How to be Good
by Sonia Sodha
Yesterday we held a panel debate, ‘How to be Good: Building character in young people’ to mark the launch of Demos’s new Capabilities Programme. We were privileged to have a panel of experts debate the issue, including Professor Tanya Byron, psychologist and author of the Byron Review, Judy Dunn, Chair of the Good Childhood Enquiry and Emma-Jane Cross, CEO of Beatbullying.
In some ways it felt like a funny time to be talking about developing character, values and responsibility in young people given the media storm and public outrage over MPs’ expense claims. A theme that emerged strongly was that as a society we are very good at demonising young people and telling them how they ought to behave, but not so good at reflecting on whether our attitudes towards them are a self-fulfilling prophecy, and whether we as adults are setting an appropriate example.
There was also general agreement in the panel that adolescence is a time when it is natural for young people to want to take risks and be ‘bad’ – but what is important is that they have a strong values framework or moral compass within which they can do that. The problem comes when this is missing – and this of course is not the fault of young people, but a problem with our society and culture.
Another issue that was raised was that we need to think more deeply about how policy can support families, schools and communities in developing the broader set of life skills or character traits – like motivation, empathy, communication skills and an ability to regulate your own behaviour – that research has shown are so important to leading and enjoying a happy, fulfilled life while children are growing up and in adulthood.
There will be more events on this theme to follow and new research from the Capabilities Programme, including a paper on tackling disengagement from learning that we will be publishing next week. We’ll also shortly be putting up a podcast featuring highlights from the debate.