Young people are ready to astound us if only we give them room
Published: March 16, 2016 – 9:00PM
You know you’re getting old when you start talking about the youth of today. But let’s talk about the youth of today.
Yes, they can seem more interested in Snapchat and selfies than in politics. Can you blame them? A protracted debate on negative gearing must feel a million miles from their lives.
Young people, by and large, are affectionately mocked, quickly dismissed and generally disenfranchised. They can’t vote till they’re 18 – although Bill Shorten argues the voting age should be lowered to 16. Many can forget becoming part of the property-owning class until they’re middle aged or older (if at all) – forever doomed to pay somebody else’s mortgage. They can’t even report littering, as James King, 15, of Five Dock, highlighted this week.
They often have to take change into their own hands before they’re fully trusted with it. We risk locking out potential before it has had time to germinate. But when young people are engaged, they can achieve incredible things.
This week has really shown that. It has been a week where, if you’re a thirty or fortysomething, you’d probably feel like a hopeless underachiever in comparison to some of Australia’s most prodigious under 30s.
Dharmica Mistry was this week recognised as NSW Young Woman of the Year for revolutionising the breast-cancer test from a mammogram to a simple blood test – just before her 30th birthday.
James Paterson is about to become the youngest senator in Federal Parliament at 28. This follows Wyatt Roy, 25, last year becoming the youngest minister in the history of the Commonwealth.
Emma Yap, of Killara, was this week invited into Google to present her “impressive” carpooling app for the school run. Emma isn’t just remarkable because she’s a female in a male-dominated tech/coding space. She’s remarkable because she’s just nine years old. Emma designed her app as part of the Next Tech Girl Superhero competition, which pairs schoolgirls with tech mentors.
When the conditions are set for young people to reclaim power, to be heard and taken seriously, they flourish – and we all benefit. We should be singing this from every rooftop. Turnbull wants Australians to embrace the age of innovation? He should start by doing everything he can to empower and champion more young people.
It’d be easy to suggest the flurry of young overachievers this week is a combination of precociousness and coincidence. Easy – but not accurate. Research on Millennials suggests they have a strong sense of community – both local and global. So yes, they love fun storytelling technology such as Snapchat. But they also love meaningful storytelling technology such as Change.org, which enables them to empower themselves and engage, when the political system locks them out or disengages them.
I see evidence of this sense of community every week with the petitions started by young people on Change.org. Some 20 per cent of our 3.6 million users are under 24. That’s 720,000 young people who are independently inspired to take change into their own hands and to organise – both on and offline. When young people are given the free tech tools and the opportunity to engage, they’re far more capable, galvanised and caring than we often give them credit for.
Connor, of Oakhurst, is just 14 and he’s blind. This September, Connor will make history. The new banknotes being printed by the Reserve Bank of Australia will, for the very first time, include tactile markings, so visually impaired people know which note is which. This came about because Connor successfully petitioned the RBA.
Josie, 15, of the Central Coast, just three weeks after her mum’s suicide, started a petition asking Mike Baird for domestic violence prevention lessons in schools. Baird agreed after Josie’s powerful story persuaded him that no child should consider household violence normal, as Josie had done.
These are just two examples of the campaigns conceived and led by people not yet old enough to vote – but old enough to change Australia.
Giving teenagers power was once thought daft – possibly even dangerous. How uplifting, then, that a week of youth achievements has proven that we should entrust the Millennials with more responsibility – not less.
Karen Skinner is the head of Change.org Australia