Psychology Week 2019: Psychology and Social Justice Issues – What Can We Learn From Young People?
This year, for Psychology Week, the Australian Psychological Society is asking about young people and social justice issues. The APS has also released a paper: Young People’s Voices in the Climate Crisis.
Youth Action for Social Justice
This got me thinking about recent global events where young people have taken to the streets (and the UN) to voice their concerns about climate change. Passionate young people like Greta Thunberg are standing up and representing their peers, forcing world leaders to sit up and take notice.
I also saw a recent beauty pageant in South America where the contestants were giving statistics about the social injustices against women and girls instead of reading out their body measurements.
Young people today are voicing their disappointment in those who came before and are calling for action to address these issues.
However, this is not new. Throughout the last century, young people have been concerned with social justice issues. Early in the last century, we had the suffragettes, in the 1960s and 1970s there were anti-Vietnam war campaigns, anti-apartheid protests and segregation protests, among many many others across the world. The 80s were all about No Nukes protests.
Where Psychology Meets Social Justice – What Can We Learn From Young People?
So why is it the world’s young people who predominantly fight for social justice?
Well, because young people tend to be full of hope and ideals.
Young people tend to think in absolutes – black and white, right and wrong.
Youth can be less emotionally contained and may catastrophise (this is not the sole domain of the young, but most people will gain some more perspective as they mature).
It’s wonderful that the young are this way, because they remind those who are older and more experienced (more jaded?), that these issues are pertinent and need our attention urgently. The passion of young people is a reminder to care about what goes on around us.
Young People Remind Us To Care For Each Other, Ourselves and Our Planet
Humans are very adaptable beings. We quickly get used to any “new normal”, and that can include injustice, inaction and other problematic passivity.
In short, we forget to fight for what’s right.
Just as innovation in the sciences and technology, fashion, the arts, and just about any domain you wish to name often arises from youth – the enfant terrible, the recuser – so often does it happen for social justice.
There is something about being young that equates with fearlessness and nonconformity for many. This is evident when we look at the average age of those engaged in public protests – these fearless qualities are predominantly the domain of our youth.
Listening To Young People About Social Justice
As Psychologists, we are trained to actively listen to what a person is saying, but you don’t need to be a qualified therapist to listen well.
If you are a parent of school-age kids or teenagers, ask your children about the issues that they are hearing about from friends or at school, even in the media, and find out how they really feel about them. This is how we support and foster leadership and self-empowerment in children.
Tips for active listening:
- Before initiating a conversation, commit to having an open mind. Expect that the discussion may go to places you didn’t predict, and that may even make you uncomfortable. Allow this to be, or you risk alienating your child.
- Ask open-ended questions. Try “How do you feel about… “ or “What are your friends saying about…” rather than a question they can answer with Yes or No.
- Don’t interrupt. Let your child talk for as long as they want to. When they seem to be finished, leave some space for them to add more – a silent gap works as an invitation to speak further.
- Avoid implying that your child is wrong or incorrect, even if they have an opinion that is wildly different to yours, or to the opinion you’d prefer them to have. Avoid judgement. Ask them, “Why do you say that?” instead of “No that’s not right.”
- If you would like to offer a counter-idea, rather than dictate what your child should think or feel, say, “That’s interesting that you feel that way. I always thought…” This can open more discussion about the differences in your generations.
- End the conversation by telling them you enjoyed the chat and found it interesting to hear their perspective. Invite them to share more with you if the topic arises again.
For some tips on getting teenagers to share more, see my post on How To Keep Your Teen Talking.
What do you think we can learn from young people about psychology and social justice issues? Share your thoughts in the comments below.