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We're Afraid of Youth

The world we live in isn't that kind to youth. If we really think about it, we have a society that is afraid of youth and so we feel the need to control and police their lives and spaces in many ways.

For example, we don't let youth gather in large groups without calling it loitering. We have limited spaces that youth can congregate without being hassled by an adult or authorities. In Edmonton, youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds as well as Indigenous youth often have to deal with increased contact with law enforcement and other authorities. Our cities become less and less welcoming to our youth when we police their spaces to keep them from gathering with each other.

We have to ask ourselves why is it this way. Why has a culture of fear developed when we interact with youth. What is it about them that we don't trust? Do we just feel that youth cannot be trusted and are more likely to engage in behaviours and activities that we find inappropriate or socially unacceptable?

A good place to look at how we treat youth is our schools. Traditionally, schools have been places where teachers and staff use authoritarian methods to control and dictate student behaviour. As teachers, our classroom management systems can mostly be looked at as ways to get the behaviour YOU want from youth. We will engage in a variety of strategies to get youth to obey behavioural standards that we deem appropriate.

But we have to ask ourselves, is this the way we should be doing things. Are youth incapable of behaving in a positive way with their adult counterparts? I often think that the majority of defiant behaviours that youth engage in is a reaction to the authoritarian adults in their lives trying to control them.

So teachers and parents, remember that youth are not so different from us. They may be figuring out their individual identities and could use guidance from those adults in their lives, but they are also capable of extraordinary things and interacting in society in a very positive way. We have to start embracing youth culture within our communities if we want to tap into the amazing potential that youth have to bring positive change. We can start this process by overcoming our fear of youth and creating more youth friendly spaces in our communities.

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