My ears, as young as they may seem, have been worn out with the same question,
“What do you know?”
I’ve been drilled in the head with it, and I know other teens my age have, too. It’s extremely belittling, confidence-sabotaging, and frustrating. Why is it that my voice (along with so many others) does not have a right or a say? Because I’m “not experienced enough?” Because I’m “not old enough?” Because I’m “young and naive?” Because “I don’t live in the real world?”
Well, I’ll tell you where I do have years of experience, and it’s listening to those exact discouraging, incorrect, and disrespectful statements over, and over again – simply because I’m not considered an “adult.” And so do all my fellow teens/adolescents/young adults/peers/friends/etc.
I should not have to be some kind of child-genius to gain an adult’s attention. I should not have to wait until I’m at some precise age for my voice to be heard. I should not be thrown into a corner when I have something to say.
This problem is seriously BIG.
I watched a wonderful Ted Talk by Kate Simonds who summarizes this topic perfectly. She had a wonderful example about our educational system. She says, “As students, we have no say in what we learn or how we learn it, but yet we’re expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be able to run the world some day. We’re expected to raise our hand to use the restroom, and then three months later go to college or have a full time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s illogical.”
She compares elementary school students in kindergarten – who are thrilled to answer a question and all raise their hands to do so – to high school students, where no one wants to raise their hands at all (most likely due to the fear of being wrong).
This is extremely disheartening, especially because when we go off to college it is in our best interest to socialize, interact, answer questions, fail, get back up, learn from our mistakes, be creative and innovative, and so much more. This time in our teenage/adolescent lives is when we’re going to be the most creative so we need to allow our voices and ideas to be heard. We need to have a say in our future. And we need to stop being told, “You don’t know anything.”
Some industries are actually starting to catch on to the beauty of young innovative thinkers and are searching for them to hire into their companies. But why? Can’t adults be innovative? Don’t they have ideas to contribute? Do they not hold enough experience or knowledge in the subject?
It Comes Down To Confidence
No. Those adults do not necessarily lack in any of these areas. What they lack is confidence.
Have you found yourself in the last few days, weeks, or months, questioning whether your thoughts or ideas hold validity? Have you backed down from speaking your mind because you figured you would just be wasting your breath? Did you convince yourself that whatever peace you wanted/needed to speak was not good enough because you’re only __ age, and no one would believe you?
As much as I practice standing strong with my beliefs, my feelings, my thoughts, and my voice, I, too, fall victim to this self doubt. Who would actually read what I, a 19 year old female, has to say? What do I know when I don’t even have a degree yet? Who would want to listen to my advice? It’s not like I’m certified, and it’s not like I’m a life-coach, or motivational speaker.
Another thing Kate talks about is how students are very quick to question and degrade the validity of other peers’ ideas and thoughts. This is another really big problem! How are we, us young adults, supposed to be make an impact if we can’t work together? How are we supposed to make a change and have our voices be heard if we don’t even have the confidence in one another to make that change?
So How Can We Make A Change?
Now, there may be many adults, or teachers, or parents, who will argue that students are not listened to because they lack respect for adults; however, a huge reason for this could be because they are sick and tired of being belittled and degraded, and the only way they know how to deal with such emotions are through indifference toward those who do not give them the time of day.
I am a firm believer that respect is earned, not given. I also believe that proper relationships start with the parents, adults, or teachers. Very seldom are students going to disrespect the person in charge if that person establishes an effective leadership roll that includes both discipline skills and listening skills. A person who just barks commands who does not offer explanation or consideration for others will not receive the same respect as someone who does. (And if by chance this barking commander is obeyed, he is obeyed through fear, not respect.)
The change is going to lie on adults to make students feel like they matter, and it is going to lie on students to start practicing the courage to speak up.
Adults: ask us (the teens/students) what our opinions are. Ask us about the environment, or about politics. Ask us about world news, and how we feel about it. Ask us what ideas we can come up with to change what’s going on. Make us a feel like we matter because we do. The sooner we feel like our voices are being heard and listened to, and the sooner we know that what we contribute is useful and meaningful, the more obligated we will feel to participate; the more we will feel responsible for the betterment of our future.
Teens: Whether you’re 15, 17, or 20, don’t be afraid to spread your ideas. Speak up, and be confident in what you have to contribute. You’ll never know your potential unless you keep trying and putting forth effort. You do have the power to make a change. Listen to adults when they have a suggestion. Consider what they have to say, but don’t always carry it like a set-in-stone rule because adults, too, are often wrong. Stay true to yourself, and don’t ever believe you’re voice is unworthy of being heard.
Let’s Start Here
The beautiful thing about having the right to a freedom of speech is that there is no age limit. There is no rule written in small font under the amendment that says, “Only under these circumstances….”
Therefore, I want you to start by filling in the blanks below and reading it out loud to yourself:
My name is ______________. I am ___ years old. I am smart, I am capable, I have a voice worth listening to, and I will use this great voice of mine to impact the world one day.