A Vision for Young Australians in the 21st Century

Jan Owen AM

 

Courage.
Imagination.
Will.
3.1 million young Australians have this.

“it is indisputable that we’re living in a world that’s changing”

 

 

CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), Jan Owens AM explains how young Australians today have much of the attitude, beliefs and tools required to thrive and excel in life and work.

However, they still require strong support from key organisations and their communities.

Drawing from her theory of the Where’s Wally Effect (or, as some media put it, the ‘mental health epidemic’) Jan raised the question of whether due to the changing world we’re losing who we are, who we’re identifying as and where we fit in society.

Imagine a world where everyone’s ‘Wally’; we’re all the same, we all blend in and we’ve lost our unique point of difference.

However, though the 21st century may be creating a more “blended in” society, studies have shown that in fact, young people now more than ever connect to their families, stay at home longer, have a closer circle of friends and live both local and global lives simultaneously.

It’s also shown that young people now have the attitude to adapt well to changing environments and that adults are projecting their own inabilities onto them.

FYA works with hundreds of thousands of children all around the world. In a movement to “create a world class outward-looking education system, one that connects young people to the real world”, Jan presented the idea to “future-proof our young people”.

Hoping to generate job creators not job seekers within our youth, Jan brought to the table the fact that young people will have 15-20 jobs in their lifetime, with 10 of the top jobs available to them today having not existed in 2004.

But it’s not only jobs that Jan wants to help encourage throughout the 21st century youth. There is also the movement to encourage the “reimagining of what volunteering looks like” among young people and organisations.

One such organisation is Young People Without Borders, a program that enables young people to volunteer just one day at a time. The motivation for this? That “over time we will see tens of thousands of young people volunteering who wouldn’t have”.

Jan Owen is “optimistic about the youth” and believes “they have the skills and attitudes to shape the places they live in and the drive to make change”.

If there is one piece of advice she’s willing to spread, it’s that she “encourages you to be optimistic too”.

You can follow Jan on twitter at @JanOwenAM or @FYA_org_au

“There is a new generation of young people in this country…young people that are leading movements for change”

By: SYN Media blogger

Importance of relationships for the developing child – Dr Bruce Perry

Bruce Perry Keynote Day 1” I think its always important to be reminded of how important it is to create safe, developmental experiences for children,” Dr Perry.

Dr Bruce Perry was referring to the Good Childhood Conference, reiterating how essential it is for society to understand that at every point in time, we are in “the process of inventing the future”.

The presentation, recorded in his Chicago hotel room, resonated with the themes of the conference, focusing on brain development at an early age and building healthy communities.

Sociocultural evolution has, over time, lead to the changes in the way we construct our society: our language, religions, childrearing, family structures, art, science and technology.

Dr Bruce Perry

The focus of Dr. Perry‘s presentation lay with the relationships and interactions children are offered at a young age and the profound influence intimate moments such as talking, touching and holding eye contact can have.

Human beings have also absorbed thousands of learnings from previous generations. But this is not always a good thing.

“In the process of inventing the future, we have invented some things that are really wonderful…and we have invented some practices that actually are quite disrespectful of some of our genetic gifts,” Dr Perry said.

Our greatest biological gifts are the power of relationships and the brain’s malleability.

Dr Perry referred to the case where a young girl was, essentially, raised by a pack of dogs and, with no human interaction in the early stages of her life, she essentially acted like a dog. Dr Perry co-authored a book on another similar case, emphasising the malleability of human brains to learn from and adapt to their surroundings.

He then went on to explain how relationships in modern society have taken a turn for the worse because we are now based within huge networks of people unlike the small clans of hunter-and-gatherer times. Children are no longer raised surrounded by extended family and small tribes of people but spend countless hours surrounded by other humans who they don’t know and don’t interact with. Furthermore, technology is a distraction and is reducing the amount of intimate interactions children share with others.

“You might have 100 friends on Facebook but you might not have one single person to have dinner with,” he said.

In what he termed “modern tribalism”, Dr Perry said the ways in which society compartmentalises itself has resulted in material wealth yet “poverty of social relationships”.

