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Dubai Abulhoul: Reevaluating the role of the youth in our society
August 16, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Last year, the United Nations Population Fund released a report stating that there are more adolescents today than ever before in history. It is estimated that more than 1.8 billion people worldwide are 10 to 24 years old. The report has initiated a worldwide debate, and highlighted obvious risks that would result from the historical shift in demographics. Almost every conversation related to a young person’s role in his or her country is spoken in the future tense, and starts with, “In ten years from now, when you are an adult, you will achieve so and so.” Why don’t we start achieving now? Why aren’t the youth given responsibilities today?

As a young Emirati and Arab, I have often found myself in conversations and discussions related to what many refer to as the ‘youth bulge’, a term I am not personally a fan of. While I did, at some point, see the ‘danger’ of the increasing number of youth around the world, I have always found it confusing as to why societies see the younger generation as a burden, rather than an opportunity. It always seemed to me as if the world was waiting for the youth to ‘grow up’ before they start taking on responsibilities towards their societies and countries, and I think that that is one of the main mental obstacles that face the youth today.

How do the older generations perceive the youth? Arab societies place the younger generation in an ‘in between stage’, where they are neither treated as adults nor as children. It’s almost as if society does not know what to do with this category of human beings that has the potential to become highly energetic, highly receptive, and highly innovative. The younger generation is viewed as a ‘spoiled generation’ that does not appreciate what it has, and takes all its blessings and opportunities for granted. Do not get me started on how the youth are being blamed for the state that the Arabic language is in. “You don’t appreciate your own language, it’s the language of your ancestors, and your religion,” I remember my Arabic teachers saying, on and on again, as my friends rolled their eyes at the lecture they have heard one too many times. The way the Arabic language is being taught in educational systems, both in private and public school curriculums, has caused the younger generation to consciously grow away from it, rather than embrace its beauty. These are only few of the negative affirmations that the younger generation hears on a daily basis, whether inside or outside the classroom. What happens when you keep telling a group of young adults that they are too spoiled and too dependent? They start believing it. They start believing it, and that becomes their reality.

As a young adult, I have to admit that I do see where all the negative criticism is coming from. I do recognize the indifference that has plagued my generation, and I do recognize the lack of initiative, and enthusiasm, to do more than simply ‘live’ on a day-to-day basis. The majority of young people actually enjoy the ‘in between stage’ that their society has placed them in. They treat their age as an excuse to sit back before the ‘real world’ kicks in, and that has unfortunately created the bubble of indifference they are now stuck in. Indifference, whether caused by the media or other factors, is the most dangerous obstacle my generation needs to overcome. My generation needs to wake up and realize that there is a whole world waiting beyond what it is currently occupied with. My generation needs to realize its potential to contribute positively to their society and country. Why should we wait till we ‘graduate’ to make our ambitions and goals a reality? Let us achieve, today. Let us contribute, now. Let us use what we have been blessed with, especially our education, to leave a positive impact on our communities. Let us think again about who we look up to, and who we want to become. We’ve been leaning too much on the older generation, and it is now time to start carrying their efforts on our backs as we walk towards a brighter future.

The younger generation is an untapped asset, and it is time that their energy is used in the advancement of their societies and communities. I’m not talking about volunteering programmes, even though I think we need more of those as well. I’m talking about changing society’s image of what young people can do, and handing them a bigger responsibility in the progress of their country. Invite more students to talk on discussion panels, especially on issues related to the youth. Put more students on advisory boards.  Talk to the youth about today’s issues, and hear about their solutions. Instead of speaking on behalf of the youth, let the youth stand up and speak for themselves. Integrating young people in decision-making processes is a rewarding experience for everyone involved. The youth feel like their opinions matter, and adults benefit from a newer and fresher perspective. It’s time to turn the younger generation into problem solvers, rather than problems to be solved.

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The author is an Emirati novelist-writer

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