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Today, expectations for us adolescents are high. Families, schools, communities, companies and the government in my region are driven by the spirit of permanent performance and competition. They want us to improve our skills all the time, to increasingly become more efficient, more successful, better prepared for the world of business. We obey.
But there comes a point in our childhood when each of us dares to turn the way of thinking in our so-called “performance society” around. This is the moment when we, for the very first time, do not ask ourselves the common question of how society wants us to be; in this very moment we ask ourselves the opposite: how do we want society to be?
These thoughts, no matter in which context, illustrate a great potential for change and improvement in every society. Unfortunately, most of the time they are neither considered that way nor taken seriously by (the adult) society.
It is not a big surprise then that for young people, the time we start thinking about how our environment should be changed is often the most disappointing in our adolescent life. After our initial idealism and enthusiasm (often cynically called “naiveté”), most of us notice that many of those in power – teachers, school directors, community organizers, business people, politicians – do not have any interest in our thoughts. And the saddest thing about it: As adolescents, we can not in any way enforce our agenda without those in power standing behind us. Most adolescents have neither representation nor a lawful right to participate in school and governmental decisions. All we can do is ask, beg, write letters and organize events, trying to pressure those who have the power to decide – but at the end of the day, most of us will have the feeling that their commitment has fallen on deaf ears.
Many of us resign and give up thinking about the world as it should be, and rather choose the easier and more “promising” way to fit into the world as it is today. Progress – in every aspect of life – will never happen if young people feel themselves obligated to follow the status quo and are forced to adjust and obey.
So if we want our young generation to think on its own, develop creative and innovative ideas and combat all the problems that still exist in our world today, participation rights must be implemented in every aspect of an adolescent’s life. Governments should instate a couple of statutory measures such as compulsory children and youth parliaments in schools and communities, human rights’ education and political science in school and further plans of action for participation rights. These measures would be a 100% in accord with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its twelfth article which urges its signatories to accept the child’s right to participate.
Governments, and all others who can influence national and international policies, should put ideas like those mentioned into practice in order to establish a new generation that thinks on its own rather than blindly obeys. I am absolutely positive that this would be to the benefit of everyone.
– 18-year-old from Austria (male)
This entry is part of a series of essays and messages from the publication "Adolescence - Beyond the Stereotypes" - written, compiled and edited by adolescents and young people themselves with support from Voices of Youth and UNICEF.
© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1420/Marc Hofer, 2010, Uganda.