Who are we talking about?

When is a child, a child and when is a youth, a youth?
I believe that one of the challenges to serious debate about societal attitudes to young people is the numerous and sometimes contradictory way these terms are used.
For example, yesterdays press release from Barnados caused some confusion it seems because of it’s use of the word ‘child!’ Their assertion that society “casually condemns” children was rejected by a few of the people I spoke with (two of whom cited the vast amount donated to ‘Children in need’ two days before as proof we (as a society) do like children). Barnados though meant, pre 18’s (or maybe pre 19’s)
In general parlance ‘child’ means pre-adolescent or maybe pre-secondary school. In terms of political speak though and Children’s services et al, ‘Child’ means pre-adult (up to the age of 18). Big confusion. If I do a word association game with adults, the word child normally elicits positive responses and the word ‘teenager’ or ‘youth’ is massively more likely to garner some negativity.
Now the word ‘youth,’ what does that mean? Again there is some confusion. The word is often taken to mean ‘teenagers,’ but when the media reports on any incident that involves a group of people who have some overlap with youth culture, e.g wearing hoodies, being in a group etc, it gets reported as ‘Youth!’ I believe this further compounds the fear of teenagers rather than realising we are often talking in actuality about people in their 20’s. In one sense the media are correct here, ‘Youth’ can legitimately defined (Dictionary wise) as ‘the period between childhood and maturity’ but I am convinced that to the hearers ‘youth’ can have a number of different connotations.
For further confusion add in the term ‘young people!’

In conclusion and by way of illustration of potential confusion:

The current Youth strategy is called “Aiming high for young people!” and would be part of what the local Children’s Services are delivering on! This strategy flows from ‘Every Child Matters’ which is the underpinning approach for ‘children and young people‘ from birth to age 19.
(And not only is there a confusing overlap and duplication here, the words convey a number of different meanings when received by society as a whole)

2 Replies to “Who are we talking about?”

  1. Along a similar line, I heard a news report the other day which made reference to three ‘young people’ who had died in a car accident, but the next sentence described them as adults. Their ages? 19-22.
    I guess technically ‘young people’ by the UN’s definition (15-24) and yet still adults.
    The UN further sub-divides ‘youth’ into ‘teenagers’ (13-19) and ‘young adults’ (20-24) – note how the teenager category isn’t wholly contained with their own ‘youth’ age band. [http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/qanda.htm]

  2. I think the boundaries get blurrier (is that a real word?) as time goes on. I had an eleven year old insist he wasn’t a teenager in one group and a ten year old insist he wasn’t a child in another! Perception plays a huge role and I often think media cleverly leaves it ambiguous so those likely to stereotype think of their local group of hoodies as opposed to a specific age group. Local authority are always changing words so they just get too confusing!

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