We welcome today’s guest post by Sharon Whittaker, Communications Worker at Include Youth. Include Youth is an independent non-governmental organisation that actively promotes the rights, best interests of and best practice with disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people.
(*would like to meet)
Who told boxers Paddy Barnes, Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan, or rowers Michael Campbell, Richard and Peter Chambers; you will achieve great things with your sport?
Few people achieve great things, like winning an Olympic medal, or even ordinary things, like learning how to read and write, without someone taking the time to tell them ‘you are good at that.’
This week I spent some time with a young person from our Give and Take Scheme, who in his 21 years has lived through more pain and isolation than I could ever imagine. He in many ways is the profile of boy you read about in the papers, watch on the news or see in tweets with the hashtag #scumbag included, yet he is the real success story.
It took just one person to tell Glen he was good at something for him to believe in himself enough to pursue it. Without this, more times than not young people like Glen too easily become the self-fulfilling prophecy they hear about every day in the news headlines around them – for these news headlines not only inform, they shape opinion.
An examination of the UK Government in 2008 by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child raised concerns about the “general climate of intolerance and negative public attitudes towards children, especially adolescents, which appears to exist in the state party, including the media.” A stereotype which is particularly detrimental when we look at how children and young people in conflict with the law are portrayed.
I understand the pressures to deliver the news online, offline, in a blog, with audio, in 140 characters and all yesterday; but I struggle at times to understand why so many report these young people’s stories in isolation of the wider context of their lives.
I don’t expect the media, or our elected-representatives for that matter, to have motives or attitudes that always coincide with mine; but I do hope to read more stories about why vulnerable and disadvantaged young people come in to conflict with the law or struggle to gain education, training or meaningful employment.
Only by understanding and addressing the harsh and often tragic struggles which many children and young people fight, day in day out, will we begin to address the systemic problems which serve to isolate and marginalise some of our most vulnerable and in need citizens.
If we can move away from language which demonizes and dehumanises children and young people – scumbags, lowlifes, hoods and thugs – and move towards a more balanced discussion about the challenges facing young people at risk, an approach which reports more about the underlying causes, then we create a much greater legacy for young people in our communities.
“The generation of fear, suspicion and hatred triggered and sustained by moral panics stigmatises, criminalises, ostracises and exiles the ‘other’, the ‘outsider’, the ‘outlaw’. (Scraton 2007: 232-3)
Glen isn’t an Olympian nor has he won any notable medals (that I’m aware of). He is however a talented young person with an inspiring story, which, if given the opportunity he tells really well. Please take a few minutes to watch ‘The Devil Has Won.’