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Change the story about our young people

Rachel Carrell, writing in the Guardian today, makes an important point about the alternative story of social engagement and empowerment of our young people.

It is all too easy to be concerned about young people. There are endless stories, statistics and news items about the pressures they face, the exam culture, the pressure of social media to present a ‘perfect’ story of life to the world etc etc. And there is an element of truth in all of these things. I meet lots of young people for whom the pressures have mounted and who feel overwhelmed by worry or stress. But, I have yet to meet a young person who didn’t also have a fabulous story to tell about something they were interested in, passionate about or enjoyed doing. I have seen students applying for work experience or the most junior of junior roles within the NHS who have more impressive CVs than mine! They have skills, knowledge, flexibility, openness and awareness that is both refreshing and heartening.

Feeling empowered

When considering IQ scores, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn Effect (first published by James Flynn in 1984 and discussed in many subsequent papers by him and others) which describes the trend towards IQ scores on formal assessment increasing over time. When IQ assessments are first tested on a wide sample of adults, the scores are lower than they are over subsequent generations. It doesn’t actually mean that next generations are all ‘cleverer’ than their grandparents, but their knowledge and abilities have moved on. It suggests that knowledge that was once only known by a few has passed into common parlance, that ideas that were once considered complex have become commonplace. I haven’t done the research, but anecdotally, I would suggest that the same is true for EQ – emotional intelligence. When I speak with young people now, and I know there are exceptions, but as a general rule, I find them more flexible, more informed and more engaged with social issues than I or my peers ever were. I think we have a long way to go in supporting our young people and in building resilience and skills to face the challenges of an ever-changing world. But I am also incredibly inspired by what I am hearing from young people.

I think it is time to change the stories we tell about young people. We need to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy of telling them everything is awful and they won’t cope, to noticing and strengthening the stories of hope, passion and having the ability to change things for the better.

Best wishes, Helen

Dr Helen Care

Clinical Psychologist

A Confident Start

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