Thursday, 8 December 2011

"There is nothing for young people to do".

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us
are looking at the stars".
Following last summer's riots in many cities, one reporter said, "Angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it".

Writing to a Shropshire newspaper last year, one young person said, "I am 17 and live in Shrewsbury. In my area there is nothing for young people to do. People often complain about 'yobs' hanging around on street corners causing trouble - especially during the summer holidays. I have just looked on the Shropshire youth website and there are only six results for things to do in my area, and only two of them are during the holidays. I think that young people should have more of a say in what happens, more money should be put into young people's activities, after all, we are the future of the nation".

In a Derbyshire survey of young people, the question was asked, "What do you think are the issues facing young people in your area today?" Top of the list was 'Nothing to do' with 77%, followed by 'Alcohol' at 74%, and 'Drugs' at 69%.

You will have noticed a theme already in what has been said, and that is, "There is nothing for young people to do". The Education and Inspections Act 2006 placed a statutory duty on local authorities to secure access to sufficient positive activities for young people, including seeking and taking account of their views about provision. This doesn't mean that local authorities have to provide the activities; they just have to ensure that someone does. This requirement has spawned a multi-billion pound children's and young peoples 'industry', with countless thousands of jobs and an endless supply of expensive buildings. And still, as the Government web site 'DirectGov' says, "There's millions of pounds available to create better activities for teenagers in England". But the cry goes out again today, "There is nothing for young people to do".

Even when there are activities in an area, there are perennial excuses why they are not used by some. There's a cost attached to it (meaning, I want it for free). It's too far away (meaning, I want it on my doorstep). Now, let me say this, I have no real issue with positive activities being made available for young people, and many statutory and voluntary youth services do a fine job. However, I do have concerns about the concept, presentation and expectation when addressing the issue of having "nothing to do". The message that many young people have grown up with is that how I fill my 'free' time is the responsibility of someone else. Society is complicit in this, from Government Acts that require areas to provide "secure access to sufficient positive activities", to communities across the country demanding facilities for young people.

What we are doing is spoon-feeding people, rather than teaching people how to hold and use the spoon for themselves. One dictionary defines spoon-feed as, "To treat another person in a way that discourages independent thought or action, as by overindulgence".

By encouraging people to think that the solution always lies with someone else, we destroy the concept of independent thought and action - we don't have to think for ourselves. This, I feel is where we are largely at today. Young people providing their own positive activities is not on the agenda, for that means having to think for yourself, and to be a bit creative. Perhaps outreach services could be more time-limited, and focused on helping young people to be creative in how they can use their time, then they're on their own.

I know that the world has changed since I was a young person, and much of it for the better, but not all of it. This will sound like an old fogey viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles, but fifty years ago when I was a young person in a small rural community, there was nothing provided so that I and my friends had something to do. Our leisure hours were filled through "independent thought and action". What we did seems very tame when compared with today's high octane world. But the actual activities don't matter. We don't have to do today what I did fifty years ago, but the principle of independent thought and action should be translated into the modern world - and I passionately believe that it is possible.

I don't get angry when I hear that "there is nothing for young people to do", I just get very sad, and I blame the whole of society for being complicit in not encouraging independent thought and action, and for overindulging young people. Thankfully, I know that there will be exceptions to this, and that up and down the land, there are young people who are thinking and acting for themselves, but I can't help feeling that they are in the minority. I would love to know if I am wrong.

I guess that it's important to know how we view life, for as Oscar Wilde says, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars".

1 comment:

  1. Well said John - agree entirely. What I would add however, is that the world that kids grow up into today is very different from that which we grew into. And for me the biggest "difference" is the overwhelming impact of the entertainment industry which in reality asks nothing of people and especially the young. Watching TV, films etc. is a purely sedentary occupation and largely presents to the young a way of life so removed from their own that they cannot replicate it in their own. It is not just TV and films - music, sport, communication (e.g. via text or e-mail) is largely a sedentary activity requiring little action. They can see a top football match at the press of a button - even on their i-phone if they wish. Nothing is asked. There is no requirement to make a commitment, to walk to a game, no time spent to compose a traditional letter. Why read Dickens when you get the instant story via DVD?
    I'm not making excuses but remember when I was about about 12 we used to look forward to getting as free copy (if we bought enough penny lollies!) of the VIMTO book published by the drink manufacturer - filled with facts -highest mountains, top cricket scores,kings and queens etc. -and would spend the summer months learning these and quizzing each other. This is a culture that is gone today - why learn "trivial" knowledge the young might say - and if they do need to find the highest mountain a quick flick of the i-phone to Google and they can know instantly!
    So,they are bored and have nothing to do - you are correct - it is too easy,they have no reason to get up and go! They just "wanna have fun" as the pop song said.
    I do get quite depressed at the attitude that prevails in much of society today (not only the young) that "fun" and "having a laugh" is the criterion of a good life. You can see it any night of the week on the streets of Nottingham. You can see it any night of the week as you zap the TV channels - little of substance that asks anything of anyone.