So I have had the absolute pleasure of working with young adults for the last ten years, and before I continue, could I first start by vehemently pointing out that the following is merely my opinion, and I don’t claim to ‘represent’, or as the case may be, ‘misrepresent’, young people and their issues in any way, shape or form. The following is just my own thoughts.
I work in a political environment where we promote things like ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, really ‘sexy’ stuff, and we promote these very issues to the aforementioned young people through a wide variety of media on a hugely broad range of topics.
Every now and then I get the chance to get out of the office and network with other professional/industry based people, people my ‘own age’. Obviously my job comes up and what we do in my organisation, and 9 times out of 10 I get a response something like these:
‘I don’t envy you’
‘Young people just don’t care’
‘There’s no talking to them’
‘We’ve tried everything but we can’t get them to engage’
‘I suppose you use that ‘Facebook’ thing’…
Of course sometimes I meet someone who is genuinely excited at the thought of interacting with the up-coming generation, but the general jist is often negative, or at the very least, bamboozled.
So when they pretend they’re interested in my organisation and tell me all about how its the young peoples fault, I take one of two stock positions on the issue:
If I’m tired/out-numbered/uninterested, I lie. I lie, by agreeing with them. I nod in an assuring fashion and make clucking noises and tell them that yes, yes of courses its absolutely everyone elses fault, and I leave the room knowing that I have just had the exact same level of interaction their proposed potential young audience have, I got talked AT, to the point that genuine engagement essentially became futile.
But the majority of the time, I tell the truth. I tell them that in my ten years I have only met a tiny, tiny, fraction of truly apathetic young people. I have met people who didn’t understand and were afraid to ask. I met people who didn’t want to look stupid in front of their friends. I met people who simply hadn’t made the connection between themselves and the systems they operate within. I’ve met people who simply had alternative priorities at a given point in time. I’ve met people who didn’t realise the opportunities that were available to them, the fora they could communicate within, the systems they could access, people who felt betrayed or abandoned by systems they felt had let them down… but I’ve rarely met anyone who really didn’t care.
And then I look at the people who claim to want to interact with them, and the problem is as immediate to me, as it likely is to their young audience: You’re not trying to interact with me, you’re trying to tell me what you want me to be/act/do, and put simply, I don’t appreciate that. So why would your young audience?
The problem has been exasperated by the recession, as the squeeze comes on from all angles young people are in an impossible position. When people ask me ‘Why don’t the young people protest?’, (because working with young people makes me the foremost authority on, you know, the world), I explain that I think the reasons they don’t protest is because they think they don’t have the support, and going by the resources, or lack thereof, resources that we as a society are supposed to provide to them as future and emerging citizens, I can only only assume that they’re right.
The youth of any generation and any time period are key to the success of that given time and yet they always seem to get the bum deal. For me, the true irony of youth issues is that by the time any potential leaders come forward, by the time they’ve had enough time to digest the system, get some learning, make some contacts and take the steps to get involved, they’re no longer ‘young’ enough to be considered ‘youth’.
We were all young once, ALL of us! Regardless of politics, religion, culture, educational status, every single one of us was young once, youth is the absolute thing we all have in common, and yet we seem so quick to forget.
The article attached here was written by a young lady called Jenny Herd published in the Times in the UK on Tuesday the 4th March and I think it sums up just beautifully what I feel I’ve been trying to say for a decade now. I have met some amazing young people in my time, and they turned out to be rather fabulous older people, so a gentle reminder: we are all young once, even you