Last week, the Science and Technology Committee launched an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health. In November 2017, the British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee also took a stand by launching their report, ‘A Body Confident Future’. Among other things, our inquiry investigated how social media can create and exacerbate a poor body image and has 22 urgent recommendations for Government. I was delighted to see that the Science and Technology Committee mentioned our report, reaffirming to the Youth Select Committee the vital importance of our work. Both of these reports recognise the huge role that social media can have on children as young as eight years old, and how a lack of understanding and education can exert an adverse effect that may last a lifetime.
Across the UK, young people are being overwhelmed by the constant pressures of perfection. Whether that be in education, socially, or with regards to their body, the young people of today are under more pressure than ever. But, what is a ‘perfect body’? Is it the posing glamour models on our screens, is it the celebrities on the ubiquitous perfume and fashion advertising campaigns, or can your average Peter or Jane possess the ‘perfect body’? Exposure to these kinds of images, particularly on social media, has been proven to have serious and long-lasting consequences for today’s youth, and unless we do something about it, the problem is only going to get worse. This is why both the Youth Select Committee and the Science and Technology Committee are taking steps to investigate and combat these issues before another generation slips by.
With the rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram come new challenges that young people aren’t always sufficiently equipped to overcome. The Science and Technology Committee highlights that 95% of UK 15 year olds use social media before or after school, and half of 9–16 year olds used smart-phones on a daily basis. Increasingly, children and young people seek social validation from ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on pictures of themselves. This trend can irreversibly damage a child’s self-esteem and body confidence as they grow up, and lead to young people adapting their offline behaviour to fit an online image. A lack of regulation has left social media platforms with the autonomy to set their own standards when it comes to the often oversexualised and psychologically pervasive content available for hours on end to even the youngest of users. However, claiming that social media is the bane of all evil is far too simplistic an attitude to take when it comes to forming a narrative about body confidence. Social media may be part of the problem, but as so often is the case, it needs to be an integral part of the solution. The Science and Technology Committee has recognised this, drawing specific attention in its Terms of Reference to the benefits that social media can bring in supporting those suffering from mental ill-health. It is for these reasons that the Youth Select Committee report includes recommendations that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, working with the Government Equalities Office, engages with social media companies to impose industry-wide minimum provisions for the regulation and removal of content from their platforms.
Body image isn’t just about the way we look, it is also about the way we perceive our place in society. It isn’t just about the size of one’s lips or muscles, nor is it solely restricted to one’s sexual attractiveness. Body image can also encompass how we view our gender, our ethnicity, our sexuality, our disabilities and our socio-economic background. The models on our screens, whether we like it or not, are highlighted as having the ideal body in our culture, and if they are continuing to reinforce a body image that is not only unrealistic and homogeneous but is frankly unhealthy, then we must intervene to disrupt this misrepresentation of society. We need greater diversity in the advertising campaigns which bombard our young people on social media every day, whether it is through including models with a disability, of different ethnicities or models who don’t align with what popular culture tells us is the ‘right’ way to look. Without this intervention, we could leave a generation of young people humiliated by their own bodies.
But real, meaningful change cannot be accomplished through simply changing a few models in advertising campaigns, understanding social media better and taking on the impossible task of ensuring no child below the age of thirteen can ever access social media platforms. We don’t expect our young people to know that ‘the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell’, so why is it assumed that they will automatically realise that appearance bears no relevance on our future or our hopes and dreams? If we are to tackle body image problems correctly, education must play a vital part in doing so. We need an awareness of body image issues, as well as the digital and online literacy, must present in every child’s education. The Science and Technology Committee Terms of Reference asks how greater awareness could be raised by key groups such as schools and the Government of the risks that technology and social media pose to young people. The Government’s pending decision to make PSHE (Personal, Social, Health, and Economic education) and RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) compulsory is welcome and would be a step in the right direction towards improving student understanding of body confidence and dealing with the challenges that a 21st Century online life can bring. However, tackling this problem cannot be left to the already over-saturated PSHE and RSE curricula alone. The Government must demonstrate that they are taking the issue of body image and digital literacy seriously by providing extra funding for schools to take a more integrated and wider approach to solving these issues. Furthermore, this cannot be simply a re-allocation of existing funds, as the well-being of our young people should be of paramount importance.
