Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
As the parent of a young teen who will be able to vote for the first time in the 2014 referendum, I am deeply concerned at the lack of engagement with this generation which, as polls indicate, is the age group most likely to vote “No”.
What is the reason for that?
Could it be that these teenage voters (and I specifically mean the youngsters who will be 16/17 in September) actually feel alienated / excluded from the debate?
Are we leaving them behind when they should be right out there in front?
I have searched online in vain for events / clubs /organisations catering to that age group on this issue.
Fair enough: there is a “Youth and Students” branch of Yes. But lumping high-school kids, young apprentices and unemployed school-leavers in with university students just won’t wash. There may well be exceptions, but many of them would probably find it quite intimidating to turn up at some uni event. Uni is an entirely different planet, even for the “academic types”, let alone for those who are now stacking shelves in your local supermarket or learning to change the tyres on your car, or just lining up at the job centre.
So where can they get information? It’s almost as though we’re telling them “here’s yer vote… now off you go, shut up and let the adults discuss these matters”
Surely this makes them feel ignored, or not taken seriously, or quite simply all at sea about what on earth they’re supposed to do with this unprecedented opportunity. So, of course, cast adrift like this, we should not be at all surprised if they cling to what is familiar, and choose to keep the status quo, no matter how grim.
Yet there is no age group that should be taken more seriously. After all, statistically at least, they are the ones who will have to live with the result of the referendum longer than any of the rest of us. Their voice is absolutely crucial.
We’re letting them down. Badly.
Where are the debates? Where are the information evenings? Where are the lunchtime clubs? Where are the drop-in information points? Is it possible that schools and organisations are reluctant to address this age group directly for fear of being accused of “indoctrinating” or “exploiting” them?
Ironically, they, more than any other generation, may well be the ones best able to discern between propaganda and fact – thanks to the strong focus the SQA curriculum has placed on critical thinking skills, source evaluation and philosophical enquiry in recent years. Yet we’re letting them down terribly by failing to give them credit for that ability, by failing to allow them to use those skills, and by undermining their confidence in the role they can, should, and must play.
While they may possess the analytical skills – they are still at an age where they might need some pointers towards finding the sources to analyse in the first place, and they also need the reassurance/confirmation that they are considered capable of making that analysis. They also need a strong reminder that all sources are “biased”. Nobody’s helping them by planting them down in front of the TV for the evening “news” and hoping for the best. That is not only patronising and dismissive – it could well end in tears.
There’s huge potential in that age group to come to a genuinely informed decision that could radically change their own future – but we just aren’t supporting them.
Parents fret endlessly over which university, which college, which apprenticeship, which job, what kind of accommodation, how to budget etc. once their kids are ready to fly the nest, discussing all these issues at length and in detail… as indeed they should.
And yet here we are, nonchalantly casting them adrift with the massive responsibility of a vote that will shape their future in far bigger ways for years to come, and wondering why they balk at the opportunity and cling to the status quo.
They need more opportunity for participation in the debate.
I would like to see a major drive in organising debates and information sessions specifically aimed at highschool pupils and young school-leavers.
I would like to see them given the recognition they deserve as, arguably, the most important voting group of all.
I would like to see them given the support they need to fulfil their undeniably huge potential.
Right now, many kids in this age group are heading into a stressful time of prelims and exams. But summer is coming, so there is still plenty time to come up with ways of engaging them over the holiday period, and at the start of the new term.
However they end up voting – they deserve to be taken seriously.
Thanks to Ishbel for this article on this issue, and we couldn’t agree with you more. Here’s Saffron Dickson leading the way for Scotland’s young people: