Young people are poor in trust and support

4th July 2008 at 01:00
What does it mean to have rights as a young person in today's society? A "right" is said to be a necessity, a key ingredient to survival that no one can be without

What does it mean to have rights as a young person in today's society? A "right" is said to be a necessity, a key ingredient to survival that no one can be without.

However, out of the 700,000 children and young people in Wales, one in four lives in poverty. What rights do they have?

As a 15-year-old teenager living in Merthyr Tydfil, one of the "poorest" towns in Europe, I am used to being portrayed in negative and stereotypical ways. The image of "hooded" young hooligans serves to demonise us all in the minds of adults, but this is far from the whole picture.

By discussing and developing what we as a school community mean by "rights", we know it is only a minority of youngsters who behave antisocially. I truly believe that most children in this country are well- behaved and respectable.

Most teenagers are working towards a better future with qualifications. It is evident that high standards require hard work and dedication. My school is working hard to improve its exam results year on year, as are others across Wales. This gives hope for the future, no matter what critics of my generation might say.

One man who has faith in our generation is Keith Towler, the children's commissioner for Wales. He believes that there are two sides to child poverty - the economic side and the poverty of experience and expectations. He suggests that it is not only money, but also the lack of knowledge and wellbeing, that contributes to child poverty.

This makes perfect sense to me. I believe that for the children of today to become trusted with the future, the experiences of the past should be shared with young people so that we can learn from others' mistakes.

"Whatever the practical issues, the rights of children living in Wales should be the same as any other," says Mr Towler.

Who wouldn't agree with this? Any child has the right - whether they are born in India, America or Wales - to feel respected and to have their opinions honoured.

"If you have powers and responsibilities, people will listen to you," was the message the new commissioner gave in March.

Now we all wonder if he will live up to expectations. Yet I can't help but wonder whether we are missing the true meaning of poverty.

The UK is part of the EU. We are rich in our lifestyles and culture, but we are also rich in our families. A growing child or young person is dependent on their family for support in life's tasks. If the older generation cannot share its experiences or show support, then how is the minority "gun or knife culture" ever going to end?

Children and young people in today's society should not all be stigmatised and misunderstood. Not all of them are living in poverty; many just lack confidence.

Danielle Sullivan is 15. She is a pupil at Pen-y-Dre High School in Merthyr Tydfil.

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