Listen To and Support the Young
Last month we commemorated 20 000 students taking to the streets in protest to apartheid laws.
June 16, 1976 and the protests that followed shows us that young people are not passive recipients of established policy, but are active critics of it, and can unselfishly mobilise in support of meaningful change should the occasion arise.
Who is a youth? The South African National Youth Commission Act of 1996 defines a youth as anyone between the ages of 14-35 years, that’s from secondary school right through to senior positions in industry, in which case they represents a significant 40% of our population.
Young people continue, as before, to strive to emancipate themselves from oppressive social policies which inhibit them from realising their full potential, though to little success.
Apart from the #FeesMustFall campaign of October 2015 which gained successful applicants admittance to free education at the beginning of this academic year, very few of the youth movements received any serious attention, though not for a lack of trying.
The steady manifestation of student protests at universities and institutions of higher learning, as well as youth demonstrations prevailing within urban and rural communities across the country, show that young people are still fighting to be heard.
The question is: Are we listening? Are we, as a country, dialoguing with the youth as they bring forth their concerns, or are we dismissing them because the impetus is not as dramatic as the 1976/2015 campaigns?
Why do we have to make noise and destroy things before our concerns be taken seriously? Why do we have to participate in this culture of destruction which has crept into the fabric of our society?
Instead, young people are finding themselves with a steady increase in socio-economic challenges, like the youth unemployment rate which exceeds 50%; like the increased awareness of violence in schools between students themselves, and between students and teachers; like the high HIV/Aids infection rate among youth; like the increased drug and alcohol abuse among youth; like the increase in criminal behaviour among young people.
These few examples speak to the fact that as a society, in our schools, hospitals, libraries, homes, churches, businesses, and other institutions, we need to pay more attention to the concerns of young people.
A Christian response
As Christians we need to stand up to the scourge currently facing our young people by being more attentive not only to their concerns, but to them as human beings who need love, care and compassion.
Whether they are right or wrong, we need to establish an environment in which we are able to dialogue with them wherein they feel free to express themselves without being judged. And what better place to start this attention and dialogue than in our very own homes—in the domestic Church.
The final document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment reminds us that ‘the family continues to be the principal point of reference for young people’.
Pope Francis reminds us about a key point regarding young people, one that we often overlook every time we hear of student protests and demonstrations: “Young people demand change.”
Being flexible and fragile and teachable, young people are not as accustomed to certain policies and behaviours as we are. If something doesn’t make sense, they don’t find reasons for its implementation, they simply change it.
They aren’t afraid of change, as those settled in their ways are. We would do well not to resist their change, but to dialogue with it, to enhance its paradigms, to broaden its horizon to incorporate us— this is what will make us truly adults.
And when we feel drained, when we feel like we cannot cope with the stresses and challenges of the youth, we don’t push them away, but rather we invite God to help us get through.