Throughout the sitting of the Youth Select Committee over the past year, we have found that the issue of body image and its causes is one that is scarcely tackled across Whitehall. We expect this to change. By giving body image issues more prominence through ring-fencing funding and providing resources and support for specific groups we feel the Government can create real change for my generation and the young people of tomorrow. Unfortunately, the consequences of poor body confidence can manifest themselves in serious health problems, and a proactive and comprehensive approach from the Health Service is necessary for helping to prevent this. Improvements to government-funded CAHMS resources and support as well as better channels of communication to reach parents and pupils are central to the recommendations of the Youth Select Committee and the importance of parents in protecting our young people is recognized and reinforced by the Science and Technology Committees’ Terms of Reference.
The Youth Select Committee submitted our report in November and we are currently awaiting a response from the Government. This is the time for Whitehall to show that they are committed to supporting and fighting for the well-being of every young person in this country. The report by the Science and Technology Committee will take another step to tackling the new world of social media driven lives and everyone at the Youth Select Committee will supporting it every step of the way.
Changing the way young people see their own physical appearance is no mean feat, and it will take an entire society to change in order to create a generation that doesn’t value themselves on how they look in the mirror. The report by the Youth Select Committee is one small part of the battle to ensure that poor body confidence is recognised as a danger far greater than a trivial preoccupation of the superficial and the vain. As the lives we lead change, so too must the way in which we mitigate against the negative consequences of these new obstacles. Social media is a tool that has the potential to improve our lives, bring people together and create real change. But this is only possible if we can recognise and protect our young people from the very real dangers that social media can pose. The government must take the lead by ensuring that the all-encompassing potential of our youngest generation isn’t destroyed by shame and fear.
— British Youth Council (@bycLIVE) 1 February 2018
Young people in Brent have been at the forefront of local democracy in recent times; on Monday 22nd January 2018, it was announced that amendments to Brent Council’s constitution now enable Brent Youth Parliament members to attend full council meetings and pose questions for 20 minutes.
Brent Youth Parliament members have been granted direct communication and involvement in decisions made by Brent Council, signifying a major turning point regarding the active involvement of young people in regional issues.
Changes like these never happen overnight. In March 2017, Brent Youth Parliament introduced a ‘Councillor Hotseat’ session, allowing young people to engage with Councillors and hold them accountable for their decisions. As a result, councillors were able to better acknowledge the calibre of young people’s voices surrounding local concerns, leading to immense levels of support for the decision to amend the constitution in late 2017.
During the first Councillor Hotseat, when asked about working with young people, Cllr. Denselow expressed: “I think councillors are influenced by the people they don’t see. We don’t always see youth – and I understand why!”
‘I really want to hear young people’s voices,” added Cllr. Sheth. “They have fantastic thinking and ideas. It’s good that you come from that different angle.”
Discussion between young people and Brent Council proceeded to improve throughout the year, culminating in a meeting in November 2017 between MP Dawn Butler, Brent Council Leader Cllr Butt and Brent Youth Parliament members, to vocalise the growing need for young people’s involvement concerning proposals made by Brent Council.
Three months later, Brent Council’s report on the newest constitution amendments states: ‘It is proposed that in order to enhance the council’s engagement with young people, 20 minutes be set aside at alternate council meetings for questions to be asked by the Youth Parliament.’
Response to this change was overwhelmingly positive; Brent currently stands as one of the few Youth Parliaments able to speak at full council meetings and communicate so directly with its borough’s council.
