6 in 10 young think NHS is a club drug

The headline is completely false – a shameless lie – entirely made up by me. In my defence, I am being provocative to make a point. If you are not too offended and read on you will receive a full and humble apology.

The point is about how media stories about young people tend to demonise, patronise, sexualise or more commonly just cast them as idiots – perhaps because it catches our attention?

That is why I was *initially* delighted recently when I saw positive headlines about young people generated by a new Demos report Generation Citizen.

The report gained mainstream news coverage with the headline that today’s young people are socially aware, engaged and active – despite harmful stereotypes about them. Part of me wanted to think: “We are doing something right as a society in raising young people! Raise a glass! Let’s take a moment to enjoy it and celebrate!”

However, my cynical journalistic side wasn’t lurking far beneath and asking all sorts of questions about other ways we might interpret these positive headlines.

There is a well-worn news maxim ‘man bites dog’. This refers to the way that if a dog bites a man that isn’t news (dogs are well known to bite) however if man bites a dog, that’s a story!

Applying the man bites dog principle to these headlines is a little alarming. Alarming in the sense that we are so adjusted to headlines about young people saying, for example:

  • they all watch porn on their smart phones
  • they can’t name the Prime Minister
  • they only recognise Churchill as an insurance dog
  • they think a ‘BRIC’ is a four-pack of yogurts (again I made that one up)

So now, is the finding ‘Young People Not Unethical’  a stop press moment? Do we think “Well who’d have thought, eh? That’s news!”

The report also says young people are highly engaged social networkers and organise their social action through new media – so presumably many of them can manage a project and spell their own names too.

As someone who works on Think Global’s research, I don’t believe that we can entirely escape a world where some of the research we do does highlight deficits in young people’s knowledge. They are, after all not adults and, still very much in a phase of learning about the world and some of the gaps in knowledge may raise a fond smile. Showing ‘need’ also helps us to talk about the solutions that global learning can offer.

Perhaps what we should object to is the jeering, eye-rolling and self-satisfied approach to smirking at areas where young people’s knowledge is still lacking?

I think we can, of course, extract positivity from the findings of the Demos report. We do know from our own research that young people do need help to understand the world around them and – when we offer them that help they are twice as likely to take positive social actions.

So now for the apology – I am very sorry for carrying out such a self-indulgent, self-referential, prattishly post-modern and cheap trick on you – the innocent reader. I hope you don’t feel too much abused and I hope that no one only reads the headline without the qualifier immediately beneath.

Please do let me know what you think about young people and research and feel free to use the comments to bring me down a few pegs for my manipulative insolence. I know I deserve it… Gulp.

By Michaela Keating, Head of Communications at Think Global

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