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

Youth Report – The Good Childhood Conference (Part One)

 

Youth facilitators at Conference
CREATE Youth facilitators at Conference

In a series of blog posts we will be reflecting on our new understandings of youth participation after The Good Childhood Conference, as well as some of the feedback we received from conference delegates. We will also report back on practical elements of our youth participation strategy.

Below are some of our initial reflections on the experience, specifically the usefulness of the youth consultations and social media in preparation for the conference.

In regards to youth participation at the conference, we aimed to actively include young people in the conversation about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not experienced a good childhood. (For more information on our approach, check out our Principles of Youth Participation on the Berry Street Childhood Institute website).

As you may remember, three youth consultants worked with us to engage in a broader consultation with young people about what would create a conference that was engaging and attractive to young people.

Over a two month period the youth consultants met with approximately 80 young people and gathered considerable feedback about what young people would or wouldn’t like.

Outcomes of the Youth Consultations:

  • Received feedback about what young people would or wouldn’t like at a conference,
  • Promoted the event in face-to-face sessions with young people,
  • Provided three youth consultants with workplace training,
  • Collected data to drive our youth-friendly activities,
  • Provided motivation for the youth consultants to volunteer at the conference, displaying increased leadership qualities – they also brought their friends,
  • Developed/improved relationships with community groups, schools, youth groups and clients of Berry Street,
  • Provided a barometer of youth interest in the conference.

“The youth consultation process has been a positive but challenging experience for me. It put me out of my comfort zone and has helped me improve on my networking and organisation skills.” Laura, Youth Consultant

Promoting Youth Participation
During the youth consultations young people told us that they like to communicate via social media. In the lead up to the conference an 8 week social media strategy was planned in order to promote numerous speaker profiles, interesting topics and reminders about the conference on Twitter and Facebook. Information about youth scholarships offered was posted regularly.

To provide some idea, detailed below are the most popular (shared and/or ‘Liked’) Facebook posts on the Berry Street Childhood Institute page in the lead up to the conference:
789 – Muriel Bamblett August 2013
452 – Youth scholarships announced September 2013
419 – Conference post after day one October 2013
165 – Launch of the conference program August 2013
158 – Kaff-iene the street artist August 2013

Youth participation was also publicised on the conference website, here on the conference blog and in the program. Positive feedback was received about the information available.

Stay tuned for more reflections on youth participation in the coming weeks…

The Conference is done: what now?

Packed Celebrity Room at the Conference
Participants packed into the Celebrity Room at the Conference to hear from keynote speakers

We were thrilled with the success of our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference. I know you can’t judge success by numbers but here are a few statistics:

  • Over the 3 days of the conference (starting with the pre-conference workshops) we had 1000 people in attendance;
  • During the two day conference there were 64 presentations & activities, including: 8 keynote addresses, 10 keynote presentations, 40 concurrent sessions, 2 performances, 1 youth panel, 1 youth led workshop, 1 football skills drill, and 1 book launch;
  • 63 young people and 25 foster carers attended the conference on scholarships;
  • There were 18 displays and exhibitors, as well as a street artist creating a work in front of our eyes;
  • We were supported by 7 sponsors, 22 supporting partners and many friends of the conference who provided scholarships for young people and carers.

Presenters and delegates alike have been very positive in their feedback and we thank you for your encouragement.

In holding the conference we were seeking to explore what sustains a good childhood and how we can best support those who have not experienced a good childhood and we are keen to understand whether we met this aim.

We are currently analysing delegates’ evaluation forms and will be sending out a survey to those who attended to obtain further information to assist us with future planning. Watch this blog to find out about some of the themes from this feedback.

What happens now?
One of the unique features of The Good Childhood conference was the presence of young people from SYN Media who attended all of the keynote and a range of other sessions, commenting on conference themes on twitter and drafting blog posts which we will share over the coming weeks.

This blog is going to become a permanent fixture for the Berry Street Childhood Institute as we encourage you all to engage in this conversation about what we want for children in Australia in the 21st century.

Why don’t you enter this conversation right now by commenting here? Otherwise get involved on Twitter at @ChildhoodInst.

Thanks to all of you who participated in any way at our conference!

The time has arrived – let the Conference begin!

Follow the Good Childhood Conference live on Twitter!
Follow the Good Childhood Conference live on Twitter!

Those of us who are organising The Good Childhood Conference are feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety (to be honest, terror) as our conference becomes a reality with pre-workshops on today and the conference starting tomorrow, Thursday 11 October.

Now if only we had listened to one of our keynote speakers, Robert Hart from the Resilience Institute, and “ejected stress” and “sustained our energy”!

The pre-conference workshops are seeing three of our conference speakers engaging participants in sessions about drumming, resilience and client case studies respectively.

This breadth of topics reflects the diversity of sessions we’ll be offering at the conference itself over the next two days.

So if you are attending the conference, we are really looking forward to your participation and hope you will join us in the conversation about a good childhood.

We encourage you to follow the seminars and discussions on social media, whether you are able to attend the conference or not.

Young people from SYN Media will be reporting on what they are hearing from our presenters on Twitter so you will be able to keep up with the content and respond to the key themes. The conference hash tag and key accounts are:

  1. #GCConf, follow this hash tag to see all Tweets relevant to the conference and each seminar,
  2. @ChildhoodInst, Tweeting highlights from the SYN Media Tweeters attending each seminar,
  3. @LiveSYN, covering the conference keynotes and seminars live.

After the conference we will be constantly updating this blog with posts written on most of the keynotes, seminars and worshops.

This way, we can let you know in more detail about what our presenters had to say about a good childhood – how it can be sustained and what we need to do for those who have not had a good childhood.

Again, we would be really pleased if you could comment on the blog so we know what you are thinking.

Here’s to a successful and dynamic conference!

Pictures of You

Brian Nankervis
Brian Nankervis (centre) on ‘Pictures of You’ with two of his special guests, comedians/ actors Anh Do and Shane Jacobson.

Without seeking to trivialise our conference aims, we don’t believe conversations about a Good Childhood should be restricted to earnest or academic exchanges.

After all, we all hope that childhood involves a good measure of fun and creativity.

We plan to end The Good Childhood Conference on a positive and entertaining note with a perspective on the good childhood theme from Brain Nankervis.

Brian is a Melbourne based performer, writer and producer who is probably best known as co-host of the popular SBS music trivia series ‘RocKwiz’.

In 2012 Brian hosted the talk show ‘Pictures of You’ on Channel 7. Guests were invited into the studio armed with their family photo collections and encouraged to reminisce about their early life.

At our conference, Brain will recreate this format with two of our presenters who will share some childhood photos and in the process, tell us something about who they are today.

If you go further back into Brian’s history as a performer, you might recall his regular appearances on Hey Hey It’s Saturday as the tortured street poet Raymond J Bartholomeuz.

We can’t promise you any poems but Brian is a consummate storyteller and he’s bound to whimsically and poignantly share something of his own childhood.

We hope to see you on Friday afternoon for a delightful end to a stimulating, possibly challenging conference program!

See Brian’s touching interview with “The Happiest Refugee” Anh Do below,