Back in the old days, long before the young people we work with were dreamt of, many of those who serve on the Board of Management were raised themselves in a time where it was understood that young people should be ‘seen and not heard’. Decisions about the present which would affect the future, were reserved for older, ‘wiser’ heads, whose judgement would be unaffected by the clarity of young perceptions and whose compromises would lead to a stable future.
These days, such attitudes seem so last century. What do we have as a result? We’ve a world which is being slowly, becoming rapidly, killed by overconsumption and inequality. We’ve reserved decisions for people who won’t have to deal with their long term consequences and we still don’t value, as a society, the clarity of thought which young people can bring to conversations.
We still need the compromises brought by challenging new ideas with tests of practicality understood by those with experience, but we don’t need ‘we’ve always done it this way so we should now’ and we don’t need ‘we tried that before and it didn’t work so we shouldn’t try it again’. We need the involvement of young people in the decisions which affect them and especially which will affect them as adults later, long after us older people have gone.
Young people should be seen. They tend not to be in some of the most surprising places, like Paisley’s town centre and they tend not to be in the places where decisions are made. They should be heard, and encouraged to speak up, because they’re citizens just like old people like me and because their perspectives are born of a fresh look at life which would otherwise be missing. And being heard, but not listened to, is pointless. We have to recognise that effective expression comes from practice, we have to give young people the opportunity to practice expressing their ideas and we have to make additional effort to listen where it’s a little more difficult because they lack practice in being seen and heard.
So, where to start? Youth work should be aimed at supporting young people to confidently interact with adults in authority, so that they can continue to do so later as adults, and, hopefully, as adults they’ll remember expressing their own views and they’ll seek those of younger people in turn. We don’t have the answer, because we need millions of answers in the form of supporting young people to express themselves, to do so confidently and appropriately and to expect to be listened to and egnaged with, with respect for their potential as much as their existing experience.
So, this section of our website is an experiment in listening to , hearing and seeing young people. It doesn’t matter what they want to be listened to about as much as it matters that we develop our listening skills ourselves. The young people we support in Paisley and thereabouts can use this section to say what’s important to them and how they feel about it, to ask questions, to publish creative work, to link to information and services useful from their perspective, or fun from their perspective, or … whatever they’d like to use the opportunity for.
We’ll still maintain a cautious approach to moderation, and we’ll still reserve the right to correct, if needed, misplaced apostrophes (for me, the correct use of the apostrophe remains the root of all civilisation, which while it shows how old I am, remains part of effective expression).
If we can, we’ll support young voices to be heard and listened to. If this doesn’t prove attractive to young people then at least we tried.
Paisley, and the rest of the world, belongs not to the old, but to the young, who’ll inherit the consequences of our decisions. I hope that by listening to young people, we’ll leave them a better place.