Adam Fearnall is the Governance and Policy Consultant for the London Youth Advisory Council, a youth government comprised of 14 Councillors elected by Londoners, who gather regularly to represent and debate the perspectives of youth on issues facing London today and tomorrow. He is the former President and CEO of University Students' Council at The University of Western Ontario and former President of the Huron University College Students' Council.
When I was eight years old I quit my competitive baseball team.
That might seem like a strange choice for an eight-year-old to make. It makes even less sense when you consider that making a sports team was not something that I was accustomed to. You see I was short, I mean really short, and coaches had a tendency to use my height as a creative way of keeping me off of the teams that I tried out for. But, this isn't an ode to a failed athletic career. It's a story about an eight year old making a choice.
The funny thing is, I don't really remember why I quit the team. I do remember that I didn't like going to practice because my coach yelled a lot. I didn't think he was mean, I just didn't like all the shouting - it was scary. I loved baseball, but I hated the yelling.
Quitting baseball was an eight-year-old's choice, but that didn't make it any less valid than an adult's choice. I knew why I wanted to quit. My coach thought that yelling was the universal way to teach but I was proof that he was wrong. Children, just like adults, are humans and humans don't all learn the same way.
My parents knew what kind of message I'd send by quitting. Adults saw a small, sensitive boy who couldn't take the heat. Short kids are wimps. Wimps quit. But, this wasn't about a scared little boy; this was about me standing up to a bully.
When I decided to write this story, I called my dad and asked him how he had known that I had wanted to quit the team. He said that my body language had changed and that I'd started to talk about playing for another team. In other words, he spoke my language. My dad knew that I was trying to stand up for myself, using the only tools that I knew how to use.
I look for these cues everyday that I work at the London Youth Advisory Council. Young people stand up for themselves all the time. They do it through the clothes they wear, the friends they make, or the rules they break. We need to be better at realizing when they're telling us something. We need to let young people make their own decision because when we do, they tell us more about our world than we realize. We'll be better people if we listen to those who remind us what it's like to be small.
This story isn't about baseball; it's about recognizing that young people are capable of making the decisions that shape their lives. They may see the world differently than we do and they may make choices that surprise us, but recognizing their right to participate - even make mistakes - is as important as anything that we'll ever do.