Youth portrayal in the media often revolves around crime stories or abysmal test scores. When their successes and voices are broadcast, this good news tends to get lost. The reporting of mainly negative stories invites the conclusion that US youth is self-absorbed, idle, and dangerous - ultimately sending the wrong message to kids, parents, and policymakers. In short, we've become youth averse.
In demonizing youth, we do a disservice to young adults' resiliency and strength and ultimately hurt ourselves by failing to see this group as our community's primary asset. We all have a vested interest to make sure young people grow up healthy, happy, and productive. In a global economy more competitive and connected than ever, we must ensure every young person has the education, training, and skills to contribute to society.
Creating channels to really listen to youth and focusing on their potential is challenging, but vital as a counterbalance to the barrage of negative coverage this group often gets. Some ideas on how:
- Create forums for dialogue and then encourage youth to speak for themselves and give them the platforms to do so.
- Ask the tough, in-depth questions. In addition, demand more context, more sources, and be a critical consumer of news coverage. Insist that youth issues - success pathways to education, training, and employment - get the same coverage as youth violence.
- Tap into youth's potential. Digital media, which is a great place to do so, has made it inexpensive to disseminate ideas. Meanwhile, the growth of youth-driven media is skyrocketing. Help foster and encourage youth-created media.
As a White House Council for Community Solutions member, I am charged with helping ensure young adults are prepared to live productive and prosperous lives. Along with fellow council member Jon Bon Jovi, we are starting by embarking on a national youth listening tour. Before we make any recommendation, we are listening to those we ultimately want to serve - the youth of this country.
Conversations are frank, gritty, insightful, and life-changing. Engaging the voice of youth is the most vital element of the council's charge, as the perspectives and experiences they share with us will guide and drive our work moving forward.
Michael Kempner is president and CEO of MWW Group.