Samira, the Deputy UK Youth Parliament representative for Brent Youth Parliament, wrote: ‘The changes to the Brent Council constitution allows young people in Brent to have direct communication with the council with 20 minutes to pose questions. This is a massive achievement for young people and the participation of young people in local democracy.’
Brent Youth Parliament members are already ensuring the youth voice is accurately represented in these meetings, by asking all members to discuss issues impacting their school or youth group. By doing so, members hope to provide an impactful contribution to developments within the borough – but also, to establish confidence that the voice of over 79,800 young people resonates strongly in all of Brent Council’s decisions.
Looking back at 2017 there have been some amazing moments for us, with our programmes growing from strength to strength, our campaigns reaching new heights and even winning awards for leadership and excellent governance. Our CEO, Jo Hobbs has not only survived a year with us, but she has led our organisation and wonderful staff team to raise the impact and aspirations of the British Youth Council and youth voice in the UK and internationally.
Young people have been front and centre of the news this year with a remarkable turnout in the snap election and the Votes at 16 campaign gaining support in the lead up to the Private Members Bill in Parliament. Brexit negotiations have continued and we have been at the heart of ensuring young people are consulted and represented in this.
One of our fantastic flagship programmes, UK Youth Parliament, saw another impressive year for Make Your Mark with almost million young people taking part yet again. The House of Commons debate highlighted the impressive campaigns and inspiring young people with Votes and 16 and A Curriculum For Life coming out on top.
Our Youth Voice Star Awards gave us a moment to stop and reflect on the astonishing people and projects across the UK that exist to give young people a voice, congratulations to all those nominated and those who won an award. I want to take this moment to thank all of the youth workers, staff members, supporters and funders at the British Youth Council but in other youth organisations too, for your time, support and belief in young people. Your work is often thankless and all-consuming, so thank you for your time and effort.
Looking forward to the future for the British Youth Council I am thrilled with what is to come. In the Spring, we will be launching our three-year strategy with our members, supporters and youth sector friends. It also marks the 70th year of our organisation! This deserves some celebration, so I can’t wait to re-engage with some of our members from across the years to rekindle our alumni engagement; and also, to look forward with the young people we work with now, to ensure the British Youth Council is best placed to look ahead into the next 70 years and represent young people.
Most importantly, I am excited to be working with other young people who are inspired and empowered to make a difference in their lives and the communities around them. Whether their passion is Brexit, transport, mental health, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights or anything else – as the national youth council of the UK we will be supporting YOU to have a voice that so desperately needs to be empowered and heard.
Every year at Medway Youth Council we hold an Annual Conference, which grows out of a consultation we carried out with young people from across Medway. Invitations are sent out to every school inviting pupils between the ages of eleven and eighteen (years seven to thirteen), inviting a small number of students as well as accompanying staff to attend the conference. This year’s conference was held at the Corn Exchange, Rochester.
Our conference aimed to both consult and educate young people on the subject of bullying. In particular we explored the causes and, to some degree, opened up discussion as to how we should deal with bullying. We also aimed to understand whether it is better to punish or support bullies and how we can support victims. In order to achieve this we aimed to listen extensively to young people’s experiences in order to understand the scope of problem. At the same time we wanted to help young people develop greater resilience and encourage them to support victims and become more proactive in tackling bullying in their schools and communities.
Our Annual Conference for 2017 was titled “The Bully: Understanding Both Sides” and dealt with the issue of bullying. This was something we felt was an important subject, given its relevance to the lives of many young people in Medway and the effect of the internet and social media. The conference was well attended, with over one-hundred and seventy students from a range of secondary and specialist schools in Medway. The day included three workshops, each based around different aspects of the topic. These focused largely on how we should tackle bullying and how it should be treated – where can young people go for help? Who should be helping? Why do people bully? Should we punish or help bullies? These were followed by a Q and A after lunch with a panel of relevant professionals addressing questions from students on bullying.
