A quick look at recent news articles about young people highlights some of the common challenges and stereotypes that they face today. You will read about the pressures of academic achievement, the mental health crisis, and the risk of knife crime and exploitation. But looking beyond this there is also a lot to be celebrated: the climate strikes, young people campaigning to vote, a rejection of binge drinking and innovative entrepreneurship.
Challenge negative stereotypes
The word YOUTH often comes with a negative stereotype, the idea that youths cause trouble, vandalise, bully, misuse substances, fight and steal. For those of us working in the youth sector, we are fortunate to see a different perspective of young people. It is our job to champion them as an act of social activism so that public perception can change. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, youth worker or friend, you can make a difference too. Shining the light on an inspirational young person or group of young people you know could help to change perspectives and reduce prejudice in your community.
It feels good to be counted
Mental Health referrals for young people are on the rise. This is of great concern to those of us working with them. While celebrating achievements is not going to take away a mental health problem that a young person is facing, we do know that ongoing wellbeing is supported by connecting and feeling valued. So taking the time to value and acknowledge someone’s contribution could make a huge difference.
Academic achievement is only one piece of the puzzle
Young people are innovators, communicators, creators, performers and much more. The education system can put us into a paradigm that sees young people only for what they can remember, and what can be written down and recorded. By looking at the whole person rather than just recorded achievements, we open ourselves to connecting with an entirely different person to one that school may see. For many young people that struggle in school, their best qualities may be totally overlooked. So if you see a sparkle of something in a young person that you know, shine the light on it and really let them glow and grow.
By showcasing the positive things that young people do, we not only honour the good decisions that individuals are making, we are also inspiring the next generation of young people to be the best that they can be as well. We all know how important it is to have a good role model. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if young people could look close to home to find theirs? By highlighting the outstanding young people in our community, we give them an opportunity to share their story with their peers and become a champion and inspiration. In order to grow and develop to our fullest potential, we need to stretch our comfort zones. When young people see their friends going that extra mile for something they are passionate about, be it sport, art, science or community, they are more likely to step out of their own comfort zones too.
The future is theirs
By celebrating the wonderful things that young people do, we get information about what is important them, what they do in their spare time, whether they play sport, design video games, protest about climate change or volunteer for local causes. Connecting with young people now and listening to their aspirations for the future will enable us to best support the next generation to become the best that they can be.
Stand out for being outstanding
I hope this article has convinced you that celebrating young people is really worth it. If you know a young person or group who deserve to be recognised for their achievements, shine a light on them by nominating them for an Oxfordshire Youth Award.