“A healthy human being is a related human being.”

Humans are wired to feel stressed and threatened by other humans. After all, we are our own main predator. This stress can be managed throughout life if productive interactions and and healthy relationships are forged during childhood.

But, according to Dr Perry, the way our culture is currently organised induces a state of social and cultural neglect in our children.

Any programs that decrease physical, social and emotional isolation will be effective in making a difference. Currently, the percentage of children in “high-risk” categories is growing and the apparent “poverty of relationships” is a leading reason.

CEO Sandie de Wolf at The Good Childhood Conference

Dr Perry said programs and initiatives such as the Good Childhood Conference are important in encouraging investment into children and developmentally-appropriate ways to raise children.

Berry St CEO, Sandie de Wolf AM, agreed saying: “Relationships are at the core of everything we do”.

Helping children & young people thrive, achieve & belong: Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE

Baroness Susan Greenfield Keynote“It truly is miraculous that something made up of the same chemicals as ear wax should be able to do what the brain does” Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE

The Good Childhood Conference started on 10 October with keynote presentation ‘How neuroscience can contribute to identifying the outcomes we want for children and young people in the 21st Century‘ by Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE, a leading British neuroscientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords.

Her story is about developing the mind and learning more about how the physical brain works. With technology changing drastically, she argues that there are bound to be drastic changes in our brains, so how can we harness the power of this technology and development?

The story starts with the brain. To understand this story, it takes a short lesson in the myths of neuroscience:

Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE

The link between your genes and your behaviours is actually quite indirect and it’s only part of the story. The role of your environment and experiences play a huge part in this and that has nothing to do with your genes.

The brain grows through connections between “blobby bits”, and this is what determines how you think and how you view the world.

And what builds those connections? Your experiences, environment and how your brain adapts to these things. This adaptability or ‘plasticity’ of the brain leads us to understand incredible cases of brain repair and the learning of unusual skills, as the brain continually grows through actions and experiences.

Did you know a London taxi driver’s brain looks totally different to a golfer’s?

So, with this in mind, what’s key in neuroscience for the adolescent brain? The answer is the prefrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain that can be highly influenced by dopamine, the chemical that impacts onto your inhibitions.

The balance between thrill and consequences is weighed up in the prefrontal cortex and here, the thrill of taking a risk can outweigh the consequences and, before you know it, the prefrontal cortex takes that risk. This knowledge of the brain and the way it develops can influence the ways we think about environments, the use of digital technology and, what this means for children and childhood.

The neuroscientist’s story puts a particular importance on enriching environments and making for a good childhood: it shapes your personality, it shapes your experiences, it literally shapes your brain.

“What we can do now that we know about this plasticity, is harness the benefits of the digital world and minimise the threats.”

By: SYN Media blogger

Welcome to The Good Childhood Conference blog!

CEO, Berry Street
Sandie de Wolf AM – CEO, Berry Street

This is a first for me as I join the blogging community!

At Berry Street, we believe that all children should have a good childhood, growing up feeling safe, nurtured and with hope for the future.  Sadly, evidence and our experience over 136 years tells us that this is not a reality for far too many children.

I think there is a lot for us to learn and share about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not had this experience. One of the key ways forward is bringing together parents’ experience, the knowledge of practitioners and different disciplines.

There are a wide range of terrific speakers lined up for our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference, designed to appeal to different audiences.  Some will be controversial. That’s part of the intention, because we really want to start a broad conversation about childhood.

We hope to have a large contingent of young people at the Conference – as both presenters and participants.

Like the work of Berry Street, our Conference will appeal to people from many different disciplines.  50 workshops will cover areas such as child protection, education, early years, wellbeing, place-based initiatives, family violence, the impact of technology and Out of Home Care.

We couldn’t be doing this without our Sponsors and Supporting Partners. We are especially grateful to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who describe their role as helping to build a strong and fair society for all Australians and developing social policies to:

  • Increase opportunities for all Australians to participate in our society and work
  • Promote cohesive and connected society
  • Support basic living standards
  • Support individuals, families and communities to build their capacity

So, please spread the word and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Sandie de Wolf, CEO, Berry Street