Broadly, we felt the conference proved to be a huge success providing us with a wide array of opinions. We received conclusive and reliable responses from young people on the topics presented in the workshops. We now have a better understanding of the problem of bullying as well as valuable feedback which we intend to use to influence many of our actions with regards to our anti-bullying campaign over the course of the coming year. At the same time many of the young people who attended the conference said that they found that it was overall a thought-provoking and enjoyable day and indeed the majority of feedback we received from young people was positive. Our conference has allowed us to grasp the specific issue of cyber-bulling, something that our campaign will focus on addressing.
In response to our conference we are going to be running a campaign to directly address the issues discussed. We have put forward the following further actions:
- MYC will produce literature around bullying, which will focus around the conference workshops to be shared on our website and through schools.
- MYC will work with schools and Head teachers to produce a model anti-bullying policy which we will then encourage schools to adopt.
- MYC will adapt the workshops provided at the annual conference into a series of resources which will be offered to schools.
- MYC will work with Anti-Bullying Ambassadors across the Medway towns on their campaigns surrounding bullying.
As a Youth Council we will also be presenting our report to the Medway Council Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee in January 2018, which will allow us to tackle these points directly with decision makers.
If I were to sum up my experience as a Communications & Media Assistant at the British Youth Council in one word, I’d say it was busy – very busy! But my experience was equally exciting, inspiring and rewarding as it was busy. Not only were both the UK Youth Parliament at the House of Commons and the Youth Select Committee Report Launch at Portcullis House extremely hectic events, but they were tons of fun, too. Meanwhile, at the London office, everyone always seemed to be, well… busy. I genuinely struggle to recall a day where Rhammel, the Communications & Media Officer, wasn’t stuck dealing with one of the many press calls he received (some even at 6:30 am, apparently!)
The events, as mentioned, were slightly busy too. I mean, as the home of our democracy, being in the House of Commons in a media-related role was never going to be a stroll in the park. But despite its hectic nature, being in the House of Commons during the UK Youth Parliament felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Seeing John Bercow, Speaker of the House, emotively praise the Members of Youth Parliament at the end of the day’s proceedings conveyed his genuine and tangible passion for the youth and next generation of politicians which Bercow possesses in abundance. It was also reassuring seeing prominent Conservative Party figures Justine Greening MP and Andrea Leadsom MP attend the sitting and speak to the Members of Youth Parliament. The passion and commitment from each debate lead, as well as other Members of Youth Parliament, was also awe-inspiring. People younger than 16 years old were speaking in the House of Commons in front of hundreds of their fellow MYPs and senior MPs, I couldn’t imagine doing that when I was 16 – that’s for sure. Being situated in the media room was an insight into what life behind-the-scenes is like at the House of Commons, and was something I’d never thought I’d be given the honour to experience – and is something I hope to experience again in the future!
Then, a few days later, came the Youth Select Committee Report Launch at Portcullis House. That was less busy, for sure. But it wasn’t any less inspiring with regards to the passion demonstrated by groups of young people who are committed to causes which affect their fellow young people. The issue of body image, which was the subject of this year’s inquiry, demonstrates the maturity of the members of the Youth Select Committee, and their genuine desire to improve the well-being of young people across the country. Thomas Copeland, Chair of the Youth Select Committee, and Anna Rose Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council, were notable for their maturity, ability to convey information, and passion for the issue of body image.
Throughout these events and over the course of my time here from October until December, I have been assigned a range of different roles by Rhammel. Ranging from designing tweets with suitably accompanying Christmas-themed GIFs, live tweeting during both the UK Youth Parliament and Youth Select Committee events, to contacting local and national press and watching the Autumn Budget live whilst scribbling down as many notes as I could – I really have done it all here at the British Youth Council! The only shame is that I couldn’t stay for longer.
This experience, I feel, has been genuinely invaluable for me in terms of my personal development. As my first experience in an office-related position, I feel that this will allow me to thrive in future positions in whatever I decide to pursue. This unique experience has also given me an insight into the world of Communications and has reinforced my passion for the media industry.
