Involving young people is something that I get asked about a lot. People often want to know how they can involve young people in things and get them to have their say. However, sadly, although I have found that some of these people do genuinely want feedback, opinions and ideas from young people, many do not. They say that they want inclusion and that young people are ‘the future’ and ‘the decisions are going to effect them’and all of the other cliche lines that get thrown around all the time. However, how much they actually believe in these statements I’m not sure.
As young people, we are a hassle and we are annoying. This is because, we want things done, we want them done properly and we want them done quickly. We want to see a change. We have energy, and drive, but we need you to help us channel them into something productive. You can’t leave us with false promises because we will remember and we will tell you when you haven’t delivered. All of these things are annoying because it means that you actually have to do something about the issues rather then gathering data, promising changes and leaving the paperwork on a desk to gather dust.
We are also up to date with the latest technologies, generally speaking, and will expect you to be to. Facebook and Twitter are everyday communication tools. You will have to learn to use these sites, if you want to get young people involved. However much you may hate these sites or disagree with them, sometimes you just have to do something you don’t like.
We want to be listened to. Do not invite us to come and sit at one of your meetings to ‘give a young person’s perspective’ and then ignore everything we have to say. Or make us feel unwelcome. What good does that do?! In fact, it probably does more harm then good, as it’s likely to put barriers up between the two age groups rather than achieving anything. If you want a young person present at your meetings, you need to involve them, and you need to seriously listen and take on board what they have to say. Do not discount their ideas or see them as useless without giving them as much thought as you’d give to any ideas submitted by other people around the table. Furthermore, don’t have a discussion group focussing on how to get young people involved, without a young person featuring as part of the group! We are experts in knowing how young people communicate and what issues they’re facing, because we are young people. So it’s daft trying to guess from an adult perspective when you can just come and ask one of us.
Please don’t treat us like aliens. We are not strange creatures from outer space with unidentified flying hormones floating around (I know, I know, this may be a shock). We are humans too(!) and we want to feel like we’re part of your group. We want to feel like one of you, not like a zoo animal put out for observation. Treat us as one of your own, but also, remember that we are only young and sometimes this may affect our judgements on things, and in some instances we may need a bit of care and understanding as certain issues may affect us more then they affect you.
Finally, help with travel costs can go a long way (unintentional pun!). If you can cover our travel costs or offer us a lift home, it will make the world of difference and help to keep us involved. We are skint, as a rule, and travel is normally very expensive. So something that might not seem like much to you will be a massive help to us!
So, to summarise,to involve young people, you need to listen to what we have to say. When I say listen, I don’t mean in one ear and out the other listening, I mean properly listening. You have to treat us with respect (this of course does go two ways), and take us as seriously as anyone else. Once we feel that we’re being listened to, and that something is actually being done about issues that effect us, you will start to see change! One thing young people do have more of then adults, is time. So, if we want a change to occur, and you want change to occur, with the right guidance and support, young people will help you move mountains.