Adam Walker talks to Jenni Herd
Today, younger generations are being bombarded by negative press that offers little hope for their future.
In the past decade the global media has broadcasted multiple conflicts, the threat of financial crisis against modern economies and the continuous message that our world is dying. Add to this the fact that young people are often misrepresented as hooded thugs, binge-drinking slackers or computer-obsessed antisocial regressives’ all of whom shun society and personal responsibility, and you begin to get an idea of how young people see themselves and their future in the media.
In early March, Jenni Herd, a 16-year old girl from Kilmarnock, decided to fight the tone used by the media in describing young people. In a letter written to The Times she summarised her anger. Going viral overnight, her words voiced the frustrations of a generation who had lost their faith in a crumbling society that they would one day have to repair, all while being victimised and disrespected by their elders. As well as being shared by thousands and covered by various media sources, it also touched many young people (including myself) because she represented us as smart, observant and strong members of society.
After reading the letter I reached out to Jenni so I could find out more about her perspective and what drove her to write it. Her main reason? Irritation caused by “the patronising and clinical tone that made it seem as though teenagers were animals”. Following a conversation with her dad, who convinced her to voice her concerns and write in, she took it upon herself to challenge the media and fight her corner. “I wrote the letter in about 30 minutes, fuelled by annoyance and boredom, and sent it without really thinking. I never thought it would actually be published!”
Within the letter Jenni revealed young people’s anger towards the world they live in, yet she was keen to add the blame was not to be pointed at older generations. “Every generation feels victimised by the one before, and every generation feels like they are cleaning up the mess left behind” adding, “some of the things politicians put forward seem out-dated and archaic to teenagers today because, through no fault of their own, technology and ideas move faster than they can”. She understood this is symptomatic of every generation’s rise to power; as the world accelerates forward our understanding falls further behind as we grow older.
Instead of criticising she suggests that younger generations should be encouraged to become more involved with the decisions that will eventually shape their future. “They were acting from their own view-point, with the skills and values of their generation, making the best of a bad situation. In that respect, it’s not their fault. However, I think they should ask for teens’ opinions more – we are the ones that will face the consequences of their actions after all.” Before moving on she leaves a final poignant thought: “The future races on, regardless of the Prime Ministers and Presidents and Generals that it leaves floundering in its wake.”
With her realistic, balanced and concise opinions it was clear from the outset that Jenni is an accurate representation of what is great about today’s youth. She avoids childish finger-pointing and instead offers critical-thinking and compromising solutions. Although clearly an intelligent and humble individual, Jenni is not a rarity but an ambassador for the majority who remain tarred by ASBO-toting journalists and sensationalist media. When asked about how young people view their future employment prospects, she replied: “I think it’s quite unsettling for young people. I think quite a lot of teens have lost hope and motivation because of unemployment rates at the moment.”
Jenni’s irritations also lie with the lack of respect given to younger generations, asking not to be treated “like an adult” but like an equal. “I’ve had teachers treat me like an equal until I disagree with them, after which I’m an ‘insolent child’. I’ve had my researched, reasoned arguments shut down because I have ‘no life experience’.”
Even on a personal level she has stories of her and her friends being dismissed as children rather than spoken to like young adults. “My friend has been told he’s not gay because ‘he’s too young to know about any of that yet’, and I’ve been told I can’t be stressed or mentally ill because I’m only a teenager.” Clearly society is actively discouraging teenagers from interacting with adults and instead turning them into cynics who fear the future and what it holds for their lives. However, she was keen to once again balance her opinion and state: “Every generation has the same stress, just different pressure. Our generation isn’t unique in our problems, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight to solve those problems.”
When asked about the response she’s had since the article went viral Jenni said she has received the full-spectrum of responses. From support and congratulating messages to dismissive comments like “stop whining”, “go to bed” and “this has been happening for centuries”, proving that some of us are still quick to dismiss people like Jenni even though they take the time to rationalise and balance their arguments. If we are to truly make informed decisions about the future we must consult with those who have the most invested in it. The less we listen the blinder we are to the flaws in our thinking. Jenni Herd clearly has a lot ahead of her and I can only thank her for her contribution to this article. I wish her and all her fellow students the best of luck in their upcoming exams and look forward to hearing more from a generation that we are currently close to losing.
You can connect with Jenni via Twitter @JenniHerd