Baroness Brady, or Karren as she is known to Bluenoses and Apprentice fans, is reported in last Sunday’s press to have advocated that all children should volunteer, play sport and get a part-time job by the time they are sixteen.
She reflected concern that kids today get buried in the world of WhatsApp and Netflix, develop screen addiction and fail to develop sufficient social skills or an adequate inquisitiveness about the world around them. She implied that the result would be an introverted generation, lacking in aspiration and drive.
She has a point.
One of the classic metaphors that flowed on the mighty pen of Charles Dickens appeared in the heart of Bleak House, when he wrote of a character:
Everything that [he] ever put away in his mind was grub at first and is a grub at last. In all his life he has never bred a single butterfly.
To apply that picture to this current scenario, to be stuck in a screen dominated world can be to live in a dark and grub infested soil, in need of light and nutrients in order to break forth into those green shoots of fresh growth, from which butterflies can flutter.
Young people who volunteer can develop a broader perspective and a sharper sense of reality, somewhat distant from the glib and insensitive generalisations of that sphere where everything can be summed up in 140 charmless characters or a jokey video. The alternative appears to be an inexorable drift towards an increasingly polarised society in which the like minded cluster online and get less and less exposure to alternative views or the reality of life in other circles.
It may not be the easiest challenge, but let us then, within our community sector, consider how we might make more opportunities for youngsters to volunteer, how we attract them to do so and how we make such experiences into mind developing encounters.