Friday, 21 February 2014

Why Britain's Young People Are More Engaged Than Ever

The other day I was listening to  Radio 5 Live with Victoria Derbyshire, who was talking to four teenagers in light of the recent Demos report, saying that teenagers are less likely to get a job due to unfair stereotypes, more interestingly however it also included data that suggests that today's youth (my generation), are more socially and politically engaged than past generations:
  • 87% believe social media is effective in driving change
  • 38% have signed a petition online
  • 29% have used Facebook or Twitter to raise awareness of a cause
  • 19% have donated money online
It was this, in particular that caught my interest. Two-thirds of teachers thought that today's youth are more politically engaged than their own, however, evidence would suggest we are also the most prosecuted and pressured generation for some time. Surely that's unfair?  (Click to look back at a previous post on our struggling youth and poor education system). 

Social media excites me. Its invigorating. A constantly, rapidly evolving creature that is truly revolutionising absolutely everything in every corner of society. As a teenager, I know that, because I'm at the frontline. I've grown up alongside social media, and seen it become the young person's tool.

 Young people aren't interested in politicians fumbling around playing the same old dirty politics, and the same old people, playing the same old game. That's not why we're seeing a sudden increase engagement. It's because as young people, we now have our own tools and methods, our own ways to have a voice and to engage, that is really relevant to us. We can use Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to raise awareness, or to fight a cause in our own way, without the requirement of all that boring old stuff, because we have our own platform. Jonathan Birdwell, Head of the Citizenship and Political Participation Programme said "They [teenagers] value bottom-up social action over top-down politics, and social enterprise over government bureaucracy." This summarises exactly my point; we're creating our own political opinions and methods and social media shares responsibility for this. 

In social media, we have a perfectly tailored platform just for us (after all, we made it) which we can use to get engaged in all types of social and political issues. In addition to this, it's not just a very accessible platform, but an increasingly effective one, especially for teens who know how to use it in the most successful manner. Social media make it very easy to reach a vast amount of people, and share thoughts, and to get involved. People can join online communities about certain issues they feel strongly about, and get very involved in an area purely from a computer or smartphone. It really is a revolution in the way we campaign.

However, there is only a limit to the positive impact this engaged generation can have, due to the unfair stereotypes produced by the media. Government and business alike should really consider listening and engaging with this enthusiastic, and very well-informed generation. Personally I think, in certain cases such as the obvious, education, we have the primary experience of how the system works for the people in it. We deserve to have our willingness to express opinions on issues such as education treated like gold dust, especially seeing as Michael Gove certainly doesn't know what he's doing.

As I have already shown, I also think that my generation is the generation that really understands the nature of social media, and our opinions on it should also be listened to eagerly. In Chicago, at a convention to educate youths from unprivileged backgrounds about internet safety, it was discovered that teens are very aware of the dangers of the internet, and make the conscious decision on how open they are online. Furthermore, it was revealed that in many cases, teens have come up with methods and approaches to internet safety unknown to the adults teaching.

I think I've shown quite clearly why my generation are the most socially and politically engaged for a long time. But it needs to be realised by the people in charge, who should use this to their advantage and consult young people, and take them seriously. Media stereotypes are clearly exaggerated, and are untrue for the majority. From my experience, most people my age are hard-working and determined to carve out the best future for themselves as possible. Political parties especially, have ignored young people particularly in policy choice, focusing on pensioners who give them the golden ticket to power. This ought to change, and Britain's bright youth should have more of a say on what happens in Parliament.

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