Tuesday, 05 February 2013

Young People need You

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“It takes a village to raise a child” [Old African proverb]

Whenever I say that The Challenge Network connects people in a diverse society, people think I’m talking about race.

And yet – for the teenagers I know -the division that affects them the most is not race, religion or colour. 

It’s age.

Over the last 50 years we have conducted an almost unremarked on social experiment where we have removed almost all adult friendship from young people’s lives.

We moved young people from mixed-age work places to youth-dominated colleges; from mixed age social spaces like churches and sports clubs to youth-dominated clubs and computers; from gathering of ‘family friends’ to gatherings of their own friends. And with each step we have left ‘the job’ of befriending young people with the professionals: social workers, teachers, youth workers. Professionals – the very people who can’t be real friends.

The results are in and they’re not pretty. In 2007 UNICEF ranked
the UK as the worst place in the rich world to be a child*. Our young people were more likely to lack kind friends, less likely to believe they can get a skilled job, and more likely to have a bad relationship with their parents.

Most of us are deeply shocked by this. We want our young people to have what they need.

And yet – having spent the last 50 years creating an adult free space for young people – how do we respond when we learn that what they need is us.

* The Child Well-Being Report, UNICEF, 2007 

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