This morning, I took the 6.27 train to Tampere. Last time I did that, I then changed there for Pori, where I attended SuomiAreena, a huge political event that took place in July. Today, I attended NUORI17, another huge event but this time on the topic of young people. The event gathers thousands of youth workers and other interested in youth work, and it was truly inspiring to be a part of it.
I didn’t have the possibility to attend the whole 3-day event, or even attend any lectures, panels, seminars or workshops that I wasn’t a part of, unfortunately. However, I did get to do some of my favorite things.
My first activity this morning was a seminar called Uhkia ja unelmia, Threats and dreams. I had been asked to moderate the panel discussion, as no young person had been invited neither as a speaker or an expert. Frankly, the event was meant for youth workers and adults that meet young people in their work, and the panel consisted of professionals from NGOs, the police, a youth priest and other experts working with different groups of young people, most of them with troubles.
The thing that is often forgotten when arranging discussions and events about young people’s well-being, are the young people. I am glad I was invited, but I am nowhere near the median young person, nor am I a good representant for young people that need safe adults in their life. I’ve been my own safe adult for a loooooong time. However following and moderating the discussion, some things did come to my mind.
There was a mutual understanding between police and social workers, that a bit of force can and is often needed when dealing with young people. They are probably right, in some sense. But when we get to the point where a young person has to be forced to talk to a social worker, we, as adults have fucked up a long time ago. The chain of trust is broken, and that can be broken by no other than adults around them. If you at a young age is forced into a situation where you are uncomfortable, feel unsafe, or if you experience that no authority is listening to you, it’s clear as fuck you’ll lose trust in institutions and for sure, will need some force in order to talk to them again. And more force is very rarely the way to give a young person the trust back.
I do understand the police officer’s point. When you’ve fucked up so bad that you are a danger to others, you might need to be forced out of those patterns. But when you get out of the worst part, trust needs to be built, desperately, and that is not with force.
As for the second activity I attended. Me and Hanna from the Designmuseum in Helsinki presented an event we arranged together last summer, as a part of a project that brought young people and museums together for a learning experience. At first I must say, I really enjoy working with Hanna. It’s rare to be taken this seriously and be treated with the same respect as anyone else, especially when you come into a room with the text YOUTH REPRESENTATIVE pretty much tattooed on your forehead. It’s also interesting, that there seems to be a pattern where people who are educated to deal with young people (youth workers, teachers etc.) treat youngsters either with disrespect or underestimation, while people like Hanna, a museum lecturerer, is welcoming me as an equal colleague.
Anyway, the presentation went very well, and we got an interesting conversation going about teaching old and young to respect each other and share a space.
After the presentation I rushed over to Tampere Hall and met Nea from Porvoo youth council, one of the first people I’ve ever worked with and also one of the best ones. Nea is an incredible colleague and friend, and I sure hope and know that she’ll go far. Hopefully all the way to the city council in the upcoming local elections. We walked around in the exhibition area and I got the Red Cross condom driver’s license by answering a few questions about STD’s and putting on and removing a condom. Fun!
At 16.00, I participated in a panel discussion about identity, titled “Do you even know who I am?”. The panel was arranged by Allianssi’s working group on equality, where I’m currently the vice president. With me at the stage I had four inspiring young adults, all ready to share their story on how they became who they are.
Identity and discovering it is an interesting concept. We discussed how identity is formed, byt belonging and not belonging to certain groups. For the four of us, belonging to minorities had been the parts shaping us the most. However, we also made clear that some of the groups we’ve been put in by society, aren’t the ones that shaped us, or even how we recognise ourselves. I joked around about the Finnswedish sterotype, and my thoughts about a part of an identity that I didn’t quite realise made me different before I had already formed my identity as it looks today. We also addressed breaking the norm, risks with that and situations in life where we have had to do that.
My last statement in the conversation, and the main reason I wanted to participate so badly, was this:
Dear adults, that work with young people everyday. Take a look around your workplace, analyze your colleagues. You might be supporting the youngsters. You might be looking out for them not to bully each other. But do you see when you’re colleagues are beeing homophobic, racist, sexist, unsupportive, bullying, discriminating people, that are barely becoming who they are? Because that happens. And we spend a hell of a lot of time defending teachers, youth workers and parents for doing such an important thing & doing it so well, when frankly, a lot of them shouldn’t even be near young people. We’re all blind. But when we as a society have taken away the right for young people to influence their own lives, especially as minors, it’s also our responsibility as a society to make sure they’re safe in any space where they’re are forced to be. So I am asking you to keep your eyes open and address and problematize adults that treat young people with disrespect. For real.
And then I mentioned minor’s rights to participation again shortly afterwards at the Finnish Youth Co-operation Allianssi’s board meeting, where I represented the equality working group. So excited for days like these!