Describe the physical and cognitive changes that are important in understanding adolescent development. Address differences due to gender, sexual orientation, or culture that are discussed in the scholarly literature.
Syed, 16, Pakistan (Scholarly literature 1 of 6)
From victims to activists: Children and the effects of climate change in Pakistan
Adolescents in Pakistan – where we account for 40.5 million out of a population of over 176 million people – are keenly aware that we are inheriting a planet suffering from climate change. Like other developing countries that will be hit hardest by the effects of global warming, Pakistan has contributed minimally to global emissions but still has to deal with the dreadful impacts of storm surges, natural disasters and heavy rains. Rising sea levels and dramatic changes in weather patterns have already caused flooding and drought, limiting food harvests and access to fresh water and affecting industrial production. We need to take all remedial measures to avoid becoming ‘environmental refugees’.
Climate change, in Pakistan and worldwide, is especially hard on children, who are more vulnerable than adults to disease, malnutrition and exploitation. Rising temperatures and extreme climate events contribute to the spread of diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia. These are some of the main causes of death for Pakistani children under 5 years old. With drought, agriculture – 24 per cent of our gross domestic product – suffers as the crop yield is reduced and supplies are depleted.
Recent events have provided dramatic evidence of the catastrophic impact on Pakistan of changing weather patterns. Unprecedented heavy rains gave way in July 2010 to devastating floods. The initial death toll was approximately 1,600 people, but many more are unaccounted for. An estimated 20 million men, women and children have been affected by the floods, and huge numbers are stranded, waiting for help. Most escaped from their homes with nothing but what they were wearing. Compounding the health risks resulting from the flooding and the lack of food, water and shelter, the country is beleaguered by the economic catastrophe resulting from the destruction of its agricultural backbone. Millions of hectares of crops have been soaked or washed away, and livestock have been destroyed.
This drowning nation now faces a further disaster: The floods are threatening to decimate Pakistan’s youth. One of the biggest threats is the outbreak of water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. As in most natural catastrophes, children are also at a high risk of separation from their families and exposure to the dangers of child labour, abuse and exploitation. More than 5,500 schools have been ruined or wiped out. We cannot stand by and watch this generation disappear. As global citizens, we must help them survive this shattering event and emerge as role models of courage, endurance and determination.
It is time to take action – not only to deal with this immediate tragedy, but also to address the issue of global warming. As adolescents, we face a common opponent: greenhouse gases. In order to prevail, we must come together to help others, employ alternative energy sources and create laws to protect our planet and its people.
Syed Aown Shahzad is a youth activist and a native of Lahore, Pakistan. He was part of the youth delegations at the 2009 Summit on Climate Change and the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and he continues to spread awareness about global issues such as climate change and children’s rights in Pakistan and beyond.
Saeda, 16, Jordan/ United States (Scholarly literature 2 of 6)
Unrealistic media images: A danger to adolescent girls
Female beauty today is defined by ‘flawless’ facial features and ’perfect‘ thin bodies. These images are promoted through various media outlets and are particularly common in advertising. In response, teenage girls across the globe measure their bodies against these unattainable ideals and often end up feeling inadequate.
Having spent part of my childhood in Jordan and part in the United States, I know that body image is a major concern for adolescent girls in diverse cultural settings. Though they are sometimes reluctant to talk about it, a number of my classmates suffer from low self-esteem, go on diets and criticize their weight or facial features. Some girls in Jordan want to undergo plastic surgery to resemble a celebrity, while the number of teenage cosmetic surgeries is on the rise in the United States. What’s more, from Colombia to Japan to Oman to Slovenia to South Africa, adolescents adopt unhealthy eating habits, including skipping meals and dieting excessively, to achieve the ‘look’ promoted in movies and magazines.
