The Future of Democracy Lies with Youth Participation…
…and the present lies with adult participation.
September 15 is International Democracy Day, and it also kicks off Canada’s second annual Democracy week (September 15-22.) This year’s theme is education and discovery, respectively.
Both themes emphasize young people engaging and learning something new about how democracy works. And that is as it should be: The future of democracy lies in the hands of children and youth – and in the past 20 years, there has been a steady decline in voter participation among young people. This is a clear sign that young people do not feel their participation matters.
What is less clear is that it is in the hands of adults to shape political interest, know-how and activity. At best, adults have attempted to engage youth during election campaigns. But this is not enough to reverse the trend in youth non-participation. For youth and democracy to flourish, we have to cultivate a democratic spirit and understanding from an early age. Young people have to know that they have the power to make a difference in their families, in their communities, and in the world.
For this to happen, adults have to know it as well. Adults can engage children and youth by taking them seriously, paying attention to and respecting what they have to say, valuing their insights and perspectives and thinking about the issues that affect them. By doing this, adults give young people the tools they need to participate more fully.
The work of Boys and Girls Clubs has been exemplary in this area. Boys and Girls Clubs find ways of engaging young people in decision-making at the club level, through committees, and through leadership programs for both children and teenagers. These programs engage young people in thinking about the issues that affect them and their communities, and taking action to create change. Over 100 years of after school programs has demonstrated to the BGC that children and young people are ready to participate when the possibility is presented to them.
As Taylah, a Boys and Girls Club provincial youth council representative puts it, “We should be role models for them and show them, not how they should do things, but that they can do things and that they can make a change.”
This week, Elections Canada is challenging young people aged 14 to 30 to submit an image, video, blog post, or tweet in answer to this question: What are you doing for your democracy? For details, click here.
This all shows that we are starting to understand the need to engage young people and listen to what they have to say. This is good for them, of course – and good for us. But it is also good for the future of our democracy!