On a cold Saturday morning in March 2019, the group met for the first time. Our challenge: to create a digital solution that would allow young people to engage in government policy, without having to wade through pages and pages of information, or navigate the gov.uk website.
We started off by learning about the policy-making process. I’d love to be able to explain this in a succinct way, but I think all that I can say is this – it’s pretty complicated. It was a little bit like trying to understand the London Tube Map for the first time, without any knowledge of London or the tube.
After spending a little while scratching our heads, we moved on to think about something more familiar to us: young people. We thought carefully about how we could create a platform that gave all young people the tools to engage with government policy in a quick but meaningful way, regardless of their background or personal experience. Inclusivity quickly became one of our guiding principles: we wanted this platform to capture voices that are often not heard.
Following a morning of learning and listening, it was time to get creative. We broke off into three groups, with each group creating an idea for a digital engagement platform. Before we knew it, the weekend was over, and we had three initial ideas that we could take out into the world and test.
During the few months that followed our first residential, a great deal happened. We each went out and held focus groups to gather young people’s opinions on the platforms that we had created, and used their insights to shape our ideas. More group members were recruited, and before we knew it it was time for residential number two.
We came together again in June 2019, to share our insights and to hear the views of new members of the group. Fast forward to the end of this residential, and we had settled on our proposal. We wanted to develop a platform that would utilise social media as a tool to engage young people, taking government policy-making into the very spaces where young people thrive.
From this ambition, Involved was born. We have spent the last year working together to develop the idea from a concept, scribbled quickly onto a few pieces of paper in a hotel conference room, into a reality. I’ll be honest, it’s taken a little longer than we had hoped – but we hope you’ll agree that it is worth the wait.
So, now you know how Involved came to be, you’re probably wondering what Involved actually is, and what we hope it will achieve. Involved will be an Instagram based platform, using the stories function to ask young people a series of questions, agreed upon by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Youth Policy Group members. Your responses and views will then be analysed, and fed back to the policy teams within government. What this all means is that, by answering a question on the Involved platform, you have an opportunity to influence government policy. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.
I just want to end by addressing one final question – why should you care? You might feel disillusioned with politics at the moment, or maybe you think that your voice doesn’t matter. At one of our residentials, a member of the group came up with a slogan: ‘I may be small, but I have a big voice’. Sure, you’re only one person, but we each carry with us our own experiences. Your experiences are unique to you as an individual, and that makes them valuable. This is your chance to shape the future, to influence change in the areas and issues that really matter to you, to use your experiences to build a better world. Maybe youth voice is right up your street, or maybe you’ve never engaged in anything like this before. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Use this platform, and let’s get the voices of young people heard.
What is #mycovid19pledge?
The idea behind #mycovid19pledge was conceived in a conversation between a young cancer patient who is currently shielding and the NHS Youth Expert Advisors. The idea was co-produced with the youth members of the Children and Young People’s Transformation Board, the NHS Youth Forum and #iwill ambassadors. It’s impossible to have not heard about COVID-19. Young people may be at home at the moment but this has not stopped them from volunteering, taking up jobs as key workers, caring for loved ones and encouraging their peers online. We are asking you to share your #mycovid19pledge to change this, to highlight the role of young people in this crisis and to give young people a space to share how they are using their time. Your pledge can be anything: to continue self-isolating, be in bed before midnight, to message a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or making a commitment to volunteer.
This campaign will run across multiple platforms, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to encourage young people to share what they’ve been doing throughout this time to look after themselves, help others and support their community.
What are we pledging?
As one of the youth representations on the Children’s and Young People’s Transformation Board, #mycovid19pledge is to look after my parents (both of whom are key workers) . This time last year, I was busy trying to wrap up the dissertation for my intercalated Global Health degree.
The last thing on my mind when I was revising for my exams, trying to learn the difference between an endemic, epidemic and pandemic, was that a year later, was that I would be in the middle of the largest health crisis since the Spanish Flu in 1918.