Lastly, I need to say a special thanks to all the staff in the London office, and particularly Rhammel. Thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity, helping me whenever I was unsure about something and giving me invaluable advice for my future – I will never forget it!
Today’s debate in the House of Commons on Votes at 16 was a disappointment for young people across the UK.
The debate was preceded by a fantastic bill from Steve Reed MP on the use of restraint in mental health facilities. It was fantastic to hear such a great discussion on mental health, and particularly the use of restraint on young people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. There was great support across the house for improving mental health provision, support and prevention, so much so that one MP described it as ‘violent agreement’!
But what was disappointing that this great sense of agreement did not lead to an earlier vote, giving time for votes at 16 to be properly debated. After around an hour and half parliament ran out of time and the debate ended without a vote. Whilst the vocal support for mental health is welcomed we are disappointed that yet again the opportunity to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds has been kicked into the long grass yet again.
So many young people have been campaigning on this issue for many years. And it is testament to the work of Members of Youth Parliament and British Youth Council member organisations like NUS that so many MPs committed to turn up and support the bill today.
But this does not mean that the fight for votes at 16 is over. The bill may yet get its day in Parliament, and has been rescheduled for 1 December 2017. And this Private Members Bill has really put the spotlight back onto the issue, raising awareness of the importance of young people having a voice, and the necessity of citizenship education to develop an informed and engaged electorate.
The Votes at 16 Coalition, facilitated by the British Youth Council, will continue to argue the case for votes at 16. Support is growing, with more council passing motions in support. Just this week Belfast has become the latest city to pass a motion in support of votes at 16. And we look to Wales where they have been consulting on whether to lower the voting age to 16 for elections to the Assembly.
Valuing youth voice is crucial to increasing the engagement of young people in society and democracy. Extending the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds, combined with a curriculum for life that builds young people’s knowledge and understanding of the political process, is an essential step on the road to ensuring that decision makers to talk to young people, not about them.
At sixteen, individuals can get married, pay their taxes and sign up to risk their lives in our armed forces, but they cannot exercise their basic democrat right to vote. Isn’t it time that we follow in Scotland’s footsteps and introduce a lowered voting age of sixteen? I and the Lib Dems think yes and we are determined to fight for this in this Parliament.
The 2017 General election saw the largest youth vote in 25 years, finally discrediting the narrative that young adults are either too lazy or immature to vote. We can, however, do better. By extending the franchise to those 16 and 17 year olds we can expand our national conversation to some of the most disenchanted and side-lined individuals in our nation. The 2014 Scottish referendum for example brought thousands of young scots into the fold, now we are experiencing some of the highest youth turn outs in Scotland for generations. The ability to inspire at a young age has resulted in greater engagement at elections since. We currently have over one and a half million sixteen-seventeen year olds in the UK, to be able to inspire even half of these individuals to continue voting would result in a significantly higher turnout than many of our past elections. Such a generational shift could even change the age-old story of pensions before education which has shaped the political world for many years.
On the topic of education, many critics of this idea have suggested that teachers and schools will be able to exercise influence over individuals. As a former teacher myself, I can say that all my colleagues entered the profession to educate not control. I prided myself on being fair and unbiased individual, there to facilitate open debate. My job was to equip them to make their own decisions. Any suggestion otherwise is a slight on the whole profession.
To those who suggest that sixteen-seventeen year olds are just not ready for the vote, who think they are just not matured enough for this responsibility, I suggest they look no further than our Youth Parliament. It is here, a place with children as young as eleven, that you will find some of the most passionate and inspiring individuals. It certainly puts some of my own colleagues to shame. This is by no means an isolated occurrence, young adults across the country are increasingly aware and involved in politics. It is these young adults that will one day contribute to our pensions, staff our hospitals and pay the taxes which our government needs. Therefore, it is necessary that we act in their best interests to secure our countries future.
