Many governmental departments, schools and youth organisations centre many of their policies based on the ‘best’ interests of young people’s well-being and development. But, how much of this is actually shaped by the young people it aims to help? Do these policies genuinely reflect what the youth voice is saying? This blog will look at why listening to young people’s voices for policy changes is vital.  

The Youth Voice

Can you think or remember the last time young people were shown in the UK media voicing their values and opinions? Some of you may have thought of Greta Thunberg, a youth environmental activist from Stockholm. But, to think of any others, it is hard to name a youth voice/s in the UK media that easily comes to mind. Does this mean that the youth are not interested? Or, do the media choose not to focus on the youth voice and prioritise the voice of the older generations?   

Youth participation  

Many of the news regarding the youth focus on a negative portrayal. The media constantly shows youth in a bad light. It is well known in many ways that many of the opinions of the media consumers are coloured by what is presented in the media. For example, Intergenerational Foundation (IF) surveyed the perception of young people in the UK compared to other European Countries [1]. It found that British youth were less likely to be viewed as ‘being friendly, competent, or having high moral standards’ [1].    

This negative light on youth can demotivate young people from voicing their concerns and opinions on matters that affect them. Branding the youth as ‘unfriendly’ and ‘immoral’ in the media will expose the youth to a self-fulfilling prophecy expectation (where the expectations of a group or an individual leads to the expected behaviour being displayed) which as a result could discourage them from participating in policymaking, and deter them from wanting to speak up on matters they care about.           

 “I think politics are very important for the future, but my interest in politics is small because I don’t understand many of the terms. I think it should be taught more in schools and in a way that I can understand.” – Year 8 pupil  

“Many of the rules that affect me right now are decided by others who are not in my shoes and do not grasp what it is like to be young. I think we should have more influence on these policies.” – Year 10 pupil  

“I feel I am not encouraged to take part in politics as it does not seem clear for me to understand. It is confusing and puts me off.” – Year 8 pupil  

The only way young people will learn about policymaking and democracy is by being encouraged to have a voice, being actively heard, and having the opportunity to make and/or influence decisions.   

How can a young person properly participate in politics, the voting process, and decision making if they have had no experience in the processes involved in policymaking? And, how can young people be encouraged to do so if the media do not promote the youth that are making a difference in young people’s lives?  

As our organisation name suggests we want young people to speak up and use their voice. To read about the young people we recognise as making their mark on the UK political scene, look out for a blog later this month called ‘Making a mark, the Youth of the UK’.    

Adult vs Youth   

Society has a traditional view that the youth are underdeveloped and therefore unable to contribute to policy-making appropriately as they would when they are adults. Young people go through the most physical, mental and emotional changes during this period of their life. Many of these changes are generally said to impact the ability of young people’s decision-making skills.  

But, the advantages of encouraging involvement earlier on in life outweigh the above. The youth can learn from early experiences about the impact of decisions on themselves and other people. Encouraging the youth to be involved in political discussion will help them feel valued  in contributing to the broader society. For young people to understand first-hand how policies are made, implemented and affect the public, the youth should have the opportunity and support to express their voice on policies that will affect them currently and as adults.  

Why the government needs to listen to the youth  

The youth voice can shape the policies and procedures made by the government for the better. Policies that fit better with the youth mindset is a better use of government funds as it will affect the young people it aims effectively and reduces the chances of ineffective use of resources. Moreover, the youth are more open and willing to partake if they align with the values that the policies show, as they are shaped by other young people that think similarly to them.  

Below are a few organisations and schemes that promote the youth’s voice. We believe these organisations are providing the support for young people’s involvement in voicing their concerns.   

  • Make Your Mark – Run by the British Youth Council in partnership with the Cabinet Office, this scheme offers to get young people’s points of view heard in the House of Commons [2]. SIWYC encourage our readers who are between the ages of 11-18 years old to get your voice heard by voting about the biggest issues facing young people.    
  • Youth Employment UK – This independent non-profit social enterprise tackles youth unemployment by giving young people a voice on youth employment issues [3], supporting the youth with the skills needed to progress, and providing insight into youth employment and its policy areas. This organisation connects young people to Youth Friendly Employers and has great free resources in their Skills and Careers Hub for 14-24 year-olds.   
  • My Life My Say – This youth-led movement is on a mission to better change the culture of democracy by encouraging young people to vote [4]. One of the leading drivers of youth engagement in the UK, this charity creates and paves the path for the youth to get involved in politics hands-on. Check out their website and read more about their four-step programme to engage the youth in democracy.    

Say It With Your Chest works towards informing and influencing public and policy awareness. We believe at SIWYC that young people should be motivated to take ownership of their future, choices, and the person they want to be. Click on the link below to read more about our mission!