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Zuva Goverwa

Seen and not heard

By Zuva Goverwa, Haileybury College​


Children should be seen and not heard.

The origins of this English proverb are contested, with some suggesting it emerged as early as the 15th century. And when my 12-year-old brother wakes me up at 6am on a Saturday, yelling to everyone on his Minecraft server right outside my door, I tend to agree. But the scope of this phrase and how it manifests in the world around us is a lot more sinister than Saturday morning sleep-ins.

It is no secret that wisdom is widely considered a product of experience. You live and you learn, so to speak. And so, it’s somewhat natural that the older you get, the more you know and the more your perspective is valued. But we, the youth of today, are incredibly intelligent. In fact, we’re on the trajectory to be the most educated generation yet. We’ve learnt to adapt in a rapidly evolving world, in ways and at speeds that have never been seen before.

We are socially aware and tech savvy, with the 97% of us who are on at least 1 major social media site often using those mediums to advocate for change. 3 days after the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody, which occurred just over a year ago, 8.8 million tweets were made with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. And on Instagram there are currently over 940,000 posts under the hashtag #climateaction. As a generation that hasn’t really known a world without social media, much to the dismay of a few of our parents, we’ve been made to engage with all kinds of content like this; to actively invest in the progression of society and our place in it.

So why then are we constantly being belittled by those in positions of power. Why do we as a society mentally equate youth with naivety and even recklessness. Dramatized images of crazy house parties and petty high school drama conjured up at the mention of the word teen. We’re told to that we’ll “understand when we’re older”, that “we don’t know what we’re talking about”, that we need to “work on [our] anger management problem[s]” and “go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend”.

As some of you might’ve recognised, that last one was a quote taken from Former US President Donald Trump, directed towards a then-16-year-old Greta Thunberg. The patronising remark was in response to TIME Magazine’s decision to name the young climate activist their Person of the Year. In spite of all the criticisms that have been made against her, Thunberg has played a crucial role in bringing discussions about climate action to the forefront in recent years.

She sparked the “Fridays for Future” movement at only 15 years of age, resulting in global scale protests against the lack of action and accountability being taken by institutions to combat climate change. And the ripple effects of large scale, public youth activism like Thunberg’s goes beyond the tangible. A 2020 study found that 87% of young people like us are inspired by seeing our peers taking a stand against contemporary issues.

X Gonzalez is another example of a prominent young activist who has inspired countless people across the globe through their activism. A survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, they have been avid spokesperson for gun control in America, organising the #MarchForOurLives alongside their fellow survivors, which birthed in over 880 similar events across the globe. And yet, despite their astonishing bravery and courage, X too has been met with contempt and condescension, being labelled a “communist child actor” by their (fully grown) critics.

And it’s infuriating. Because here are these beacons of hope for us and our peers. Living proof that we can be empowered to make a better future for ourselves. A symbolic invitation to all of us for a seat at the table. These are the people who speak to us and speak for us, not the 50, 60, 70-something old men who make up the majority of governments in a majority of the world. But their voices, our voices, are being silenced, ridiculed, mocked. We’re not being heard and, really, we’re being denied our chances to even be seen.

It’s not an excuse, either, to say that we just don’t have enough experience, because I can tell you that the opinions of someone who had to watch their friends get shot at school and wonder if they were next are just as if not more valid in a conversation about gun control than a rich and privileged 74-year-old man who’s been cashed up by the NRA, even if they’re 18 and he’s the president. We deserve to claim our stake in the issue of climate change and ask the generations above us ‘how dare you’ without being told to “chill”. After all, 71% of them sleep comfortably believing they won’t be affected by it in their lifetime according to Gallup incorporated, while a majority of us lie awake.

But beyond unfair, this is dangerous. The willingness of society to tune out the calls of young people is dangerous. Because it breeds apathy. Here in Australia, it emboldened our Prime Minister to publicly denounce young climate strikers in 2018, telling them to go back to school. Now, of course, education is extremely important. But why? So that we can do something with it. And this instinct to tell kids what they should and shouldn’t do, say, or even think allows people to forget that. To expect complacency over critical thinking. To believe knowledge is only seen in the image of a full classroom when it’s more clearly heard in the roaring cries of a rally.

And when $300 million people’s homes will be threatened by rising sea levels by 2050, according to climate central, or when 500 people die each day by gun violence in the US, as noted by amnesty, we cannot expect silence from the leaders of tomorrow. The world needs to hear us and world needs to be moved by us. Because – not to be incredibly cliché – we are the future. And we’re not just the face of it, we sing its song. We echo it’s promises for better so no one can forget. But, with all due respect for my elders, you need to listen.

Student lead petitions for greater consent education, social media campaigns calling for an end to human rights abuses, school communities coming together to call for better treatment of refugees, these are the voices of young people and they deserve to be listened to. We deserve to be listened to.

So, while I still firmly maintain that Saturday mornings would be a lot better without the uproar of a gaming pre-teen outside my door before sunrise, I do believe that society needs to stop stifling the voices of its young people.

Children should be seen and heard. Thank you.