Please join me on Twitter every Wednesday 1-2pm GMT for the hashtag hour: #SpeakUp4Youth

I decided to start this hour to provide a bit of time out and space to discuss our perceptions of what is happening to young people right now. There is a lot to think about and debate, from youth social action in the refugee crisis, through to worrying issues with employment rates and mental health.

It’s about time that we gathered around to talk through what is empowering young people but also the elements that are creating real issues in their development and impacting on their life chances.

All discussions are welcome, the only rule is that these help to promote their interests and highlight the positive aspects of their generations and what they have to offer the world.

Please do follow me on Twitter and DM me if you have any suggestions for what you would like to see included. Or you can comment below…




So why does it matter?

In the current environment of mobile surveying and social media listening, quick research is perhaps becoming easier and more accessible for smaller companies and brands alike. However, it is sometimes easy to discount the value of involving people in direct face-to-face discussions, to really get a feel for their experiences and insights into their behaviour.

It is especially important to ensure the younger generation are still involved in these ways. They are human beings, even though they may be attached to their devices for most of the day.

Traditional qualitative research appears to be becoming less favoured and deemed as too expensive or even experimental, when online work is cheap and at times – an effective way of gleaning responses to certain questions. Of course, young people spend a lot of time on social media. BUT they also like the opportunity to talk about their experiences in a way that involves the physical signs of being listened to and understood.

Talk or device research
Traditional or new?

I feel that research should be a process of engagement – of actively involving participants in a subject and really exploring their reactions to this. In my opinion, this is only ever fully achieved through human interaction. As a researcher, I find that multiple methods work well with young people – online focus groups are another example of a useful addition to a researcher’s toolkit, but the real richness and all-important context and narrative comes directly from real-world discussions with them.

Do you agree or disagree with this post? Please comment below.

Don’t forget you can join my hashtag hour #SpeakUp4Youth every Wednesday 1-2pm GMT to discuss issues affecting youth and research approaches.



Grief is something we all have to face at some point in our lives.

Both of my parents have already passed away. My Mum had just turned 62 when she died. I was 32. My Dad died three years later – he had just turned 70. At the age of 35 I found myself without either of my parents – the people who had brought me up and taught me more or less everything I know about how to live my life and how to treat others (they did a great job of this bit, which is good).

My journey through this grief has been difficult. But then I always try to remind myself that many, many others have been through the same experience or are currently right in the middle of this. It can also be very frightening – terrifying almost. When someone you love dies, it can feel like the world around you has fundamentally changed. Nothing can be the same again. Nobody tells you about the fear element. I have experienced panic attacks, but I am slowly starting to feel better. Of course, that is the most frustrating part, knowing that grief can not be hurried to its resolution. There is no ‘fast-forward’ button.

Grief sucks

Finding a positive outlet for grief is really important.

Considering how devastating and turbulent this can be, it is pretty amazing that a younger person can actually get through this, can keep functioning in life and move on. As an adult, I would like to think that I would do anything I could to help someone in this position to go through this journey, to feel supported and cared for.

A month or so ago, I came across an amazing youth charity called Fixers. Winner of Best UK Charity Project of the Year 2014, they have a very specific focus: to help young people develop a project that makes their voice heard on a matter that is very personal to them – something of which they have had a specific experience. It’s about empowering them to find a solution.

Through this, I found out about Gennifer. Gennifer’s friend sadly died of cancer when she was just 15. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for her. She decided to do something about this experience, to help others. Fixers stepped in and helped her in her determination to set up an online resource for young people who have been bereaved: the SOAR website. I think she is amazing.

soar website

The site aims to help young people feel informed and supported. It is also useful for parents, other family members and teachers – to encourage them to have more patience and understanding in supporting someone who is going through this, especially when dealing with the demands of study, exams and other stresses.

Crucially, Gennifer found that there was little advice or information available to her at school and in other settings and that made it harder for her to admit she was struggling to cope. I imagine many young people have been through a similar experience.

