Year of Young People – A time for change?

In this month’s Year of Young People blog Claire McDonald reflects on her experiences of growing up. She is now studying towards an MSc in Psychology with her ongoing dissertation examining perceptions of risk, drawn on data from the IVY project.

Lessons for change

When I was thinking about Year of Young People 2018 my initial thought was that, as a 23-year-old, I was not a ‘young person’ anymore and did not have much to contribute to this. I have since been informed that I just qualify to be considered a ‘young person’ – which is just as disheartening. However, it has been said that the hope for Year of Young People is to make young people feel valued and an integral part of society. As a young person, I can certainly get behind this ambition.

What should be celebrated about being a young person – and not be confined to young people – is the opportunity to develop a genuine interest in something you have previously had no exposure to. The time and space for such development is often not afforded to young people. From my experience, we are put under so much pressure throughout our educational years to be able to develop interests in anything other than the curriculums imposed on us and passing exams. Yet some amazing young people do develop these passions and I have seen them become involved in great causes, whether political or social.

We have a lot to say and a lot we want to change, however, we are usually not given a platform, not listened to, and not permitted to voice our opinions. Despite this, we face social, cultural, and psychological dilemmas on a daily basis, many of which have been exacerbated by the ever-present social media – a relatively new consideration. I have had conversations with some older people who often express irritation about the current discussions around gender, sexuality and mental health they have seen in the media. They will often say these discussions are due to young people (‘snowflakes’) who are offended by ‘everything’. I actually see this effect as the real progress young people are making in social and political frameworks – are we waiting on the older generations to catch up? We are not ‘offended’ by everything, we simply want discussions that have previously been neglected in order to foster change in the future.

What we can learn from young people

I was late to the game in terms of finding something that I had a genuine interest in. Over the past year I have become involved in projects with passionate people at IVY and CYCJ. This involvement has really fuelled my interest in supporting young people who have experienced adverse circumstances in their lives and often come into contact with the justice system in one form or another. Like many others I know who have found a new interest or career path, this was not something I had ever previously considered important to me. I felt like I had stumbled upon this, but now it is something that I spend increasing amounts of time thinking about, reading about, and discussing.

It has been a huge learning curve for me. One of the most striking lessons I have learned is the importance of young people’s narratives – the richness of their experience is really what makes you think about their lives as individuals and not be tempted to pool every young person into the same box of preconceptions. While quantitative research in this area is important and valued by governments, law-makers and the media, we really need to look beyond the numbers attached to young people, the statistics of youth crime and the ‘problems’ they pose for society which are represented in the media.

Only through examining the stories of young people have I seen that they are all unique. There is no set suite of ‘problems’ that applies to every young person involved in the Criminal Justice System, and no tick-box standard which can be applied to every young person. They all have experiences which are inherently theirs, carrying a meaning for them which should not be impeded on by others. These young people should be actively heard and treated fairly, not differently, simply because they are seen as a ‘problem’ or ‘risk’ to society. Yes, we must acknowledge the vulnerabilities of such young people, but we must also remember the strengths these young people have – not to see the one side of them that society wants to be ‘fixed’. Even in my limited experience I have seen brilliant flashes of humour and resilience from young people during incredibly difficult times. The support young people receive should be a major consideration of the justice system and in the practice of professionals who work with young people. Hopefully, the number of missed opportunities to appropriately support young people will reduce and they will be given the time and opportunities to succeed in their lives in a way that is meaningful to them. They deserve a sense of hope

My hope for Year of Young People is that it does not last solely for a year; that it inspires a change in society which endures. I hope that in 2018 and beyond, young people feel valued in society, not dismissed as being ‘snowflakes’ but recognised as active in a changing society. I also hope that the narratives of young people play a greater role in how young people are treated in all areas, not just the Justice System, and that their experiences inform changes in practice.

About our Blogger

You can learn more about Claire via @clairefmcdo

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