Updated: Aug 11, 2021
Hey everyone! My name is Arrad Mostafa and I will be a senior at Sir Wilfrid Laurier CI next school year. Last Monday, I had the pleasure to attend Illuminate Leadership Academy Lecturer Ilona Dougherty’s presentation on “How to get your voice heard by adults”. Her presentation helped me understand the history of the age division and how we can stand up for what we care about in situations where your opinion is not regarded equally.
Before starting the presentation, Ilona asked us a question “Would you say that your opinion is valued to an adult?”. This was an unusual question for me as I seldom held a prolonged conversation with an adult regarding a task or a suggestion for a certain project. I slowly started to recall any conversations I had with teachers from school or advisors from my extracurricular activities. Throughout my memories, I often seem to be disregarded or not taken highly into account.
All of the attendees slowly started to recall and share some of their experiences with adults. I began to notice some differences in how everyone was treated and their experiences in those scenarios. For the most part, the majority of the situations where a youth gave advice to an adult were viewed negatively and was disregarded. After we all gave our piece, Ilona shared some of her experiences with children who live more up North. She explained that young people who live there also don't get the chance to make their voice heard and it makes life very difficult for them. Seeing how everyone has received a similar reaction from an adult, there must be a reason for it. Ilona then explained the beginning of the separation between youth and adults.
Life Before, While, and After the Industrial Revolution:
The story of disregarding the opinion of the youth started before the Industrial Revolution. Before the advancement of technology, Ilona explained that young people would almost always help their families on their farms. Essentially, it was an economic advantage to have multiple kids because they can help out on the farm from the time they learn how to walk. Ilona explained that at these times, youth were given responsibility and work from a young age. There was no huge separation between adults and youth (not like our current era) as they all contributed to the big picture.
When the Industrial Revolution hit and more families were moving into larger cities, young people weren’t required to work anymore. As the parents went to work, the children were left with nothing to do. Soon, the once economic advantage turned into a liability. Furthermore, the youth started to form gangs and socialize. By then, the public opinion on youth started to change. They were first seen as an advantage towards the family, now they are seen as the troublemakers who don’t contribute to society.
To combat the rise in juvenile delinquency, the school system was developed. Before, schools were only allocated towards the rich and the elites. Now a public system will be developed and will keep youth away from trouble. As the Industrial Revolution grew, so did the age groups that a school accommodated. It is now when peer cultures start to form. I found this part of her presentation specifically interesting as I had the knowledge of the school system developing near the Industrial Revolution, but I never knew the true reason for it. I also am aware of the multiple different generation categories, but I never thought about how it all started and why. I am a person who normally can't pay attention to history lessons, but I find Ilona's explanation (sometimes hidden meanings) of the events that still affect us today very fascinating.
After the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, the common similarities between adults and youth slowly became non-existent. Ilona explained that is when a different lifestyle for different age groups is formed and furthermore, generation gaps. Along with generation gaps, society associated stereotypes to each group. Adults, in particular, started to associate negative adjectives and stereotypes with age groups. Some of which we still hear today. After Ms. Dougherty's summary about how youth were viewed before and after the Industrial Revolution, I realized the difference in how people in different age groups are treated. I continued to reflect on my occurrences with adults in the past as I did at the beginning of the lecture. In my experiences, I realized that I rarely stood my ground. I always quietly accepted their decision even if it seemed wrong or unfair to me. On social media, I always heard the need for and freedom of youth speech, this is the first time I truly understand its importance.
Before we moved on, Ms. Dougherty shared a statement with us. She states “We think that when we are young, we are becoming something and when we are an adult, we are being something. But that’s not the case. We already are something and we are always becoming something.”
Continuing to explain why youth voices and ideas are so important, we transitioned into learning more about human brain development. Ilona explains that the human brain doesn’t reach its peak until you are 25 years old. However, the sentence is misleading. The human brain peaks at 25 years as an average. Some parts of our brain peak before the age of 25 and then deteriorates afterward. Human creativity and innovation peak at ages 15 to 25 years of age. Relating back to youth speech, if we aren’t given the chance to share our opinions or ideas until we are older than 25, then we won’t be able to create or think of the revolutionary ideas we might’ve had if we were younger. Hearing Ilona's scientific explanation further highlighted the importance of youth speech. As a youth council executive, I feel very fortunate that the council exists and allows us to share our innovative ideas in meetings without discrimination.
Ilona then shared one of her life experiences. While she was young, she worked for the UN. However, she was excluded from some meetings and was not treated equally by her older supervisors. She continued to stay quiet and went through the phase. Ilona informed us that we should never make that mistake. She regrets not contributing more and making her voice heard. Her words resonated within me as I thought back on my experiences. I realized that I am following the same steps as her younger self. With taking her warnings to heart, Ilona motivated me to speak up for myself and make my voice heard with equality even when working with those older than me.
Ilona also shared a final quote with us that she heard from an Indigenous woman when they were talking about youth speech. The woman stated, “They want your presence, but not your voice”.
The Final Task:
Before Ilona left, she gave us a final task. It was to share this infographic and explain how I can apply these lessons and steps in my work or life in the community.
I am an Administrator at Scarborough Village Youth Council where we advise youth and expose them to numerous opportunities. However, I believe that there might be other ways that I can make a difference. My next step would be to join the youth wing of a political party and try to make a larger impact than what I am currently doing. Following the increase in community involvement, I will also start to grow my network with the people I work with and those who I meet while taking part in an event or conference at the youth wing. After my network is increased, I will be able to find strong decision-makers who want the good for the community and will aid me in making adjustments that will better benefit the community. Regardless of age, I will take all ideas into consideration and then we will choose the best course of action with a consensus in the group.
I want to thank Ms. Dougherty for the life-changing experience. Her lecture was truly eye-opening as I came to realize the reason why youth are treated differently than adults and the importance of youth speech. There are many key takeaways I have learned from your speech and will try to implement them in my daily life.
Finally, I would like to thank Illuminate Universe for this amazing opportunity. I can't wait to see what I will learn from all of the other speakers!