Changing the world

Young people making a difference

If you want to find out how to change the world for the better, Margaret Rooke suggests listening to young people.

Learning from Year 6

The classroom is not my natural habitat, but after a morning working with the combined year six classes of a local primary school, I left wondering if I was in the wrong job.

This was nothing to do with my own abilities in front of the ten and eleven year olds. The opposite. It was all about what they taught me.

I’m the author of You Can Change the World! a book for children and teens that tells the stories of fifty everyday young heroes – on your street and mine – who’ve become fundraisers, campaigners, and volunteers.

The book includes interviews with 14-year-old Lucy, who persuaded supermarket chains to stop selling eggs from caged hens; Trisha, 18, who invented a way of reducing hate messages online; and Cameron, 17, born with cerebral palsy and left on the bench at football matches, who set up his own team, Adversity United. It includes those arguing that Black Lives Matter, helping to rid oceans of plastic, and working at ending bullying and homophobia at their schools.

It was with some trepidation that I made my way to the front of this group of sixty young people at Rushmore Primary, east London. I listened while they talked to me about how they could change their own worlds. I explained they would vote on the issues they raised, and their classes would tackle the winning cause. They had to be able to have an impact on the issue they chose.

Then they formed themselves into groups and worked out action plans to help them achieve the changes they wanted to make. Finally, they presented their ideas to the others in their year and voted for the most popular.

There were joint winners. One was a call to reduce waste at school lunchtimes. The children had thought up countless ways to do this. The other focused on ways they could help the homeless. The children were delighted at the thought they could truly make a difference.

I almost skipped out of the school at the end of the morning. The children had shown such creativity and passion for the work we did together.

The problem with growing up

They reminded me of the words of climate change campaigner Katie Hodgetts who wrote one of the book’s forewords, “As you get older it’s easier to believe that power lies at the top and you no longer feel that miracles can happen. When you’re young you have a sense of optimism. You can see the world as a blank canvas. You can paint this in any way you want.”

And Lucy, mentioned above, who at 14 persuaded Tesco and others to pledge not to sell eggs from caged hens, who told me, “This is a great point to look around and think, ‘Is this the kind of world I want to grow up in?’ I think my age helped me. Everything seems so clear to me. I didn’t let myself overthink what I was doing.”

Fresh ideas from younger people

My book was written with teenagers as the target market, but so many of its readers are younger. It’s easy for adults to believe we always have the answers our young people lack, but undoubtedly powerful influences can come from the other direction.

After all, this is a generation that, perhaps more than previous ones, is used to having their voices heard at home and their opinions taken seriously. Modern parenting techniques have had an impact. The age of these young people hopefully means they are not yet world weary, nor overly jaded by rejection. If they have had a vision for the change they want to see, they are well placed to reach out for it. They are so often social beings, wanting to spread the word to others.

The young want to make a difference

As my book shows, as children turn into teens, this doesn’t mean they have to become solely obsessed with gaming, appearance, social media, celebrity and other people’s expectations of them. I often quote research from the Royal Society of the Arts, which showed that when adults were asked to choose from a list of words that might describe teens, the most popular selected were ‘selfish’, ‘lazy’ and ‘antisocial’. In the same report, 84% of young people surveyed identified with the phrase, ‘I want to help other people’.

One of the report’s authors Laura Partridge believes, “We really do underestimate teenagers and young people and, when we speak to them, there are so many doing great things; so many have a culture of giving back.”

The right kind of support

So often what can propel a young person to do the right thing and make the right choices is the right kind of support from someone who believes in them. This can mean teachers, parents, or other adults, but it can also mean good friends who themselves are achieving something positive in the world or who have that attitude. Peer influence can work powerfully for the good.

As Hannah, a desperately shy teen who with the support of the Girl Guides addressed a UN meeting told me, “It was overwhelming that there was this group of people rooting for me, really wanting to me to succeed.”

She and so many like her can have a greater impact than they could ever have imagined. We just need to be there, on the side, rooting for them.

Margaret Rooke writes books to inspire children and teenagers, their parents, carers and people who work with them. Titles include Creative, Successful, Dyslexic. 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories; Dyslexia is My Superpower (Most of the Time); and You Can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere, a gold medal winner in the USA’s Moonbeam Children’s Book Gold Award for multi-cultural non-fiction.


Twitter and Instagram: @margsrooke  LinkedIn: Margaret Rooke

You Can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere. By Margaret Rooke. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, £12.99.

FEATURE IMAGE: by Goran Horvat from Pixabay

Thank you to Margaret for photos of Cameron and Lucy