Young Canadians are worried about the state of the world. A perfect storm of a pandemic, climate change, and a steady stream of images of conflict are contributing to this.
With regard to the environment, concern that their parents and grandparents are passing them a world on fire is leading many youth to feel angry, frustrated, and depressed. This isn’t all bad. Psychotherapist Caroline Hickman calls such eco-anxiety a “healthy response to the situation we are facing because it shows awareness of the crisis.”1
Compassion for the planet also fuels some young people to take inspiring action. A poster child for youth in action, Greta Thunberg, summed up her thoughts on the COP26 climate change meeting by saying, “26 COPS, they have had decades of blah, blah, blah and where has that got us?”2 There’s a strong desire to move beyond talk and achieve real results. With the right skills and supports, this desire can be directed toward peaceful and constructive campaigns to win real change.
Issues around peace and conflict are of great concern too. Canadian youth are connected to global communities and have classmates from all over the world, some of whom have been affected by armed conflict. The war in Ukraine dominates the airwaves. We see fresh-faced young men and women being sent into battles where they will either lose their lives, their limbs, or the person they were when they went in.
“Peace is a requirement for young people to flourish.”
According to the International Crisis Group, the world has a lot more violence to be concerned about. War rages on in Ethiopia and Yemen. Myanmar is a tinder-box of political instability. Afghanistan faces a dire humanitarian crisis. US-China relations are tense. And much more.
These destructive conflicts require youth to be fed into the grizzly war machine. How can we help young people to step away from government-sponsored violence, and from extremist ideologies? Who should youth turn to for guidance when so many in previous generations contribute to the mess they’re faced with?
Peace is a requirement for young people to flourish. But they need skills and support to know how to contribute to justice and peace. Too often, those creative skills of active nonviolence aren’t taught. They aren’t discussed in mainstream Canadian culture, whether in popular media like music or TV, or in schools. Destructive conflicts in communities and families are modeled instead. They’re insidious and suffocate youth. So let’s start there. At home.
CFSC sees the importance of connecting with youth. We are striving to meet young people in safe spaces and equip them with peacebuilding skills. Breaking down assumptions and seeing the humanity in others are valuable skills for fostering peaceful families and communities. Steering youth towards trusted resources and organizations will help them make informed decisions.
Communication is key for everyone, regardless of age. As Friends with teenagers at home can attest, this can be the first stumbling block. There are many reasons that communication break down. One that comes up in trying to speak across generations is that younger people are frequently used to digital communication as their primary way to interact. That means they’re often ill at ease or embarrassed to engage in face-to-face discussion. Another challenge for all parties is listening. When was the last time you sat down with a young person and listened to them instead of listening just enough to form your response?
CFSC believes there is opportunity in adversity. Many young people are looking for ways to be heard and to contribute to policy dialogue. They’re looking to make positive impacts with minimal resources. They’re actively seeking facilitators, workshops, and training opportunities. One peacebuilding organization working with youth found that they’re more likely to remember peace skills learned through sport than in a standalone workshop. Successful interventions are often taught in tandem with the arts, sports, or media. They’re learned by example from the family environment and personal relationships. CFSC is here to help with this.
We’re expanding activities around youth engagement, which we’ll be rolling out both in Canada and internationally. We look forward to sharing future updates. Are you a youth who’s interested in this work, or do you know youth groups that would be a good fit for collaboration with CFSC? Please get in touch with me. And how are your own peace skills? Have you attended one of CFSC’s Are We Done Fighting? workshops yet?
Kerry Grier is CFSC’s Peace Program Coordinator.
- Kate Whiting, “What is ‘Eco-Anxiety’ and How Can We Ease Young People’s Fears for the Planet?,” The Planetary Press, October 14, 2021, https://www.theplanetarypress.com/2021/10/what-is-eco-anxiety-and-how-can-we-ease-young-peoples-fears-for-the-planet ↵
- Quoted in Daniel Kraemer, “Greta Thunberg: Who is the Climate Campaigner and What are Her Aims?,” BBC, November 5, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-49918719 ↵