whoever you want to be…

Unlocking a lost generation of potential

It can’t have escaped your attention that young people today have got it pretty damn tough. University fees are now so high that only the most elite candidates (or those who have rich parents to support them) can even contemplate further education. And for the lucky few who do manage to get onto degree courses (though calling them lucky given how much debt they’ll be saddled with for the rest of their adult lives seems somewhat paradoxical), there’s no guarantee they’ll  even get a job at the end of it.

Then there are the doomsayer statisticians who – if they are to be believed – are highlighting deeply worrying levels of youth unemployment despite the various measures the Government’s has put in place to address the problem. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, for example, show the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is now more than double that of the wider population, with one in five young people not in employment, education or training (NEET). And in a recent report Unicef UK put the UK near-bottom of an international league table of young people where employment, education, training and teen pregnancy were concerned. Is it surprising, therefore, that so many young people today feel paralysed by hopelessness?

Yesterday in the news it was reported that an independent girls’ school in London had launched “Blow your own trumpet week,” an initiative to help its pupils celebrate their successes and “raise girls’ sense of self-worth.” Whilst such initiatives must obviously be celebrated as a way of helping make young people feel more valued by society and more positive about the future, it’s worth noting that the pupils in this particular example already have the advantage of attending private school – a privilege which, according to the Brightside Trust, only 7% of young people in this country are bestowed with, despite private school-educated students being “vastly over-represented at leading universities, and in a number of jobs and key professions.”

Of course those who are fortunate enough to have a good education and solid family and financial support still need to be encouraged to succeed, but what about those who aren’t so fortunate? As things currently stand there are thousands of young people who are falling through the gap into obscurity and poverty because they aren’t receiving the support they need – from their families, from their schools and from the Government. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the most ‘at-risk’ young people are the ones who are labelled as ‘trouble makers’ by their teachers and peers. Without some form of intervention these labels can stick for life, and lead to a cycle of underachieving that’s difficult to break.

It’s all very well creating vocational opportunities and training courses for disadvantaged young people, but what the Government’s failing to address is the underlying issues that lead to young people dropping out in the first place. If your home life is chaotic – your parents might have drug or alcohol addictions or mental health problems, for example, meaning you have to care for your younger siblings whilst juggling school work and the normal pressures of being a teenager – and you’ve never had a role model to speak of then you’re hardly likely to be in the best mental state to start an apprenticeship. You only had to watch this week’s episode of The Secret Millions to see that many disadvantaged young people lack the vital interpersonal skills required to succeed in the world of work.

But it’s not all doom and gloom; there are interventions that are helping disadvantaged young people. One such intervention is Teens and Toddlers, a charity which runs the only youth development programme to benefit two sets of vulnerable children simultaneously, raising the aspirations of young people aged between 13 and 17 by pairing them as a mentor and role model to a child in a nursery who is in need of extra support (for example refugees whose first language is not English, or children with autism). The young people act as mentors to the children and the children, in turn, provide the teens with a sense of responsibility.

Outside of the nursery the teenagers take part in classroom sessions with trained facilitators which focus on anger and behavioural management, emotional intelligence (including self-management and social skills) and barriers to achievement, such as bullying and understanding the impact of risky behaviours. At the end of the programme graduates earn an accredited NCFE Level 1 Award in Interpersonal Skills, which helps them on the path to further education and builds their sense of pride.

The success of this model – and the results do show it to be thus, with only 3% of graduates of the programme becoming NEET and 1.6% reporting a pregnancy, despite initial predictions by their teachers that 45% would drop out or become pregnant – has its roots firmly embedded in Psychosynthesis, a branch of positive psychology that focuses on potential-orientation. The essence of this approach is that everyone – irrespective of class, wealth or race – has the innate potential to be successful. But for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds it’s obviously harder to realise this potential.

