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challenges for young people

An array of young people are in a room together competitively solving Rubik’s Cubes. We got lost on the way to the event and a young man with a Rubik’s Cube t-shirt directed us to the hall, saying ‘you won’t miss the rattling of the cubes when you’re close’. He was quite right. The plastic on plastic clicked away, the hall was buzzing. Some of the competitors were very young, some clearly were university students.  Parents sat on the sidelines reading their books. The event was part of National Youth Week.

During National Youth Week many events are held nationwide. It offers opportunities for young people to compete in and attend activities. Events fall in a range of categories from the arts, to talks and motivational speeches, learning skills (such as skating, dancing, music, cooking, and sports) and festivals. It’s about getting young people engaged in a community. It’s also a time to reflect on the challenges young people face.

What challenges? We live in a society that worships the beauty of youth. The high prevalence of cosmetic surgery is evidence that many older people want to look younger. Botox is also there to remove the creases of age. Even shaving one’s pubic hair can be interpreted as evoking pre-pubescence. This is only a glance on the surface of young people’s interactions with the rest of society though.

The beauty pages may love their adolescent glow, but in general young people are derided and dismissed. Politically, their opinions and experiences are not recognised with the ability to vote; socially, they face a great deal of stigma and issues that older people may not often consider. Boredom and alienation are all too common and set young people in the path of danger.

In an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey conducted in 2007, it was found that a quarter of young people (aged 16-24) had a mental illness. Substance Abuse disorders particularly were more prevalent in young people than any other age group.

Young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (GLBTI) in particular suffer mental health problems. Beyondblue has identified this group of people as being particularly at risk due to the discrimination they face. In the wake of an astounding number of suicides of GLBTI teens, this still remains a significant challenge young people face.

Young people also face homelessness at worryingly high rates. On any given night in Australia, 105,000 people are homeless and nearly half are under the age of 25. The causes of homelessness are varied. It can be abuse or domestic violence, family breakdown, financial problems, being ‘kicked out’ or otherwise unwanted, or mental health and/or substance abuse issues. The issue of homelessness is often hidden from view, but it nonetheless affects the lives of many young people.

Adding to this, youth unemployment rates are perennially high. In Australia, youth unemployment is increasing. Young people are particularly vulnerable to the international economic downturn. Sectors which are significantly populated by young people, such as the retail industry, have been hit especially hard. Even with youth award rates which allow employees to pay people under 21 years of age a lower amount than their adult counterparts, the natural lack of experience and training of young people can be a significant barrier to finding meaningful employment.

The challenges to young people lie in loneliness, of disconnect. Perhaps it is a disconnection with family and the home, or perhaps a disconnect with a place of training, with school, of finding meaning in life through employment and activity. It may also be a disconnect with the community and with each other which renders adolescence as pertaining to a particular vulnerability to mental harm.

Youth week, and engagement events like it, plays an important role of countering these problems faced by young people. Connecting them, teaching them, giving them something to do.

Young people still face a challenge on a wider level – the challenge of stigma. Young people are ridiculed in the media as a matter of course. In stories featuring young people, the news media will mainly focus on drug and alcohol abuse; theft, graffiti, and other petty crime; their supposed lack of literacy and numeracy skills (which is odd given that young people are more educated than ever before); and unprotected sex. Usually the laziness and general uncouthness of young people are emphasised.

The effect? Young people are viewed with an eye of suspicion. Older people might be afraid of them, the public lacks sympathy for them and feel that young people are solely to blame for all of the challenges they face.

The reality isn’t all bad though. Young people are politically engaged and there are a number of large autonomous groups which demonstrate this. For instance, The Oaktree Foundation is run purely by young people in order help fight world poverty through education; whether or not you like their politics, GetUp! has a huge base of support from young people in helping to reshape Australia’s political discourse; and The Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition is a large group of young people campaigning for action to be taken on climate change. Young people have also especially taken to social media to voice their opinions (and also announce to the world what they had for breakfast).

The young people at the Rubik’s cube competition could quickly solve a 4-by-4 cube with the use of only one hand. Apparently, the trick is to remember a series of algorithms and apply it to the puzzle in front of you with certain dexterity and sensitivity in action – the right moves in the right order. This might not be all that is needed to solve the challenges faced by young people, but it provides a good start.

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  1. Pingback: lip magazine: challenges for young people « Erin Stewart

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