On her website, she offers 5 key tips that I think are crucial to remember if you are grieving:

  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. It can be a great relief to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
  • Know that there isn’t a time limit on mourning. Bereavement can affect you for any length of time, some people only take a few months to grieve, where others may take years.
  • Take time out for yourself. It’s not selfish to want to be by yourself sometimes to gather your thoughts.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others in the same situation! People experiencing bereavement learn to grieve/cope in different ways, it’s okay not to feel the same as someone else does.
  • It’s alright to move on with your life and be happy. Don’t feel guilty about moving on with your life and being happy. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about your loved one who has passed away, it just means that you can finally accept what has happened. They would want you to continue your life.

I asked Gennifer how this work has helped her, this is what she said:

 “Working with fixers to create a bereavement support website for young people really helped me put in to perspective everything I had dealt with and overcome. It allowed me the opportunity to turn a life changing event in to something positive through helping and offering support to other young people who were dealing with similar situations to myself”.

Gennifer Graham

Gennifer’s story has inspired me to write this blog post and to share more about myself than I usually would have done. And for that I would like to thank her.

One of my close friends sent me a greetings card this week. The cover is plastered with pictures of girl superheroes (and some female baddies thrown in too!). Inside she wrote: ‘You are a superhero… so don’t forget it’.

Gennifer – you are a superhero too… never, ever forget that.

I think Fixers are an amazing charity. If you would like to find out more about their fantastic work, please have a look at their website.

If you are grieving at the moment, here is something that may help.


Quotes via whatsyourgrief.com

Please look out for any young people you know who may be going through a loss. Let’s support each other.

I recently wrote a post in memory of my Dad and how he taught me to be enterprising in my approach to life. Please check it out.



In 2015, reviewing your life choices can feel like trying to make sense of a big crumpled map in front of you, squinting to work out which road ends up where and what all the names and symbols really mean. What are the real consequences of where I might be going?

In fact, it is more like analysing a child’s drawing, attempting to highlight what is going in which direction and why.

Where am I going?
Where am I going?

I have an old map that belonged to my Dad. Even though it’s quite creased, It’s an amazing portrait of Morroco, printed in 1970. He was there at that time, working for a tour company. I love opening it out and looking at all of the different sections. It is complicated, but it also has a structure and everything has a place (literally). To me, it represents freedom and adventure – a time in my Dad’s past when he was young and free of responsibility. Life was for the taking, but there was also a guide for you, if you needed it.

Navigating your life imageimage

Procrastination and generally delaying the onset of real adulthood – a one with a permanent job and a house – was accepted back then. Gentle rebellion of this nature was ok, because work could always be found, as long as you were willing to put in the effort.

But now of course, it’s a different story, a more dystopian one full of high unemployment and benefit sanctions, where options are not really options at all. University is now a matter of wealth and cultural capital, rather than about talent. Some young people (far too many) are ending up too far in one direction and off the side of the map completely into obscurity – identifiable only by crimes committed and verified vulnerability.

I’d love to start thinking of youth choices today as a more coherent map, of true demonstrations of what it’s like to be alive, about prospects and experience. Will this ever become a reality again for our young people?

youth + confidence

Mhairi black is only 20. she’s the youngest mp in the house of commons and she’s re-writing the rule book on what youth are capable of…

Yesterday, she delivered her maiden speech and showed everyone how it’s done, demonstrating how her age group can be eloquent, articulate and above all, steely in determination.

One of my first posts (back in 2010) was a thought piece about how young people were still being viewed as untrustworthy and ‘dangerous’ in our society. This is something that has stayed with us since the 1950s and the advent of rock ‘n’ roll…

Not much has changed over the past five years. Government agendas and media outlets ‘present’ young people to us as a negative group of the population, devoid of skill or morality.

‘Youth’ has become an all-encompassing term – they have been given a mask that is easier to understand and compartmentalise, thus it’s less threatening.

We are told to remember that:

  • they are different to us – we are not them, they are not us – there is no middle ground
  • they can be kept at an arms length – we don’t have to make the effort to understand them or interact with them if we don’t want to 

What has struck me about the commentary around Mhairi (aside from being a woman) is her age. In general, there is a real sense of amazement at what she has achieved, because 20 year olds aren’t meant to be this successful are they? Surely there aren’t others out there who are as effective – are there?