Mass media affect both the way we think about ourselves and the choices we make. Glorifications of a thin ideal are everywhere: on television and film screens, on the Internet, in magazines and even on the street. They are impossible to avoid. Viewing these glamourized images, which do not represent real girls or women, can have lasting negative effects on vulnerable youth. The influence of ads showing misleading female forms can make girls susceptible to anorexia and bulimia, two grave and sometimes deadly eating disorders. In addition, adolescents with low self-esteem often suffer from depression; when untreated, this can lead to suicide.
To counterbalance this effect, we must show girls that beauty isn’t something to be bought or sold; it doesn’t come from buying diet pills, make-up or expensive clothes. We need to foster healthy, realistic self-images. Adults and adolescents must work together to highlight the existing beauty in girls as well as to celebrate virtues that go beyond body image – such as honesty, intelligence, integrity and generosity. I encourage more candid dialogue on this crucial issue and aspire to help girls feel beautiful in their own skin.
Saeda Almatari would like to study journalism, is interested in football and wants to make a difference by improving people’s lives.
Paolo, 17, Costa Rica (Scholarly literature 3 of 6)
Keeping the flame alive: Indigenous adolescents’ right to education and health services
When I look at the prospects my Térraba people face, my heart sinks for our dying land and drying river. While I do not know much of the world, I know what is right and wrong, and I know this harsh reality is not their fault. The flame of resistance passed on from my great-grandfather to my grandfather, to my father and to me, symbolizes our desire to keep our community alive. My hope is that our indigenous culture and language will endure.
The problem is, my brothers are afraid to live as Térraba Indians. Outside pressures, like teasing, discrimination and disregard for our basic rights have nearly brought our centuries-old struggle for survival to its breaking point. In addition, the country’s eight indigenous communities,* including mine, have not been given adequate schools or proper health centres, nor has the integrity of our land been respected.
We want our lifestyle to be protected and our territory not to be invaded by industrial companies that destroy the harmony we have preserved – harmony paid for with the bloodshed our people have suffered. This, however, does not mean we want to be excluded from the world. We just ask for respect for our basic human rights – the respect that every human being deserves in this world. We ask to be seen and listened to.
Thanks to my beloved Térraba school, I am proud to be one of the first and few of my indigenous group to attain higher education and attend university in my country. The education system in Costa Rica is insufficient, and it is worse still for indigenous communities. Inequality is pervasive in the classroom, and the system seeks to preserve neither our identity nor our existence as Indians. I see the Government’s lack of investment in indigenous culture reflected in teachers giving lessons using outdated materials or teaching under a tree. I think the Government does not see the assets education can bring to our country, nor the benefit of investing in education for indigenous youth.
In order to provide quality education, our teachers must be provided with proper classrooms and new textbooks. If only the children in my village could access the world through a computer as do children elsewhere. I feel sad that they have been denied their right to education and to achieve their full potential.
Skin tone matters in Costa Rica. If equity existed here, girls in my village would have the same opportunities as the girls from other regions of the country – like better access to technology and secondary school. They would be equipped to promote and protect our culture.
I hope for a time when people will be truly interested in listening to and providing for indigenous people, a time when I would not be one of the few indigenous youth to write an essay such as this one, hoping that it be read and understood. With real equity we would have permanent health centres in indigenous territories, and our secondary education would include lessons in our own culture and language as part of the core curriculum. In spite of being pushed to forget our language and to be ashamed of our way of life, we hold on to our dreams and our will to be indigenous Térraba.
Paolo Najera was recently forced to leave school because of the effects of the economic crisis on his community and family. Paolo’s aim is to work in development in order to improve life for indigenous communities, such as his own, in Costa Rica.
*Costa Rica has eight officially recognized indigenous peoples – the Bribris, Cabécares, Brunkas, Ngobe or Guaymi, Huetares, Chorotegas, Malekus and Teribes or Térrabas – about half of whom live in 24 indigenous territories. They make up an indigenous population of 63,876 (1.7 per cent of the country’s total population). The Térraba, descendants of Teribes from the Atlantic coast of Panama forced by missionaries to migrate to Costa Rica in the late 17th century, are the second-smallest of these groups, with a population of 621 according to the national census of 2000. Their territory is located in the Boruca-Terre reserve, in the canton of Buenos Aires, in the southern part of Costa Rica.
