Youth advocate Manu Caddie says statements made by Gisborne Citizens Civic Awards winner Murray Ferris, and endorsed by Mayor Meng Foon at the Awards Ceremony last week were typical of the unfortunate and unhelpful attitudes local adults held about young people.
Responding to the comments attributed to Mr Ferris in the Gisborne Herald, Manu Caddie said it was clear such comments demonstrated Mr Ferris had very little knowledge of the positive contributions local young people make to the community.
“Claiming we need to ‘kick some butt’ and blaming young people for being selfish is like blaming the victim for the crime” said Mr Caddie. “Children and young people simply reflect the values of the community in which they are raised. The contradictory messages young people get from the adult world do not make it easy to feel like valued members of their society.”
A survey of over 600 young people undertaken in 2003 revealed that less than one in ten local young people felt that anyone other than their friends and immediate family cared about their ideas or opinions.
In 2004 over 100 young people made submissions to the Gisborne District Council Long Term Council Community Plan simply asking to be acknowledged as full citizens. “Those requests were ignored in the final LTCCP document and now we wonder why young people don’t feature in awards to recognise citizenship” said Mr Caddie.
Mr Caddie said there are hundreds of examples of young people making significant contribution to their community everyday. He questioned how the Civic Awards were promoted and decided upon – what the criteria was, who the judges were and whether it was promoted to young people in a medium that they would respond to. “Not everyone reads the Public Notices – did they take the nomination information into schools, youth groups and organisations working with young people? Did they post information up at the Skate Park and on Bebo, and do young people need to be recognised by some Civic Awards ceremony to actually be making a positive contribution anyway?”
Mr Caddie thinks adults in the Gisborne community need to take a long hard look at the way young people are treated here – it’s not about giving them everything they want, nor about blaming young people for things beyond their control. Children and young people should be acknowledged as full citizens who have the same fundamental rights as everyone else. Young people have some responsibilities as members of a community and research demonstrates that when young people are taken seriously and not treated as second-class citizens they always step up to challenge.
“I attended a public meeting of over 40 people that was on at the same time as the Civic Awards ceremony, it included two local teenagers leading a 30 minute presentation on a United Nations Declaration passed this month. They were not rewarded for doing their research and the presentation, they did it because they care about the future of this country and their generation.”
Last week the Gisborne Herald featured two articles on local school students raising funds for projects overseas and one group going to serve a community in a developing country for a week.
Mr Caddie suggested local adults consider the Circle of Courage as a helpful way of thinking about positive youth development. This model is based on the traditions of the Lakota peoples in North America and suggests that every young person needs to experience four things as they grow up: (1) a sense of belonging and identity; (2) a sense of competence and mastery; (3) a sense of independence and responsibility for making their own choices and living with the consequences; and (4) a sense of generosity and making a meaningful contribution to the world around them.