Sunday, 7 April 2013

Youth Voice

If you had asked me three years ago if I thought a teenager was capable of taking on a role like Youth PCC, I would instantly have said no. Like many adults in the UK, I thought that young people were too naive and too inward-looking to thoughtfully carry out such a role.

But then I got involved in Girlguiding and had the privilege to work with some remarkable and inspirational young women, who have changed lives, spoken out on difficult issues, educated others and made more of a mark on their society than many of their "adult" counterparts.

We are so quick as a society to judge people on their years. If people are over a certain age, they are deemed as surplus to requirements, yet under another and they suddenly get blanketed as naive, trouble making idiots. We need to start basing our assessments on individuals, not whole age groups.

As a teacher, I have worked with colleagues who have been doing lines in the toilets, who have rolled into work still drunk from the night before, who pick fights and sulk with other staff because of petty playground issues and who make catty, immature remarks about how others are dressed. 

And in these same schools, I have taught young people who have done extraordinary fundraising for charity, who have volunteered at women's centres and organisations, who have lobbied their local MPs and MEPs, who have sat on youth parliaments and local youth engagement committees. Each of whom has taken their roles and responsibilities seriously and made real impact.

I have been asked several times today if I think Paris Brown should have been given the PCC role. You know what? I have no idea. I have never taught her, never worked with her, never met her. So I really could not comment on her suitability as an individual.

But what I can say is that the system has failed her.

It's vitally important that we engage young people in the decision making process. Not just for our democratic future and encouraging them to vote, or even because they are the age group most likely to be involved in crime (both as victims and perpetrators), but because young people are just as big a part of our society as adults and we need to recognise that.

However, whenever an adult is put in a public role, they receive (or will have previously had) media training, social media policies and other mentoring. This is to protect the public image of the company and role as much as the individual in it. Sometimes young people, having grown up with social media, can be less inclined to take this sort of advice, but this is why it is even more important that good and comprehensive mentoring is provided.

A workshop on social media would have highlighted the potential issues of Paris' previous tweets, and it would have given her the opportunity to review her public profile before she undertook the role or was announced. She needed to be prepared for the unrelenting pressure and digging of the media. Even when using a generic and role-specific account, media will trawl through personal ones for the dirt.

Too often, young people are thrown into roles of responsibility without the support they need for growth and development. I am not in any way saying that they are incapable, but stressing that as adults we receive professional development courses and training and recognise the importance of that. People do not seem to be aware that the same needs to be afforded to young people in these roles.

It has been queried if any young person should be in the sort of role offered to Paris Brown, especially ones that aren't considered adults in the eyes of the law. If you want to see how mature and insightful these people can be, then please visit the PCC Youth Charter website, written by young people in 2012.

I don't condone the tweets in any way, but we all show off and behave differently on our personal social media pages. The difference between us is experience and training. I just hope that Paris Brown's experience (and subsequent apology - which was wonderfully done!) doesn't deter organisations from recognising the voice of youth in this country, but rather inspires them to offer the same support as they afford their adult counterparts. After all, we are investing in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment