Do older generations have young people all wrong? The much maligned “generation snowflake” are very much misunderstood and unfairly represented, argues alumna Margaret Rooke (Politics, 1982).
The author of ‘Dyslexia is my Superpower (Most of the Time)’ and ‘Creative, Successful, Dyslexic. 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories’ has spent the last two years interviewing young people for her latest book ‘You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere’. The book won a gold award in the US Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for multi cultural non-fiction. In this article Margaret shares some of the inspiring stories of young people who are making a difference, and invites us to feel inspired by the next generation.
If, after last week’s election, you are one of those concerned about what tomorrow may bring, let me point you in an unexpected direction – today’s teenagers.
I have spent the past two years interviewing teens for ‘You can Change the World!’, my book written to inspire 9-19s, and I believe they are one of the most maligned and underestimated sections of society. That’s not just my view: science backs me up.
In a poll conducted by the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) for its recent report Teenagency, adults were asked to choose from a list of words that might describe teens. The most popular selected were ‘selfish’, ‘lazy’ and ‘antisocial’. In the same report, 84% of young people surveyed identified with the phrase, ‘I want to help other people’.
When asked what made young people want to take part in volunteering, adults said it was mainly to help them get into university or a good job; teenagers said it was because they wanted to help other people. The disconnect between perception and reality is extraordinary.
Recent books by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and others show the teenage brain has a greater capacity for change, heightened creativity and novel thinking. So why when so many of us think of teenagers, do we dismiss them as an angst-ridden generation of ‘snowflakes’, unable to cope with the mildest of criticism; obsessed with celebrity, shopping and self-promotion? Why do our minds shift so quickly to conflict and gang violence?
Maybe the bad feeling has arisen because we sometimes find our own teenagers tricky to parent, but we forget that it’s their job to challenge us as they make their way towards adulthood. The Leveson inquiry found that 76% of media coverage about young people is negative and this must influence our attitude too.
Yet all the teenagers in my book bring us hope for the future. They are everyday heroes: volunteers, social entrepreneurs, fundraisers, campaigners, or simply young people making the right choices in difficult circumstances. They explain how they’ve improved their own lives and others’; from dealing with bullying at school, to upcycling clothes for the homeless and preserving Britain’s beaches.
I spoke to Amika George, 19, one of those at the forefront of the successful campaign against period poverty; Maya Ghazal, also 19, a refugee from Syria who is now an advocate for refugee rights; and Amarni, 17, who stepped away from the fringes of gang violence and now inspires a group of other teens to focus on their love of music.
It became clear to me during these conversations that so often what can propel a teenager to do the right thing and make the right choices is the right kind of support from someone who believes in them. It’s so important that we create an atmosphere that encourages them to live their best lives.
Teenagers are often social beings, wanting to make contact with others and knowing how to use social media to its best advantage. Coupled with our support, they are well placed to make the changes they want to see in their own lives and the world around them.
After all, this is a generation that, perhaps more than previous ones, is used to having their voices heard at home and their opinions taken seriously. Their age will hopefully mean that they are not yet world weary. They will also influence others, as no one influences a teenager more than another teen.
Lucy Gavaghan, who at 14 persuaded Tesco and other major supermarket chains to pledge not to sell eggs from caged hens, told me, “There must be something about being a teenager that makes me feel that this is a great point to look around and think, ‘Is this the kind of world I want to grow up in?’ I think my age helps me. I don’t let myself overthink what I’m doing. Everything seems so clear to me.”
And climate change campaigner Katie Hodgetts says, “It’s not young people who started wars or created the messes we find ourselves in today.
“As you get older it’s easier to believe that power lies at the top and you no longer feel that miracles can happen. When you’re young you have a sense of optimism. You can see the world as a blank canvas. You can paint this in any way you want.”
Margaret Rooke is an award-winning author who specialises in telling other people’s stories. Her books include ‘Dyslexia is my Superpower (Most of the Time)’ and ‘Creative, Successful, Dyslexic. 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories’. Her latest book ‘You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere’ is a gold award winner in the US Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for multi-cultural non-fiction.
Margaret studied Politics at Hull, graduating in 1982. When she is not writing books, she works for the charity Independent Age, interviewing older people and writing up their stories.
You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere. By Margaret Rooke. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Available worldwide. In the UK it can be found in Waterstones, local bookshops and online.