|"We are all in the gutter, but some of us|
are looking at the stars".
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.
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".