The following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found online here.
Time to stand up for young people
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how young people are perceived by our society.
Our local council recently put some investment into a children’s play park, extending it and adding a variety of new apparatus including a zip wire. It has been a successful development that has encouraged a much greater use of the facilities.
In fact, it’s become popular with a wide range of ages from the very young to older teens that hang out in the evenings. Yet not everyone has seen the presence of young people in the park as a positive thing. Someone wrote to our local paper to complain: “From around 6pm each day, groups of youths aged between 16 and 20 muck about, deliberately attempting to break the equipment. This is the sole object of their play… “.
The attitude and assumptions of the letter writer really frustrate me. Just because young people choose to hang out in the park, it does not mean that they are intending to cause damage. But there is this stereotype that prevails in people’s minds of the hoodied thug out to cause nuisance to the general public. And that is exactly why initiatives to combat this perception are so important, and why the demise of Shine Week is particularly sad.
Shine Week was a government campaign launched in 2008 to celebrate the achievements of young people. Last year almost one million young people took part and huge plans were under way for this year’s event before it was culled by the new Department for Education (DfE) as a cost-saving exercise.
The DfE was “keen to emphasise that Shine Week has been a fantastic outlet to highlight the contribution of all young people”. However, despite the setback many youth organisations continued with their plans to celebrate the positive actions of young people and various activities were held across the country during July.
In addition, CYP Now’s Positive Images Awards are another example of promoting the good things young people do. But it is not just national campaigns that are needed to tackle this problem; we must also take some personal responsibility for promoting young people in a positive way.
Only last week I heard a school premises officer describe a seven-year-old child as a “waste of space with no future except crime”. I chose not to challenge him at the time and have regretted it since. As professionals, we need to stand up for young people.
So what can we do to challenge these stereotypes of young people? For me, I plan to respond to the letter in the paper, explaining how great it is that the teenagers use the park. But we are a creative and resourceful bunch, and will find numerous ways to endorse young people if we set our minds to it.
Changing the nation’s perception of young people may seem a huge challenge, but it is something that we can all play a part in.