I was really pleased when Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society got the cross government 'youth brief' because you don't have to spend much time with Mr Hurd to know he is an advocate, supporter and ally of young people. I was therefore interested in the response he received from colleagues, friends and commentators when he said young people needed more grit. His comments came on the back of business saying (yet again) that young people need more soft skills to get on in the work place. Given we all need these skills for everyday living I think these skills are anything but soft but that is a different issue.
I was really pleased to hear Nick, a Minister at the heart of this government, focus on 'grit'. As a long time campaigner for PSHE education in schools and health and well being in youth, community, care and secure settings I heard something different than some who accused him of underestimating young people. Maybe I heard (hear) only what I wanted to hear - a Minister saying schools should do more PSHE. Anyhow I hope we have just found another advocate for PSHE and I shall be writing to him to encourage him to keep up the advocacy on this and other related issues of young people's development. I shall also try to get a a word in on this issue in at my next meeting with him about the Compact.
Those who did take from his comments that young people do not have grit are absolutely right to challenge that. Of course they do, in spades. Day in day out at Brook we see young people with grit, determination and emotional intelligence in bucket loads often way beyond their years. I had the privilege of being part of a small round table with young people recently about sex and sexuality in which they talked openly, honestly, with candour and eloquence that is light years away from those young people we see portrayed in the media with frightening frequency.
Their message - that we continue to push sexuality and sexual issues under the carpet and often leave them ill prepared to navigate their way through puberty, adolescence, early sexual relationships and adulthood - is a matter of shame for successive governments. And that is true now more than ever as we learn more about online bullying, sexual exploitation, violence and abuse. Our responses to all these issues must be determined, coherent and focused on removing structural inequalities and developing common humanity and pro social behaviours. It is all too easy to focus on technological solutions (that are part of the answer), but absolutely not all of it.
The best answer as - you would expect me to say - lies in education that in turn promotes culture change - building a culture where it is seen as wrong to hurt and bully people that are different for whatever reason, and as important a culture in which it is absolutely right to ask for help. I was struck by an article in the Guardian today where a young woman said too often adults don't help you in real life when it (bullying) is happening face to face let alone online. That was true when I was at school, and that must change.
I often digest news report and wonder how different things really are for young people now from when you or I were young. It is easy to talk about the things that have changed - and there are many of them - the internet for one. When I worked at the National Children's Bureau Professor Rachel Thomson presented a fascinating story of three generations of women in one family. One thing stuck out in the discussions afterwards - much had changed, but they had common feelings in different situations, and second that we will lose our way in work with young people if we forget what it felt like to be young ourselves.
I think I had a pretty typical mostly happy childhood. Adolescence may have been a bit hairy for others watching at times, particularly my parents, as I became independent and searched high and low for an identity I was happy to own. I delighted in pushing the boundaries - possibly as far as they would go in all directions at times - so when I hear people talk about the depravity of young people's summer holidays and long nights clubbing I quietly smile to myself and remember how much fun it was. Mostly. And I wonder whether or how much things have really changed, or whether we one, two, three of four decades on have just forgotten what it was like to be young, and are worried because it isn't exactly the same and so we can't quite understand it.
So I almost jumped out of my chair with delight last night when the tables were reversed in a feature on R4 last night. The report started with vox pops from Malia in Crete. The same place I went on holiday when I completed my A levels. The report was peppered with disgust at the behaviour of the young but when the young people talked it sounded pretty much like the early 90s to me.
A young woman from UK Youth Parliament and a journalist in her 40s, were presented with the evidence that young people are drinking less, doing less drugs and getting pregnant less than 20 years ago. It was so refreshing to hear a conversation between generations that started from a position of respecting young people, and thinking of them as talented, moral agents; as young people who should be having fun, pushing boundaries and learning who they are.
With this starting point the adult guest was free to describe her heady days of being young, and express her concern that maybe, just maybe some young people have to grow up too fast, deal with too much, and so are missing out on being young. The younger guest was able to say sometimes things are really tough, we don't always want to party, and sometimes you don't give us credit for our maturity.
It was the type of conversation about young people I want to see and hear more of. One that reflects the reality of young lives, and the reality of those young lives lived by people now slightly older, creating bridges between generations, rather than great big lakes. Well done Radio 4. A role model for other media outlets I hope.