Poppie Johnson: Let’s give Generation Z a voice – then listen


OPINION: There’s been a lot of talk lately about the generational war and how Generation X and the Millennials are being disadvantaged to fund the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

Apparently, those halcyon days of the post-war boom set them up for a lifetime of ease – free tertiary study, home ownership, stable careers, easy retirement and longevity.

Meanwhile their successors (that’s us) are left bereft and in increasing mountains of debt. Right?

Well, let’s just remember that while home ownership may well have been more attainable it was under the threat of nuclear annihilation, the all-too-present danger of global communism and, here in good old New Zealand, a much more isolated and less connected society with none of the conveniences we now take for granted.

This is the same generation who were subject to forced adoption and were judged if in a relationship outside of wedlock.

As for women’s rights, that was all well and good as long as they were at home with the kids and dinner was on the table.

A simplistic picture? Perhaps.

So let’s turn the lens towards the much-maligned recent generation.

There’s mine – Generation X – and then there’s the Millennials and Generation Z.

The latter are just about to enter the workforce and will make up 20 per cent by the year 2030.

They are the first digital natives who have grown up in a world with touch-screen devices and fast internet.

The average age at which they gained their first cell-phone was 11. Apparently they’ve got an average attention span of eight seconds.

Apparently they are narcissistic, self-indulgent and care more for celebrity than for work.

Actually, Generation Z may well be the ones to save the world.

They have a far greater environmental and social conscience than previous generations.

They’ve been exposed to mass campaigns from a much younger age through their connection to social media.

Research shows that if given the choice they are more likely to vote based on conscience issues rather than personal gain.

The growth of parties such as the Greens and student-led social protests point to this.

Perhaps it’s time to include them in decision-making.

Recently there has been talk of a more radical movement towards lowering the voting age to 16.

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Bencroft has called for discussions to start.

That would be an extra 120,000 votes – not far off those in the 30-35 demographic.

Scotland allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in their recent independence referendum.

The policy’s since been extended to local body and government elections.

There are those who say lowering the age would only allow parents to pressure their children into voting for a particular party, or that teenagers don’t care about government. I’d like to meet teenagers who do exactly what their parents command.

Queenstown is NZ’s poster child.

How about we lead the way in social responsibility by offering the vote to 16-year-olds in our local body and regional elections?

Such a policy would counter disenfranchisement and encourage community engagement and responsibility.

We may see some innovative and future-focused solutions to the same old problems. Fresh perspective can do that.

Let’s give Generation Z a voice and listen to what they have to say.

They may well be the generation that saves the world – Generation Saviour.

Poppie Johnson is a Wakatipu High School English teacher