Heal, then up­lift, youth

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis -

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. —

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