Not certain if anyone over 45 years of age can remember actually being young, as in remember the realities of it, without romanticising it. For some strange reason as we age young people and everything they do apparently annoys older people. Their music hurts our ears and makes no sense to us. They are either not committed enough to causes or lacking in information about their commitment to a cause. They, according to us, seem reluctant to work, vote or participate in life in general. They are too busy wasting their time on Xboxing, overusing apps and generally they seem to fail us as a cohort. I am guessing some of this disillusionment with younger people is, to some degree, connected to having birthed them for a reason that is secreted away until they fail us, which seems to occur in their teens. Whatever it is youth have always been an inadequate cohort for the aging population.
I don’t know about you but I sort of remember being young and without the rose coloured spectacles I remember enjoying some of it and hating other parts of it. As a young person I was invincible and because of this I played close to the edge of everything I did, personally and politically. But then I come from an abusive home so I was not an atypical teen?
So when I was first asked to write something about youth I was like ok what can I write, and nothing came. I was devoid of thought and tried to evade the request. But today I am angry, very angry. National rolled out their solution to youth crime and as per usual it totally missed the mark and relies on punitive victim blaming. Having been a youth (yes we all have and I truly think we should NOT forget this), who got into petty crime, having worked with youth, having lived with youth, and having supported young people I am ashamed to say that we get it wrong when it comes to our young people.
When I was a teen I left home headed to the big city and got fully embedded in a world of criminal activities, alcohol and drug taking. I generally bummed around avoiding work, responsibility and planning for my future. The system, whilst certainly not perfect in any shape or form did allow me to play within the margins. I could fall down and be helped up. Ok I had to wear a label but I was still helped up. There were recovery centres, a benefit that did not sanction me at the push of a button. I had time. Time to find out through various avenues who I was what I wanted and eventually how to get it. Time is what we are no longer giving our young. At primary school we get them to think about what they need to save for – like their pension. We push them through school demanding they achieve at a level that must feel like they are constantly on fire or worse still at a rave 24/7. By the time they get to uni they can take a bit of a breather in O week, but then they must figure out which degree is the right degree to get them that job which will see them through till they are either dead or needing to find another job because the market moves so quickly.
Young people today are expected to know exactly what it is they want to do and then get on to it and save for their future. If they trip they must immediately pick themselves back up and keep going. There is no breathing space. Mistakes are punished in such a way as to think that we have forgotten how many times we fell and were helped up. Hannah McQueen the money guru who is welcomed with open arms and no critique argues that young people cannot waste time doing things that will make the taxpayer resentful. Really, what is it we are resentful about? So young people must know exactly what it is they will do with the rest of their lives even whilst the rest of their lives is being turned into mincemeat.
If you fall these days there are no longer space such as Hanmer Springs, an eight week recovery centre based in the south island, that allowed people the space to think, learn and test their new learnings. I know it wasn’t perfect but for all its wrongs TIME was something we valued. If you fall over now – you are sanctioned by WINZ, sent into programmes that make you race around barely learning anything outside how to yell YES/NO SIR. This new programme the National Party are rolling out has been tried before and guess what – it didn’t work then. Why? Because it was harsh and punitive and ignores the reality that young people need space and time to find out who they are.
It’s time to stop marching our young people through to a cut-off date as if they will run out of points if they are not sorted now and must then exit the room forever. We need to slow things down for them . For all the shit I experienced I managed to meet some awesome people who shared important lessons that I am just putting into practice now. I have some of the best stories, and I can spin a yarn that is entertaining. In my journey I managed to become an alcohol and drug counsellor, worked as the director of Rape Crisis, got a PhD and now works in various roles in my local community. This for a kid who left home at 16 and lived on the margins of society. Our kids need our stories and they need the space to create their own. I for one want them to have the world at their feet so that one day they will look back and say I made it even against the odds. I do not want us standing around a freshly dug grave saying what the hell went wrong.
By Dr Kyro Selket.