Blaming the 'lazy youth' is not the answer

Editor's note: The following article is reposted here in partnership with the European Youth Forum (EYF), a platform of European youth organizations. It was originally published in YO! Mag, and was written by EYF President Johanna Nyman.

“The young could do more to stand up for themselves” is one of the conclusions of The Economist (Jan. 23) after painting the picture of the difficult situation youth are facing today in Europe and globally. You know what I am talking about: unemployment, lack of housing, and inequality. But is the solution really to stand up for ourselves?

I am tired of our generation being perceived as lazy, privileged and spoiled. Research proves that young people care about political issues and that we engage in discussions, but on our own terms, in our own forums and with our own methods.

With this said, it is crucial that our generation also votes in elections and becomes more engaged in formal political settings, such as political parties. It is a fact that 72 percent of 16/18-24 year-olds do not vote while more than 50 percent of 65+ year olds do. Why don’t a larger number of us head to the voting booths?

The answer is not our apathy, but a political system that fails to represent us. First of all, there are few young candidates standing in elections and even less young politicians elected into office. In all European parliaments, only 0.5 percent of members are under 30 years old. Even if you do not need to be young to talk about issues affecting youth, being close to our generation gives you legitimacy.

Secondly, it is hard to trust a political system and promises that still do not bring us the jobs or houses that we so badly need. On the contrary, there is an increase in populism, a trend of punishing the “lazy youth” to gain votes from the baby boomer generation. This only creates distrust amongst young people towards politicians, leads to policies that do not represent the interests of young people and turns generations against each other.

The solution is not to lazily state, “young people should stand up for themselves.” But it is politicians creating more youth-friendly policies and living up to their promises.

Education systems should provide quality citizenship education and prepare young people for political participation. Civil society has to stand up for youth rights and inspire action. Political parties need to nominate more young representatives and to give them the same possibilities as older and more experienced candidates to be elected. Finally, we should all ask ourselves how to “youth up” current political systems.

Abusing the fact that young people vote less than older generations is not only irresponsible but also unacceptable. Treating us badly is not the solution to re-engaging us. Instead, this builds societies that are unsustainable and divide people depending on when you were born.

Young, gifted and held back,” The Economist
Young People and Democratic Life in Europe,” The Wonk Europe

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