A certain tabloid ‘newspaper’ ran an article bemoaning the lack of young people who are working. The article cited a number of reasons: lack of jobs, exam-pressure and of course, laziness. Some of the readership of that certain newspaper, of course, lapped it up and posted some rather depressing comments about young people. Only a few weeks ago we had the A Level results and prior to that the GCSE results. Yes, the newspaper reported the success of young people; however, that was, as ever, accompanied by comments from certain quarters determined to undermine the results wittering on about how exams are “too easy” and such like. With ever story on education, whether it be education in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, comes those who do nothing but downplay the hard work and achievements of young people. All of this seem to fit a rhetoric that can clearly be seen: young people are good for nothing, lazy louts.
I struggle to recall a positive newspaper article about young people in the last few years. Even on the rare occasion that there is one celebrating the success of a young person, people will jump on it and run down young people. Up and down the country young people are dedicating their free time to their communities (more often than not for free), going abroad to help those less fortunate than themselves and working hard to achieve good exam results. That is rarely seen or heard about in the news. When a small number of teenagers cause a problem in a local community they get an extraordinary amount of press coverage at the expense of those young people who are not causing any problems. A group of teenagers on the street is something to be feared apparently.
While the tabloids are lambasting young people for being outside causing a ‘nuisance’ by being noisy and congregating in the streets, they are also lambasting young people for being lazy sitting on the sofa watching TV and playing video games instead of being outside doing stuff. Add to that the chronic underfunding of youth services in communities and you get something that you really couldn’t make up!
Yes, some young people cause problems. Yes, some young people damage property and shout abuse at passers-by. Yes, some young people engage in criminal activity. However, so do some adults. We don’t judge the entire adult population by the actions of a minority.
The chronic underfunding of youth services isn’t helping with any of it. Many youth clubs and groups have closed and many more will. These services are vital to young people. They give them somewhere to meet their mates and have a laugh (they can’t congregate in the pub like adults can). Youth clubs and centres get them out of the house and give them somewhere to go which means they’re not mucking around outside people’s houses (which might be annoying, but for the most part is utterly harmless). With these youth centres can come help and support for young people who are in trouble: whether that be young people having a tough time at home or those who are going down the wrong path in life. These youth service shouldn’t just be targeted towards those young people who are considered to be ‘problems’, but they should be available to all young people.
We have to remember that young people are still developing; they’re still working out who they are and how they fit into the world around them. Their bodies are going through drastic changes as they go through their secondary school careers. Alongside that they’re undergoing what is, despite what some think, a stressful curriculum with constant testing. The results of those and tests determine whether they can take the next step in life. As they progress through school their attention has to turn to life beyond school (whilst still being on getting through school). Career choices begin to be made: which subjects do I take? Do I go onto college or university or just get a job? Being a teenager is stressful and the older we get the less able we are to remember just how stressful those teenage years were for us.
Yes, when they go out into the real world they’ll have to cope with many big decisions at a time; they’ll have to take personal responsibility and won’t have someone to walk then through each stage. However, as I’ve already said young people are still learning: they’re not adults and they shouldn’t be expected to be able to function as adults. They need support because it’s all alien to them. We’re training them to be decent human beings.
I believe that as a society we need to have an unfailing, positive belief in our young people. We need to believe that they have potential and that they can reach that potential. We need to help them reach that potential and we need to be willing to invest in them: they are the future of this country after all. Constantly running them down in the national and local press isn’t going to help them one bit. We need to be building them up. We need to celebrate with them when they succeed and comfort them through their failures.