Young people get a lot of bad press, which leads to negative perceptions of them from individuals looking on from the outside. However, people are usually only seeing what they want to see. All they see is the headlines, criminal activities or bad attitudes, rather than the actual person underneath all of that.
There is so much more to young people than what they do and how they are perceived. If you look closely at many of them and take the time to get to know them, you will see that they are more witty, intelligent, caring, funny and vulnerable than you think. They also have really good hearts hidden beneath the surface; however, they are unlikely to show them to just anyone – you’ve got to break through the surface first.
A few months ago, I met a young man, who has recently turned 18. He has been arrested more than once and already spent time behind bars. He would steal and carry a knife. I knew none of this when I met him, but even if I had known, it would not have mattered to me, which I would have been the case with some people.
He is a sweet and funny individual, with one of the most adorable faces I’ve ever seen. Although he’s cheeky and can sometimes be rude, he always treats me with care and respect. I am also incredibly proud of him for going to college and embarking on a subject that he loves, because he wants to do something with his life.
I can see that he is an individual who needs support and kindness shown to him, which is possibly why he responded so well to me. I simply addressed him with a smile the first time I saw him and then tried to get him involved in a project that we were working on. Sometimes, that is all that a young person needs to open up.
Two years prior, I met another young man, who has also been arrested and who also used to steal. He’s carried out community service and been involved in some foolish things, but he happens to be very intelligent.
For a 17-year-old, he is wise beyond his years, but you would have to embark on a genuine conversation with him to realise that, because I know it can be easy for people to pre-judge him based on his appearance. This is a young man who did well at school, is currently in college and intends to go to university. He is also likes to read, which is not a common occurrence amongst young men.
There is a lot more to his story than people know and he is more vulnerable than he makes out, but you would miss this unless you took the time to genuinely get to know him. Once you get to know him, you will also find that he has a very loving heart, which happens to be one of his best qualities.
Then there is my friend who is currently in prison. The media have portrayed her as a cold-hearted monster and people have lapped it up, without even knowing the person she really is. However, I know that person. I went to school with her, which gave me the opportunity to interact with the girl who had a good heart and kind spirit, before she got in too deep with the wrong guy and went on a downward spiral.
As I write to her, I see a vulnerable young woman, who knows that she has made a series of mistakes that has led to her to a jail cell. I also see the good person that I knew at school, who supports me, encourages me and asks about my younger sister.
I will put my hands up and say that she did wrong and made a grave mistake, but people seem to forget that she didn’t twist the knife in. She has also never had the chance to express her feelings or her side of the story, which has led to completely negative perceptions of her character and the media displaying her as some sort of monster, which is not fair.
There are many other examples that I could give of young people who have so much more to offer than the negative perceptions people have of them, because that is the sad reality of the world we live in.
Countless young people are not encouraged or unable to tell their stories. In fact, young people are not given much of an opportunity to use their voice at all, which leads to one-sided connotations and the negative view of young people as a whole.
The older generation needs to spend more time with young people, so approach them and speak to them just like you would speak to anyone else. Talk to them about general subjects, don’t pass judgements and make them feel involved whenever you can – then you will really see who they are.
Of course, not every young individual will be receptive or automatically nice, but sometimes it just takes a little longer to build that trust. There is more to young people than meets the eye and there is usually a lot more going on beneath the surface than you realise.
Look past the stealing, drug dealing, anger, bad attitude and violence, to the good that is in them, because it usually is there. Just take some time to get through to them and you will soon see that there are a lot of beautiful hearts and wonderful talent you may have missed.
What are your perceptions of young people?