Heal, then uplift, youth
Your 200 Young South Africans supplement and your story about the impressive efforts that Ekurhuleni leaders are making with regard to youth development will, no doubt, give hope to some. But overall, I was left with a feeling of sadness about the efforts that are being made because I fear that, in the long run, they will not have a degree of success commensurate with the resources the city is investing in its young people.
The Mail & Guardian’s editorin-chief, in her foreword, refers to our country as “writhing in silent anguish”. She is correct. Before any youth development programmes will have a chance to succeed to any appreciable extent, attention will need to be given to the often disastrous circumstances of family life in which our youth are growing up.
For the first 20 years or so of their lives, a huge number of South Africans have to run the gauntlet of absent fathers, loveless families, an alcoholic or drug-addicted environment or living with violence and abuse with little or no emotional support. And all the while there is the pervasive influence of social media that is often destructive.
We need to face up to the fact that many of our young people have been wounded and broken and, as a result, are left angry, frustrated and confused, afflicted by self-doubt, selfhatred and depression. They and their families need healing.
“Building their self-esteem, developing a sense of belonging and nurturing a shared value system” (as mentioned in the supplement) are admirable goals — but unless family life is strengthened and supported as a priority, achieving these goals may become a challenge.
It’s a great cause of frustration that a white minority is still privileged. But I would dare to suggest that, in developing youth programmes targeting mainly those who are emotionally ready to respond to and run with them, the leaders of Ekurhuleni and others may also be catering only to the needs of a minority.
The fact that only 19% of that city’s youth participated in integrated development plan processes may provide an insight into the number who are ready to move forward.
To be truly effective in the field of youth services, attention must first be paid to bolstering family life. Offering basic counselling and support services to families will be a beginning. Social and emotional education, along with relationship training for young people, is a must.
Technology is fine, but our country needs more people skilled in areas such as early childhood education and family counselling.
If leaders do not take into account the broken situation of families and how this affects our youth, what they are planning, although excellent from a theoretical point of view, may not deliver the desired results. —