It has forced the whole world to pause and perhaps that is what we needed (the ozone layer is definitely thanking us!). The silver lining in this situation for me has been being able to spend time with my parents, which was usually lost in the ‘daily grind’ of hospital shifts and life admin. We’ve been able to eat Iftar together almost everyday (the evening meal which breaks the day’s fast during Ramadan), something I would have been missing if it had been a ‘normal’ year at medical school. We’ve been given time to reset, let go of what isn’t serving us and think about our health. Yet who looks after our carers? This thought led to my pledge of looking after parents who are key workers (working proudly for the NHS!).
In the conversations that we have had with young people, we’ve heard from young carers, those struggling with staying with family whether that be due to the difficulties being trapped inside for autistic individuals, or LGBTQ teens with homophobic families. Many young people sit at the intersections of these groups, many struggling with food poverty, having recently lost jobs or family members to COVID-19. During COVID-19, young people have been very absent in the dialogue but their voices matter. We’re committed to making sure that youth voice is heard in the NHS and the youth sector, we’re doing our bit, be it big or small.
Our message is clear we’re physically apart but with the #mycovid19pledge we’re virtually together, (at least we have one place where we don’t need to worry about social distancing!) You can get involved by sharing your own #mycovid19pledge to showcase what you’re up to at this time, whether it be positive social action, messages of solidarity or self care. Simply record a video, take a picture or tweet your pledge! Make sure to use the hashtag #mycovid19pledge so we can see your pledge.
If you’d like you can even wear a uniform or t-shirt that presents an organisation you’re part of, in your video pledge. Do tag you friends to get involved too.
Below are some examples of pledges for some inspiration:
Hannah – NHS Youth Forum Member
Sonia – NHS Youth Forum Member and NHSBT Tissue Ambassador
Samya – NHS Youth Forum Member and Children and Young People’s Transformation Board Member
Mike – Paramedic and Children’s and Young People’s Transformation Board Youth Member
#mycovid19pledge is to volunteer for the NHS and support my community
#mycovid19pledge is to be in bed before midnight
#mycovid19pledge is to check in on the people that matter to me
This campaign was created in collaboration with young people and the support of organisations such as:
- NHS Youth Forum
- British Youth Council
- Association for Young People’s Health
- Step up to Serve
- The Scouts Association
- St. John’s Ambulance
- The Prince’s Trust
- CLIC Sargent
- Rising Arts Agency
Want to make a pledge? Open the partnership guidance here but please do be creative and come up with your own!
Yesterday, the Children’s Commissioner published their report, ‘Life in Likes’, on how social media can affect the lives and wellbeing of eight to twelve year olds, an area of research all too often ignored. In November 2017, the British Youth Council Youth Select Committee also took a stand by launching their report, A Body Confident Future, with 22 recommendations for Government. The British Youth Council report investigates how social media can create and exacerbate a poor body image. 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 kind 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.
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 Children’s Commissioner’s report on the effects of social media highlights that up to three quarters of 10-12 year olds may have a social media account, despite most social media platforms having an age limit of thirteen. 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 a far from 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. This is why 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 must implement into every child’s education an awareness of body image issues as well as the acceptance of those who are different from us. The Children’s Commissioner report recommends increasing digital literacy in schools, which would go a long way to equipping young people with the skills necessary to improve their digital resilience. The Government’s decision to make Relationships and Sex Education compulsory is welcome, and extending this to the broader PSHE curriculum would be a step in the right direction towards improving student understanding of body confidence. However, tackling this problem cannot be left to the already over-saturated PSHE and RSE curricula alone. The Children’s Commissioner report promotes the use of peer-to-peer learning, which would undoubtedly provide young people with an accessible means of understanding their online presence. The Government must demonstrate that they are taking the issue of body image seriously by providing extra funding for schools to take a more integrated and wider approach to solving body image problems. 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 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 by the health service is necessary in helping to prevent this. Improvements to government-funded CAMHS resources and support as well as better channels of communication to reach parents and pupils are central in the recommendations of the Youth Select Committee and the importance of parents in protecting our young people is recognised and reinforced by the Children’s Commissioner report recommendations on guidance for parents.
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 in 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. Government must take the lead by ensuring that the all-encompassing potential of our youngest generation isn’t destroyed by shame and fear.