Meenakshi, 16, India (Scholarly literature 4 of 6)
Act responsibly: Nurse our planet back to health
What can I say about climate change that hasn’t already been written, read or discussed? In school we learn about global warming daily from our textbooks; we attend lectures and presentations. The earth is a sick patient whose temperature is slowly rising. Her condition is worsening. So what can I – a 16-year-old who can’t decide what to have for lunch – say or do to make a difference? You might be surprised.
Although we are the caretakers of the planet, we have become too engrossed in our personal lives and our desire to succeed. Oblivious to the wounded world around us, we neglect our duties and responsibilities to the environment. We are quick to remember money owed to us and easily recall when the teacher was away, but we can’t be bothered to unplug appliances to save energy or plant a tree. We can climb Mount Everest, cure illnesses and land on the moon, but we can’t remember to turn off the light when we leave a room or to throw trash in the bin or separate it for recycling.
Many wake-up calls later, we remain asleep – or perhaps we choose not to be roused, thinking that other people will deal with the problem. But they won’t. Gandhi said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” This is our planet, and it is up to us to care for it. Nursing our planet back to health is our responsibility, for the greater good.
My brother and I fight every morning because I insist he take a five-minute shower, using 10–25 gallons of water, instead of a 70-gallon bath. As in the butterfly effect, our daily actions – even minute ones – have far-reaching consequences. They determine whether life on Earth will perish or flourish. Closing the tap while we brush our teeth saves up to 30 litres of water per day. Biking or walking just twice a week can reduce CO2 emissions by 1,600 pounds per year. Properly insulating our houses, thereby using less energy to heat and cool them, also makes a tremendous difference.
These small steps will help the earth, a patient who is struggling and who, I think, is eager to get well soon. We have to wake up and realize that we are accountable not only to ourselves but also to other Nature and future generations. Adolescents: Be more alert, active and engaged. I will continue to spread awareness to family members, friends and neighbours. We must respect our environment and keep it clean and safe. Who knows? One day, our patient might be cured, begin to thrive and become a greener, more beautiful place to live.
Meenakshi Dunga lives in Dwarka, New Delhi. Following her graduation, she plans to study medicine in India and become the best surgeon she can be. Meenakshi also enjoys singing, listening to music and caring for the environment.
Cian, 17, Ireland (Scholarly literature 5 of 6)
Striving for equity: A look at marginalized adolescents in Zambia
Although I believe we are closer than ever to living in an equitable world, societies must still work towards changing social norms that allow discrimination, marginalization and exclusion. This is most apparent when we consider disabled children, girls’ education and children living with HIV.
In November 2009, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a couple of weeks in a home for disabled children in Mongu, Zambia, and I gained a vivid insight into their lives. I was shocked by the marginalization of these children, as they are among the most cheerful and playful I have ever met. As in many other countries, disabled children in Zambia are sometimes sent away and even disowned. They may be left unattended and uncared for; they may also receive less food.
Disabled children are often excluded from school because the education system makes no allowance for them. In addition, their parents do not recognize their right to education or development. They are denied the chance to learn the skills they need to work and achieve independence as adults.
Gender inequality is evident as well. Girls who are disabled run a greater risk of physical and mental abuse. Girls are not valued, and neither is their education. I see the rise in HIV and AIDS as a direct result of this social outlook.
Education plays a vital role in the prevention of sexual transmitted infections. In order to halt the spread of HIV, it is fundamental that all adolescents learn about prevention and treatment. Although school enrolment of girls has increased in developing countries, it is still not equal to that of boys. In Zambia, when a family member is HIV-positive, the family’s financial resources shift from education to health. As girls are responsible for the traditionally female tasks – cooking, cleaning and nursing – they are expected to drop out of school to care for the sick.