Many disengaged young people don’t believe they’ll ever amount to anything because they feel society’s already written them off. But if they are given responsibility and respect, and shown through experience the breadth of life choices available to them then it can change their outlook completely. This is why the Teens and Toddlers programme works so well. Teens who have never had a positive role model find one in the facilitator, who helps them to understand the scope of their potential and the consequences of the choices they make in life. The time they spend with the young children builds their sense of responsibility and self-esteem, and also gives them valuable insight into what it would be like to be a teen parent.

All young people should have the opportunity to unlock their potential and be the best that they can be – not just the privileged few (myself one of them) who have attended private schools. And whilst achieving that dream will be no easy feat, programmes such as Teens and Toddlers (which I’m fortunate to be involved with) are at least giving the most disadvantaged young people a greater chance of success.

About Belle365

Hi, I’m Belle. Thanks for stopping by. Here's a list of ten things about me: 1. I want to write, but rarely do it. This tortures me daily, and, unless I seek to remedy it by writing more often, will continue to torture me until my dying day. 2. I worry: about hate, about greed, about selfishness, about the state of the world my (God willing) children will inherit. I worry about what people think of me. I worry that this makes me shallow. I worry about things happening to my loved ones. I worry how I would cope. I worry that this makes me selfish. I worry that worrying will send me to an early grave. But I'm so good at worrying that I also wonder what I would do if I wasn't worrying. Probably more writing (see point 1)....Oh. 3. I see myself as two people (though, as far as I am aware, I am not technically schizophrenic): a) the fancy dress loving party girl, who loves nothing more than having fun with her friends, because she has seen through her own experiences that life is short, so why not enjoy the ride? b) the more serious and reflective person who wants to learn and to help people and to find her higher purpose (I suspect it is also she who really, really wants to write). Sometimes these sides are conflicting. Fortunately they are in total agreement when it comes to chocolate, red wine and travel. 4. I don't see myself as an ardent feminist, but the older I get the more frustrated I feel by the societal view of women and ageing. Having just hit the metabolically displeasing age of 35 (now officially past it according to the massive wankflap that is Donald Trump, as well as virtually every media outlet on the planet, whether they overtly state it or not) I hate the fact I am made (and have let myself be manipulated) to feel that my fertility is now teetering on the edge of a clifftop free fall, and that even if I do negotiate this rocky march towards infertility and manage a miracle procreation, my usefulness as a financially solvent career woman will be over, seeing as having a baby in your mid to late thirties is pretty much akin to career suicide. It's enough to make you want to drown yourself in a vat of wine (hence why I often don a wig and do just that - see point 3a). 5. The older I get, the more I realise that you are never too old to love drum and bass (whether you are ever too old to publicly dance to drum and bass is an issue I am currently grappling with). Ditto UK garage. I will never be ashamed of these two great loves. Never. 6. Speaking of great loves, I have two: my husband, who (sickening as it is) completes me, and Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I have loved since I first laid eyes on him as Romeo to Kate Winslet's Juliet, and will love until my dying day (likewise the husband, all being well). As much as I like Kate Winslet, I will never forgive her for leaving him on that door. There was definitely room for two. 7. I am riddled with self doubt, and have a serious case of imposter syndrome, particularly in relation to my fourteen year communications career. I have never understood how anyone could deem me capable of running their campaigns. The lack of complaints would suggest I haven't made a total balls up of it so far. But there's still time. 8. Infinity and death frighten me senseless. I can't even talk about the universe without breaking into a sweat. I need to believe in life after death because death CANNOT be the end. I should probably have some (more) counselling to address these issues. 9. If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would win Gold, Silver and Bronze (to give an example, I sat down an hour ago to work on my new novel, and instead have been updating this bio. I refer you to point 1. Sigh). 10. I make more lists than Buzzfeed. When I die, besides having Oasis's Champagne Supernova played at my funeral (deep breaths - see point 8), I should probably have a To Do list inscribed on my headstone for when I reach the other side...
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