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Saturday the 29 July 2023.

Young people are our societyꞌs most valuable resource. Is that true? If young people choose to glue themselves to the tarmac it is always for a deeper reason. It is something we adults have to face and not belittle their actions as just a pubescent or even terrorist act of violence. Reason is always connected to stages in development. Reason has to mature. Sometimes young people in groups will do things they would never do on their own. And sometimes these things are simply necessary. Cognitive control only develops in puberty. For us as adults the factor of „taking time out and listen“ is very important here. Itꞌs only in this way that problems may truly be solved. Only in this way can we grow together.

Are we as adults failing to take climate change seriously, just as we fail to take our children seriously when they are going through puberty? Climate change is only one of many problems weꞌre having to deal with these days. Yet it is the mother of all problems. Are we prepared to let a few pubescent kids tell us that we are living the wrong life if we take the car to work (or wherever) and end up in a traffic jam because they are blocking our way, glued to the road and stopping us? How many times in our lives have we been standing in a traffic jam simply because there were too many drivers in far too many vehicles on the road, sitting on their own in their cars, unable to organise any kind of rideshare or to travel in a clean and green way – by metro, bus, or train – or simply on foot or by bike.

Is this simply about the pleasure of provocation? Or is it also about our inability to leave our comfort zone and change our „old“ lifestyle? Why is it so difficult for us to align our imagination with that of our children? In puberty, adolescents start learning to strengthen their “I”, their sense of self. This does involve a certain resistence and friction with us adults. Which is why we should in principle be happy to see adolescents engaging in conflict with adults in our day-to-day life. And glue themselves onto the road? By all means!

If I in my role as a parent want to strengthen adolescents in the development of their identity, I will at some point have to enter into negotiations. Itꞌs only in this way that I can find constructive solutions with my son or daughter, or their friends. Young people are mainly concerned about the future. The older people get the more they are thinking about the present. This difference in experiencing the passing of time has its roots in biology and exerts an enormous influence on our decisions. If I feel that I have little time left ahead of me Iꞌll be more interested in the here and now. To be more precise: if nearly everyone is queuing in traffic with their climate-polluting engines running, this is unfortunate collateral damage. However, if I have plenty of time ahead of me Iꞌll be thinking very differently, namely, that there has to be a different way of organising transport, most importantly clean transport. And while weꞌre on the issue of climate, there are many other related issues.


Arguments can also often be a form of looking for a connection. Looking for and finding direction, and forming your own opinion. Shouldnꞌt we be more open and allow more space to the child inside us; talk with each other, instead about each other? Itꞌs in this sense that I see young people as the most valuable resource in our society.


Uwe Heitkamp (62)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations: Dina Adão, John Elliot, Ruth Correia, Patrícia Lara, Kathleen Becker


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