How often have we heard a phrase that goes something like this “we need to look after our young people because they are the future” or “school is important because it prepares our young people for their future.” I get the sentiment being expressed, it is positive, and it means well, behind it is a desire to prepare young people for all that is to come as life stretches before them in what can seem like an unknowable limitless horizon.
My confession is that statements like this can frustrate me, because sometimes by concentrating on the future we can overlook the ‘now’ and this can lead to a lack of awareness by adults of the part that young people can play in the ‘now.’ We don’t have to wait until the future to see young people contribute to the world in which we live, to have great ideas and make amazing points, to teach adults about life – they can do this now. There will never be a time when young people are fully prepared for what is to come like a highly polished creation from a production line that ends at the age of 18 with a bright, gleaming fully prepared, emotionally resilient person who can cope fully with all that life throws at them and will change the world forever – that day will never come for them because it has never come for those of us who are adults. Fortunately, our local schools encourage contributions from young people in a number of way making a difference to now, both inside school and the wider community.
A study some years ago interviewed a group of people all aged over 95. They were asked what they would do differently if they could live their lives over again. These wise men and women had a commonality of response, they wished that:
- They had risked more
- They had reflected more
- They had done more things that would live on after they were dead
It can be a sobering thought that even after all the preparation for adult life we will never be fully prepared.
Taking these three points in turn:
- One of the ways that adults can take more risk, as perceived by them, is to encourage greater contribution by young people in decision making, by delegating more responsibility to them and encouraging a bigger role is what we may see as ‘our world.’
- We can reflect more on what young people think and say and take their ideas more fully into account even when they may seem so culturally different to what we know and understand.
- We can encourage them to begin to build a legacy now, rather than wait for them to take their turn down the track. A right sense of self-esteem is a big issue for young people, and one of the key factors in creating that sense of self-esteem is living a life that has a long-lasting purpose.
I appreciate that there are many factors to consider, theories of adolescent development, the value of lived experience, the wisdom that comes with age. A key Safeguarding principle is the acknowledgement that adults are in a position of power in relation to young people just by being adults and my simple thought is this, we work to empower young people so that their future is now.
By Mike Levy.