Globally, nearly 5 million young people were living with HIV in 2008. In Zambia, if a girl or boy is thought to be infected with HIV, she or he is no longer sent to school. This lack of education leads to a vicious cycle of gender inequality, increased HIV infection and poverty. When girls and women are not given access to education, they cannot gain independence from men; when girls do not learn about HIV prevention, they are more likely to be exposed to the virus.
It is evident that we do not yet live in a fair and non-discriminatory world: The rights of marginalized children need to be better protected. It is the responsibility of adolescents to focus our endeavours towards creating a more equitable society in our lifetime.
Cian McLeod lives in Balbriggan, Ireland. He is involved in his community’s sports development programme and peer mentoring. His experience volunteering in Mongu was with the Sporting Fingal Zambian Mission. Cian’s goal is to work as an economist for developing countries. He would like to make the world a fairer place.
Brenda, 17, Mexico (Scholarly literature 6 of 6)
Reclaim Tijuana: Put an end to drug-related violence
Growing up in Tijuana, I often heard stories of the time when it was considered the Mexican Promised Land. This frontier city on the Mexico-United States border offered hope to settlers from other parts of the country, like my grandparents, who sought a better standard of living. As it grew, Tijuana turned into one of the most prosperous cities in Mexico. I was told that school attendance and employment rates soared, people felt safe and tourists from the United States would crowd the main shopping street, Avenida Revolución, on weekends.
As I grew up and started reading local newspapers, I realized that bad things were happening. Over the last few years, a wave of violent crime related to drug trafficking has hit Tijuana as well as other Mexican cities. Kidnapping, torture, murder, persecution, threats, military intervention, innocent lives destroyed – all in the place I call home. Tijuana today is one of the most dangerous places in the country. This has ruined the tourism industry and caused a dramatic loss of jobs.
In the last year, we have seen some progress: Key drug cartel leaders have been arrested and the drug trade’s influence has diminished. However, with the cartels’ activities disrupted, violence has increased and may get worse before it gets better. Confronted with the global economic downturn, and upsurge in violence, some Mexicans have migrated to the United States. While many residents are terrified and avoid leaving their homes, others say it is an issue between gangsters and does not concern them. Yet how can we look the other way when we learn of shootings in hospitals or outside kindergartens?
There is a difference between apathy and ignorance. I was ignorant. I thought Tijuana was a peaceful city and that the media’s stories were exaggerations. However, once you learn that your neighbour has been shot or that a close friend has lost his father, you stop and think: How can we end this?
Many residents feel that Tijuana’s lack of adequate law enforcement has allowed violence to grow.
Consequently, the community has lost faith in its representatives. This makes people – both young and old – feel helpless and discourages them from being active citizens. The drug trafficking trade has the power to silence people. In my opinion, young people in Tijuana no longer expect change; they have lost hope. It is hard for citizens to trust authority when they hear that part of the police force has been involved in the drug trafficking.
People get used to violence; they end up accepting it. I hear teenagers and parents say that violence in Tijuana is ‘normal’. When they hear about a new murder, they say “that is not news.” The drug trade even transforms dreams. Some teenage boys are fascinated by the illusion of glamour it offers and call themselves mangueras, which means aspiring gangsters. They say their dream is to become a drug dealer so that they have money to attract women and buy cars. What happened to people like my grandparents, who wanted a better, safer life for their children?
I know that we often blame the government when things go wrong, but we must do more than complain or throw up our hands. We need honest law enforcement officials and a responsive criminal justice system. In order to move forward, we need to restore public confidence and hope in the local community. It is time to reclaim the city of Tijuana.
Brenda Garcia grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. She is a university student and speaks Spanish, English, Italian and some Portuguese. She plans to major in international security and conflict resolution.