Our young adults are ready to take the reins, to have a say in a future which will be dominated not by us but by them. Therefore, I fully support the lowering of the voting age to sixteen. Let’s change the old proverb of out of touch youths and create a new generation of political aware and enthused young adults. Let’s get inclusive and work towards a better future for all generations.
We’ve been talking about possibly lowering the voting age for a long time without much change, and I think this Bill (Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement and Education) Bill 2017-19) is the perfect opportunity for our democracy to make a great stride forward. As we know, you currently have to be 18 or older to vote in all elections in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but notably not Scotland. When I was in Scotland campaigning before the Independence referendum in 2014, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the young people who had finally been given an opportunity to really get involved as 16- and 17- year olds were allowed to vote. In fact, 89% of all 16 and 17 year olds registered to vote – clearly defying the far-too-common expectation that they wouldn’t be interested in engaging anyway.
I often hear that individuals under the age of 18 lack the maturity to vote but I strongly disagree, and furthermore, if we consider 16 year olds suitable for tax-paying, putting their lives on the line in the armed forces, marrying and working full-time, then how can we not see them as adult enough to elect those who make the decisions which affect all of those important aspects of their day-to-day lives?
Our most recent general election only solidified this view that I’ve had for a long time, as turnout for 18-24 year olds increased by 16%. There’s a clear appetite in young people to be involved in the democratic process and I think it’s about time we allowed it to improve our democracy. Over 1.5 million 16- and 17-year-olds in the UK are not represented by a vote, about 2.3% of the total population. Instead of denying them access to democratic involvement and alienating them from the process, we should be seeking to engage and empower these young citizens to gain interest in the political system. With 16 and 17 year olds required to be in education, employment and training making this change in the law would give us a golden opportunity to not only enfranchise young people but to equip them with the knowledge and skills to exercise this new right thoughtfully. We have the opportunity to create a foundation for further democratic impact later on in life, if now we allow these young people to vote.
On your 16th birthday you are legally deemed ‘mature enough’ to be able to undertake a multitude of responsibilities; these include joining the armed forces, paying taxes, changing your name, having sex or even getting married. This list goes on.
Importantly, young people don’t just care about youth issues. There is a perception that young people will naively vote for politicians that promise more youth clubs, lower drinking ages and similar themes. This is not the case. Yes young people care about the things that affect them, as do any age group, but they also see the bigger picture locally, nationally and internationally. They cite the refugee crisis, technological advancements and how to live in a global economy. Young people overwhelmingly have an optimistic outlook on the future, and thank goodness as by 2020 50% of the workforce will be millennials, pushing for a brighter and more prosperous world.
My next thought; if you don’t think young people are equipped enough to make this decision, instead of segregating them, try asking them what support and education they need. Votes at 16 is not a campaign that assumes giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote is the silver bullet to engagement across young people in politics. But, it could well be the start. Ask us what we want and need to know about our democracy and political structures, so we can educate each other and engage all member of society from an early age. The impact of this could be phenomenal.
So much of this focuses on whether young people are mature enough, informed enough or if they’ve had enough ‘life experience’ to form an opinion. When was the last time adults questioned their ability to form a rational opinion? The debate always leads to questioning young people and outing them under a moral microscope, yet we never ask the same question to older citizens. What is society doing to ensure everyone is receiving a fair and unbiased education on politics, democracy and voting?
If you are still unsure as to why young people’s voices matter I beg that you go and ask a young person what they think. Not just about school, youth clubs and youth issues; but about the economy, globalisation, jobs. And not just 16 and 17 year olds, ask a 12-year-old, even a 9 year old what they think. Ask them why they think this and how they formed this opinion, why they care and what experiences they have had so far. I guarantee that you will be shocked and pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness, the inquisitiveness, boldness and perhaps the shyness in their views.
What we need is a country that wholeheartedly supports and listens to young people, and Votes at 16 is a sharp step in the right direction to make this a reality.