In the 21st century, monumental progress is being made in various facets of society-- economical, cultural, political. However, one aspect of the governmental structure, frustratingly, remains at a standstill. Youth participation and, thereby, youth influence, is lacking in government. While older adults (and even some young adults) may argue that the decision-making and politics of our nation are too complex for our Netflix-obsessed brains to comprehend, the fact still remains that at no other point in history have young people ever been so actively engaged in the events, issues, and policies of their time. And, arguably more important, our generation has a direct stake in whatever happens in government and the world at large-- for we will be the ones living in the future that the people in power of today create.

I am a member of Generation Z, making me one of the youngest individuals in society. A part of what this means is that I have heard the adults around me-- my parents, my family friends, and yes, even my teachers-- say the phrase "young people" in hundreds of variations of tone. Some sneer when they use the label derisively, and others shake their head in resignation at the way young eyes are constantly glued to their smartphones and laptops. My mother, a Southeast Asian Gen X, uses a word that literally means "small talk" but connotes "lazing around aimlessly" when she talks about what I do with my friends. To sum it up, our generation is externally defined-- but not confined-- by low expectations.

No doubt today's youth leaders, which are few and far between, faced the same stereotyping growing up. That is why, in my opinion, there are so few of them.

And without predecessors to show us that people in their teenage years, 20s, and 30s can make their mark and have their perspective heard in government, that they are capable of reaching a position where they can make key contributions towards the development of society, it will be all the more difficult and all the more necessary for my generation to be the first to do so on a larger scale.

We have already shown competence in this area. Think Greta Thunberg. Think Malala. Think Emma González. And, on a less publicized scale, think of the fact that Gen Z and millennials are much more accepting and open-minded about topics such as LGBT rights and racial equality, something we could theoretically bring to the discussion table to be debated and discussed if our views were to be taken more seriously by the government, and of the fact that eight out of ten members of Gen Z identify as fiscal conservatives, an approach to finances which could greatly help a state in debt. While the methods used by younger leaders are drastically different from that of older leaders (for example, in the way they address and connect with an audience and their stronger approach to solving problems), they are arguably exactly what the world needs to instigate positive change: an informal approach enhanced by social media-- there are at least 3.48 billion users this year-- and appealing to humanitarian and practical points rather than black-and-white party loyalty.

Similarly, it is hard to argue that young people do not take an interest in what is going on in the world right now. While it is true that many teenagers are skeptical of mass media and do not read the news on a regular basis, we are still exposed to a barrage of information from myriad sources that influences our consciousness of the world around us, and we actually see ourselves as part of a larger community thanks to the effects of globalization.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that young people are able to contribute both innovative ideas on what people need and a fresh perspective to government. Our participation, combined with our inherent awareness of public matters and our ability to think pragmatically, has the potential to positively influence national policy and the political scene in the decades to come.