Young People need Support and Encouragement : 5 August 2006

Recent articles and letters about young people should remind us that we were all young once, and most of us have had teenage children. So, rather than condemn youngsters in general for hanging around street corners, making a lot of noise or indulging in vandalism, crime or drug or alcohol abuse, here is another view

The teens and early twenties are a difficult age. The youth of that age are no longer children, but they have not matured to become adults either. Physical changes are taking place, and these have an effect on the way they think. They want to be independent, but, in their early and mid-teens at least, are not quite mature enough to live on their own. This can lead to frustration with home and school, and can be very difficult and worrying for parents.

They seem to have an abundance of energy and high spirits, which leads to a search for excitement, and the dismissal of anything which is not exciting as “boring”, however interesting it may be. Teenagers are young and highly impressionable. It is, perhaps, the most formative time of our lives, as our ideas, interests, friendships and relationships formed then can last a lifetime. It is therefore extremely important that they are encouraged to direct their energy towards activities which are constructive, exciting and socially acceptable. If we don’t take the trouble to help and support them in this way, we should not complain if they make trouble for us.

The traditional way of harnessing the energy of youth for the good of the community is to get them interested in sport, including adventure sports as well as competitive sports. This used to be an important part of schooling. More recently schools, particularly inner city schools, have been encouraged to sell off large parts of their playing fields for development, and there are so many rules and regulations governing the activities that teachers can organise outside school hours, including worries about legal responsibility in case of accidents, discipline, insurance costs etc., that few schools provide many outings or activities of this kind.

Nobody seems to understand that young people need challenges, and if an activity is made so safe that there is no risk, it ceases to be challenging, and loses its appeal.

If children are not encouraged to do sport at school, they are less likely to take an interest in sport after they have left school. For example, when I finished school, I used to go caving in the Yorkshire Dales, and was one of many thousands of young people who enjoyed this fine and exciting adventure sport. Nowadays I understand the number of people who go caving regularly is no more than a few hundred, and some of the clubs that were set up for potholing, no longer do any and have locked their equipment away, in case they become liable, if it is used, and there is an accident.

One might think that sailing is the kind of activity which would be immensely popular and that sailing clubs would be oversubscribed. Yet, I know of sailing clubs which are crying out for younger people to come and join them – racing yachts, in particular, are often short of crew.

There are village cricket clubs. Many of them are short of players. We need many more – particularly in a county which is proud of its cricket.

When I was at school I was encouraged to take an interest in politics, and the political parties had mass membership. Young people were always involved, and student political demonstrations were regular events. Politics can be interesting, exciting, highly competitive, stimulating and challenging, but nowadays none of the main political parties has more than half a million members, and all of them would welcome new young members.

These are activities and clubs I know about, but I expect the same applies to many others.

Something has got to be done to promote activities for young people which are healthy and challenging. This cannot all be left to the schools. We should let young people know how many thrilling and challenging recreational opportunities there are, and go out of our way to welcome and recruit them, and provide the facilities which will help them to develop physically and mentally into mature adults, who are useful and responsible members of the community.

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