I love the enthusiasm, energy and drive of young people. They bring an excitement and fresh perspective that is infectious. I was reminded of this earlier in the year when I attended the annual award ceremony for Young Scot, Scotland’s youth information and citizenship charity. The room was buzzing with achievement, potential - and selfies.
There’s a good story to tell about young people in the UK. Our education systems may be quite different but, across the UK, rates of participation in pre-school, education, employment and training, as well as entry rates to higher education, are good and improving.
However, we know from listening to young people that difficulties remain for some. These include a lack of opportunities, negative stereotypes, unresponsive services, lack of self-confidence and inter-generational barriers. And data shows mental health remains a significant challenge for many young people. Between the ages of 11 and 15, the UK goes from having one of the best records across 42 countries on life satisfaction, to one of the poorest.
A lack of support networks and school or work pressure can be significant factors impacting on wellbeing, confidence and life satisfaction. Across Scotland, England and Wales, just over half of 15-year-olds (55%) feel they have high levels of family support and peer support. And, although around three-quarters are satisfied with their life at age 15, there is more to be done.
Few of the challenges young people face can be addressed by traditional policy responses alone. That’s why we need to create opportunities for young people to engage directly with us, inform our thinking and shape our decision-making.
Organisations like the UK and Scottish Youth Parliaments take a youth-led approach to helping ensure their voices are heard. And voluntary and third sector organisations provide valuable opportunities to engage with young people from all walks of life. Many of these organisations provide great support for young people, such as Young Scot here in Scotland, and the National Citizen Service in England. Social media is also an important opportunity to engage with young audiences – not just on the challenges facing them, but to recognise and celebrate success.
The Scottish Government recently convened a young people’s symposium, with partners from central and local government, charities and various policy fields, as well as young people themselves. This was about how we recognise and take collective ownership of the challenges facing many young people, work together on creative solutions and measure the impact.
Young people have high expectations of government, both ministers and civil servants – and rightly so. I would encourage and challenge you to ensure you’re doing all you can to listen to, and involve, young people. You might be surprised by the challenge and inspiration they bring.
Follow Leslie Evans on Twitter: @PermSecScot.