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‘Wearing your hood up isn’t proof you’re causing trouble’
SO often issues facing our youth hit the headlines, but it is rare we hear their voices or concerns.
But at a recent presentation, Worcestershire’s Youth Cabinet did just that – they spoke out and voiced the issues worrying their generation.
The group, elected by their peers, represent the views and opinions of young people to local and national decision makers. In their presentation, they said the main concerns of Worcestershire’s youth were negative stereotyping, bullying, disrupted learning, having nowhere to go, relations with the police, racism, public transport and road safety.
These eight issues sparked interest and some surprise from the editor of your Worcester News, who attended the presentation organised by the Shenstone Group.
Over the next seven weeks a series of features, Voices, will investigate these concerns and give the youth of Worcestershire a voice in their community.
Worcester News editor Peter John said: “Frankly some of the issues they raised surprised me. Much of what they talked about was how they were perceived and how that perception translated into how they were treated.
“I felt then they deserved the chance to explain their concerns to a wider audience so we devised the idea of Voices, which is about letting these young people put their message across directly to the people of the county.”
The Youth Parliament’s slogan, ‘Nothing about us without us’, highlights their desire to get their opinions out there.
But the group doesn’t just want people in power to listen – members also recognise the importance of getting support from their local communities.
Chairman of the cabinet Edward Workman, aged 17, said: “The Youth Cabinet is about making a positive difference as opposed to a negative one, which has always been the way we are portrayed, especially in the media.
“We want to get our voice out to everyone.”
Lee Rodwell, aged 17, who represents Wychavon on the cabinet, said: “A lot of the issues have been around for years. Some are very local but others, like stereotyping, are national.
“The main problem is the whole hoodie thing. It is something young people do wear, but so do a lot of adults. Just because you are wearing the hood up doesn’t mean you are causing trouble.”
A report published this year showed under-25s were twice as likely to have experienced discrimination as other age groups.
The report, The Attitudes to Age in Britain 2010/11, carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions, revealed that 68 per cent of respondents under 25 indicated they had experienced discrimination. In comparison to other age groups they were at least twice as likely to have experienced age prejudice.
Mr Workman added: “They always seem to show the same two images of the riots and they are of what looks like a young person.
“There is still a lot more that needs to be done to stop negative stereotyping. It affects all of the other seven issues.”
But what do those who work in the media think about their role in stereotyping? Mr John said: “I think stereotyping is very complex and the media get blamed for what is often an existing prejudice. However, I do think some national newspapers instinctively or deliberately play to the prejudices of their readers and therefore help to reinforce some stereotypes.
“I don’t think the Worcester News stereotypes people in a negative way. We report what events happen and what other people say, yet we are accused of stereotyping.
“Part of our problem is that news is made up of the unusual. Relatively few people are attacked as they walk our streets. So it’s news when it happens. But some people lose sight of that and think its commonplace and start stereotyping our streets as unsafe, which they aren’t.
“So if police tell us they are hunting for a gang of ‘hooded’ youths who mugged someone in the street, that is a description of an attack. By reporting it does it mean we are accusing every young person with a hood of being a criminal? No, of course it doesn’t.
“Let’s turn this argument on its head. Do we stereotype youngsters on our School Notebook pages, when we report on their achievements? Do we stereotype youngsters when we report their sports successes, their charity work?
“I think we report about all types of people. Sometimes those people act within a stereotype. Sometimes they prove the opposite.
“Media is becoming more accessible through internet and social media.
“There are more opportunities for people to have their say. If their true voices are heard, then perhaps people will see past the stereotype – ie – here are what real youngsters think about the issues that really concern them.”
A new group of young people are also being given the chance to get their voices heard by sharing their views and advising key decision makers.
Worcestershire County Council alongside the Youth Cabinet is looking for 10 people from each district to become volunteer advisers.
The young people who are successful will advise county councillors how the £1 million to be annually invested into the commissioning of positive activities, should be spent.
Kirsty Fraser, Youth Voice Development Worker, said: “This is a great opportunity for young people to advise adults and influence the decisions being made about what activities will be available to them in their area.”
• To volunteer for one of the roles, contact Kirsty Fraser on firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.