In our adult-run world, youth aren’t often asked for their opinions and ideas on how to address society’s greatest challenges. Yet a collective effort to reverse this trend is one of the most powerful steps we can take towards a tangibly better world. Here’s why:
1) Youth want to make a difference
Young people have an acute sense of justice when it comes to society’s issues. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, they see its problems as moral wrongs that can and should be righted. There is no reason in their minds why change isn’t possible now, so they are eager to get involved – both by contributing to grassroots efforts and joining the search for long-term solutions.
2) Youth are creative
The fresh perspective young people bring to the world gives them a unique ability to think up creative solutions. Unconstrained by deep-rooted societal norms, youth can come up with ideas that would not have crossed the minds of more world-weary adults. These solutions may not always be practical, but they can uncover hidden assumptions and opportunities that illuminate new pathways forward.
3) Youth have an important perspective
Many of today’s greatest social issues have a particular impact on young people. Given their typical roles as students and care-receivers, youth often experience issues like gender inequality and violence much differently than adults. This perspective is critical to incorporate in the solution to any social problem, because it reveals new dimensions of each issue and suggests opportunities for innovation.
4) Changemaking develops effective, optimistic future leaders
When young people contribute their ideas and energy to addressing social issues, they begin to see themselves as capable leaders who can make important contributions to the lives of others. Youth who might otherwise feel academically or socially inferior to their peers realize that their unique strengths are needed to build a better world. The empowering effects of changemaking spill over into adulthood, as youth retain their motivation to help others and pursue their goals with confidence.
Young people are a limitless source of innovative energy, and engaging them now will inspire a generation of lifelong changemakers. So why don’t we invite them to join the team today? Let’s encourage youth to start their own social ventures and give them the support they need to be successful. And perhaps more importantly, let’s invite them to the decision-making table where their voices will truly be heard. Young people deserve the chance to explore and address the problems they see around them – and their contribution is an opportunity the world can’t afford to miss.