As we move towards a society that pays deeper attention to younger voices, columnist Alisha questions: Is this a positive shift?
In October, The Guardian reported that Lego will be attempting to remove harmful gender stereotypes from their toys, and instead focus on creating more gender-neutral products. This move was based on a survey of children themselves, that suggested gender roles may impact their attitudes towards certain toys and activities. When I first heard about this decision, I could already visualise the incoming Twitter rage (likely from Twitter’s charming assortment of Ben Shapiro enthusiasts). With one user accusing Lego of siding with, “the Radical Leftists,” it seems my prediction was fairly accurate.
At first glance, the company’s rationale does seem bizarre – is it really necessary to base a significant marketing change on research from children? What could children as young as the age of six possibly know about gender? The answer is a lot more than you may think.
According to Planned Parenthood, most children begin to develop some concept of their own gender identity around age three – that’s right, during the earliest stages of childhood. With this considered, Lego’s decision to survey children about gender makes a lot more sense. While some might consider the shift to gender-neutral products to be a half-baked attempt at “wokeness”, it could have positive implications, especially for transgender and gender non-conforming young people, who also become cognisant of gender constructs early on.
However, Lego’s research makes me ask the following question: if young people can provide viable ideas about complex topics such as gender, what other valuable insights could these voices provide about our world?
In Drumchapel, for instance, children and adolescents are currently set to share their ideas on how their neighbourhood and community could be improved. This initiative comes as part of the Scottish government’s next “Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan”. The intention behind this is to ensure that future attempts to address child poverty stem from ideas put forth by individuals who are currently experiencing this themselves.
Similarly, with the (mostly positive) genesis of social media activism and the popularity of several young climate activists, older adolescents and young adults have been playing a more pivotal role in climate-based activism than ever before. Glasgow’s youth is undeniably at the forefront of the discussion regarding COP26, and the lack of government action to resolve the climate crisis. In fact, Greta Thunberg’s international youth organisation, Fridays for Future, is set to be at the forefront of the upcoming protests, showing just how large of an influence the youth have over public opinion and matters of policy. What does this growing activism of young people imply about our future as a society?
For one, it’s a reminder of some of the bleaker aspects of our future. Approximately 60% of young people approached by the BBC in a survey this year said they felt worried or extremely worried about the climate crisis. Moreover, within the UK itself, 72% of young people agreed that “the future is frightening”. Lauren MacDonald, former University of Glasgow student and speaker at the COP26 opening ceremony even stated: “I was experiencing a lot of climate anxiety and felt that my time is precious and valuable, and maybe short, because of the climate crisis”, causing her to dedicate her time on “tackling” it. The fact that young people feel the need to come forward and address these issues themselves serves as a glaring reminder of the poor handling of the climate crisis by previous generations. Our “frightening” prospects as a society are a direct consequence of generations of inaction, after all.
On the positive side, witnessing young people begin to play a more active role in the cultivation of our own futures is inspiring. Younger opinions on issues ranging from gender to the climate crisis are being heard now more than ever before, giving us more of a say in the handling of our world. I, for one, am hopeful that the increased role of the youth in everyday, social and political matters will ultimately help bring positive change, despite all the work that still needs to be done to get there.