In terms of law and policy, the view of young people and their capabilities is very confused. They are certainly not children but are not yet considered responsible and able enough to be deemed as ‘adults’, whatever that term really means. Government policy is focused on supporting a linear life course that apparently all young people take – a trajectory that ultimately ends in some sort of resolution of concerns about their social responsibilities and their commitments to society and communities.

Well, Mhairi Black has already shown others her age that:

  • 1. you can do any job you want to, if you truly believe in yourself
  • 2. it’s ok to stand up for what you believe in
  • 3. criticism is not the end of the world – it strengthens your resolve
  • 4. there are others out there who are fighting their corner

Thank goodness for that.

Her speech also includes a story about people she has met through volunteering in her local area, a real connection she has managed to make that has given her a rich experience and understanding of life.

Instead of talking about her age, we should be more accepting that this type of work is achievable for young people. This is not something out of the ordinary, but a reality and this would become more obvious if we were willing to just let them in.

Inside Out

For many years, I have been a great admirer of how storytelling can help children and youth cope with different life events and the entangled emotions these can throw up. Pixar is just about to release its newest and frankly, most brilliant example of normalising the ups and downs of everyday life. ‘Inside Out’ is about an eleven-year old girl called Riley and the various feelings within her that control her behaviour: Joy; Sadness; Fear; Anger; and Disgust. Reviews have suggested that it’s a joy to watch.

Above all, I’m hoping it will become a catalyst for positive discussions about mental health.

Inside OutInside Out

*Reviews of ‘Inside Out’ in Grazia and Empire.

More than anything, this movie is saying that it’s ok to have a variety of different reactions inside of you, battling against each other in your head. Everyone has that, they just don’t often discuss it. This is paramount, in a society where mental health is such a taboo topic, where parents would rarely admit to anyone that they are struggling with their thoughts, let alone their own children. These films can reassure people when they are grieving. Experiencing a loss can be hugely devastating when you are still developing and already struggling with the various aspects of your identity.

When I lost both of my parents, (I was in my 30s, still am), it wasn’t the adult-based dramas and classic epics that I took solace in, but the child-driven narratives of younger films. ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘Up’, all have a great deal to tell us about death. These stories tell us that people most definitely do die, but wonderful things happen too.

Most importantly, they suggest that sometimes life is a struggle, but it is for adults as well. There is no need to feel alone in your feelings. Just like our conflicting emotions, we are all in it together…

Where is all the angry, raw, edgy music? This is a common discussion in my house. The Who’s headline set at Glastonbury last night reminded us that  a whole generation of disenfranchised young people were given a voice, by four teenagers who were sick of being treated like second class citizens…and we are still listening to them now. Their lyrics still carry meaning and a sense of urgency.

BBC 6 Music Maximum R&B: the birth of The Who

Of course, not everyone will agree with me on this as there are many different music movements out there, many being spearheaded by teenagers. My issue here is that many of us do not get to hear this music as it never becomes mainstream…record companies do not appear to be signing these bands and giving them the platforms they need.

These days have gone, but youth can still make a difference
These days have gone, but youth can still make a difference

Pete Townshend has been vocal about his choice to respond to feeling misunderstood and lacking in control over his life when he was younger. He felt there needed to be a response that demonstrated that youth have something to say. They do matter. 50 years on and we appear to be on a similar situation, with quite a lot of dissatisfaction with life and a real sense of a lack of opportunity for our young people.

Music is a great form for expressing opinion, for creating an outlet for feelings and perhaps most importantly…being heard. Townshend has also stated that he was afraid he would get arrested for being so outspoken about his generation. But he did it anyway.

This is why arts-based projects are so important. Young people are able to gain confidence by learning new skills, such as DJ’ing, producing, acting etc, but are also given permission to tell us how they are feeling. When we are anxious or worried, we are always told that it’s good to talk about your feelings – to get them out of the open and into the conscious part of your mind. So why aren’t we encouraging more young people to do the same?

Further reading:

Why do old musicians always think the kids have lost their way?

BBC Playlister: the birth of The Who