Give Youth the Benefit of the Doubt
02 Sep 2015 by Joanne Kotelawala
"Young people live in a bubble. They do not know what is happening around them and show little concern or care.” This is a recurring comment of many adults today and, dare I say, even some youth. Why is there such a blatant disconnect?
The National Human Development Report 2014 on Youth and Development: Towards a More Inclusive Future (NHDR) provides some answers. The National Youth Survey indicates that a high percentage of youth do not take on any roles of leadership or engage in community-based activities. Figure 5.2 of the NHDR points out the stark reality.
The three main points tell us that 91.8% have not participated in Youth Corps, 85.6% have not participated in the National Youth Services Council and 61.1% have not actively participated in community-based organizations. Okay, maybe it is that involvement in community-based activities indicated above is too inconvenient or it is not within their scope. But these statistics are replicated even with school and organizational involvement: for example – 65.5% have not actively participated in student councils, 29% have not even led the organization of an event and 29.8% have never held leadership positions such as being a school prefect.
So what prevents youth from engaging in community based activities? I would like to look at two main causes -
Views of parents and elders – Speaking to youth actively engaged in civic-minded activities, you would understand that they have the support and go-ahead of their parents or some elders in their family. Most often, the family would have a background of prior voluntary experiences or there would be another relative actively engaged in this endeavour. Elders, and even some youth, look at additional involvement as opportunities to collect certificates or gain educational experience. If there is no such reward, it is seen as a ‘waste of time’ or ‘nonsense’. However, it is these very roots that help youth to be grounded, to be aware of the realities beyond the boundaries of their own personal lives. Perhaps the integration of volunteerism into the school curriculum would help sensitise youth to the issues surrounding them. Personally, being active in community programmes has not only enabled me to understand the issues faced by other youth, but it has also helped me to value and appreciate so much in life and to gain added skills outside of an academic setting. Indeed, there are no words to express the satisfaction that the time and effort we invest help make a difference in the community.
Lack of an equal status and acceptance – I am sure that many young people would be able to relate to this common scenario, be it from schools or workplaces. Eager and keen youth engage in community-based activities and do so with much energy and enthusiasm, as they feel they can finally engage and make a difference to what they see around them. However, youth often find that these age-old mantras are repeated whenever they bring up new ideas: ‘you first sit down and listen, because this group has years of experience that go beyond your age’, or ‘That idea will not work. We know because we are more experienced than you’. Such attitudes demoralize and disqualify their views and result in non-participation in a group. This is reflected in Figure 5.3 of the NHDR that shows that 93.2% of youth respondents have not been involved in the organization of a group to influence management decisions, while another 84.6% have not even taken an active role in a monthly or weekly activities, such as staff meetings.
While I am not trying to contest the value of experience and the long term perspectives in each field, it is definitely demoralizing to have new ideas rejected purely on this basis, especially since there is nothing that can be done about it besides gaining more experience, for which, we must be given the space. The space to implement, the space to fail, the space to learn and - most importantly - a supportive environment to try again.
Adults often view youth as being largely interested in frivolous past times that are driven and influenced by a lifestyle of consumerism. Young people, however, are more than this. If we look around us, the media constantly portrays youth in this same manner – there is hardly any publicity or portrayal of youth role models who are making a change in their own communities. Our society is in dire need of this positive message – we, as young people, need to lead that cause, thereby ensuring that our siblings do not look up to living a ‘cool’ life, as depicted in the media. This blog is one such step in the right direction, an open forum to carry forth in to the public space youth opinions as well as the provision of an alternate perspective on ‘youth’.
Also, youth, when you do achieve success in your community involvements – take it in your stride; be conscious of how far you have come and how you represent youth within your position. Work and act in a way that all those around you will appreciate the work ethic and contribution of youth in the work place or in the community.
So, yes, we young people like to listen to our music a little louder than others, we like to enjoy free time with our friends, we like to engage in some leisure activities. But that is not all that we are. We also care for our community and our environment. We want to use our skills and knowledge to make a change for the better. Just give youth that space; give them the benefit of the doubt.