On their assessment – and probably most of their friends’ – our generation has reduced leadership to a TV grab and the economy to a crawl.
We’ve turned our back on our Indigenous brothers and sisters, and can’t figure out what we want from our education system.
They celebrate small wins – like Russell Crowe retweeting their call for more refugees, and convincing my ageing mother to strongly support same-sex marriage – like they are international victories, and carry their losses around on sullen faces for days.
But isn’t that being a teenager? And shouldn’t that be exactly what we want? Engaged, passionate teens who give a damn?
And weren’t we the same?
I remember, growing up in western Queensland, worrying about how a nuclear bomb could be stopped.
And even younger, organising a school sit-in over female students doing home economics, while our male peers ventured off to woodwork.
Others marched for the right to protest, for free speech, and for a host of other reasons.
Now none of what our teens are doing compares with the Greta effect, and individual cries of protest are unlikely to move the ideological politics that now colours our policies.
But the hate being directed at a teen who feels passionate about the world she is going to live in for a long time is almost incomprehensible. And it says more about her detractors than it does about her bid to mobilise the world’s youth to a common cause.
Climate change is the beginning. But imagine the Greta effect on American gun laws. Or on young feminism. Or equality in education. And imagine how we could learn from that, and use it.
Greta Thunberg is doing it in her very public way, just as Taylor Swift does it though her songs, and Malala Yousafzai, through advocacy. Yara Shahidi does it through drawing attention to voter turnout. And millions of other teenagers, who are passionate enough to try to engage others in change, do it in their own way, in our homes, each day.
Instead of mocking them, role-modelling belligerence in our response and filling social media with hate, our leaders should be celebrating the innovation they’re bringing to problems, and engaging them in solutions.
In a world where we are teaching our teen girls to be strong advocates for change, our teachers should be holding Greta Thunberg up as a stellar example, and showcasing the lack of leadership in those hell-bent on belittling her.
Would the response be different if Greta was a 16-year-old boy? Perhaps. Or if her cause didn’t conflict so strongly with the policies of countries like the US and Australia? Definitely.
Greta Thunberg has given us – parents, communities and countries – a chance to engage our youth in a positive way. To ignore that just seems childish.
Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator who writes for the Brisbane Times. She was an award-winning mornings presenter on 612 ABC Brisbane and is a five-times author.