By: Ashley Whiteman, Emily Vandermeer, Karine Gauthier, Kianna Benson, and Shealah Hart
As young Canadians, we watched with interest as youth in the United States mobilized in large numbers around the issue of gun violence, organizing marches and protests around the country. This kind of mass movement should give us confidence in young people’s leadership abilities.
Is that kind of mobilization possible in Canada? Sure it is! Indigenous youth have stepped up to the plate and become influential activists. All youth in this country have the power to work together and stand up for a cause. Young people are pushing to be heard—our voices are getting louder and people are starting to take note. That’s encouraging.
We’ve heard all the stereotypes. Young people these days are apathetic. Lazy. No work ethic. They don’t care about anyone but themselves.
Although unfounded, these stereotypes are pervasive.
Today Abacus Data released the results of a public opinion poll on youth and civic engagement, commissioned by major youth associations in Canada—Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, BGC Canada, Experiences Canada, Girl Guides of Canada, Students Commission, United Nations Association in Canada, and the YMCA.
The poll results are disheartening. 70 per cent of Canadians doubt that young people are prepared to be civic leaders. As engaged and civically active youth, we were disappointed to find out how little confidence Canadians have that young people are prepared to vote, become active in the community, and engage with political and community leaders.
At the same time, over half of the 2,000 Canadians polled feel that young people don’t have enough influence over the decisions that government makes!
We need to do more to foster young people’s leadership skills when they are younger, so they feel ready for the roles we expect them to take on. But we also need to change public perception about youth engagement. Many young people are already active in our communities. We’re leading and influencing our peers. Others just need an invitation, encouragement to jump in.
The Abacus polling data backs this up. According to the survey, most people believe that the best way to prepare youth to be civic leaders is to provide them with more job-ready skills, access to affordable education, and time for them to give back.
Each of us serves on the youth council of a national youth organization. We feel prepared to be civic leaders, but that’s because we’ve had opportunities to develop skills and confidence. People believed in us and offered us a chance to discover our talents and practice civic engagement.
We were given the chance to work in teams, offered opportunities to speak and be heard on key issues, and we helped plan events and trainings for our peers. We learned about time management and developed stronger communications skills—all things we can use in the workplace … and in our communities.
It’s amazing and inspiring to see what youth can do when we work together. We have full confidence that with just a little guidance, training, and opportunities to interact with their peers, youth have the ability to do great things for their communities and their country.