Young people have massive potential to help if we only give them the space to do it.

Spring 2020 came and wiped away the everyday life that was familiar to us. This new, unfamiliar situation made some young people anxious, and for others, it only made old problems harder. Finding help was not easy for everyone, as it was so difficult to step out of one’s home, regardless of whether it was safe or unsafe, during the emergency conditions.

At the Red Cross youth shelters, we and a few young volunteers started to design communication that would help us get our important message through to young people and their loved ones: all young people are entitled to help, and help is available, even during these exceptional times in society.

Talking with the young people, however, made us realise that our message cannot be this simple. If we only talk about the support the youth shelters offer to young people, we will leave half of the story untold. We also need the youth: they have plenty to give as helpers, too.

“Young people are just as capable. We can achieve a great deal by working together, as long as we take into account the young person’s own strengths and experiences,” said our volunteer, Nea. Nea knows what she is talking about.

She has worked in various volunteer duties at youth shelters for a long time. According to studies, young people have the will to help and participate in volunteer work, and the interest of youth in social matters is at a record-breaking level, based on the Youth Barometer. The Red Cross has also noticed this during the course of this exceptional spring.

Young people’s interest in social issues and their desire to influence matters should now be nursed by providing young people with places among the decision-making bodies. We cannot leave these designers of the future unheard when we make decisions that relate to them.

“I would like to encourage young people to take on various positions of trust. In many bodies of trust, the older generations make up the members and the board. This can often be seen as inequality and unfairness in the matters to be decided which also apply to young people,” Nea points out.

Even though society has been unable to fully recognise the potential of young people as volunteers, they help each other in everyday life in crucial ways. A friend is the most important support form for many, which was also confirmed by the Youth Barometer: To young people, social exclusion mostly means the lack of reliable friendships.

“I believe that everyone opens up to their friends, at least a little. You just need to keep an eye on whether there are any worrying signs in your friend’s behaviour and talk to them, if you notice any. And support them when they look for help,” says M’balia, who also performed on the shelters’ campaign video. Friends often know how a young person is really doing and feeling. Friends can also encourage a young person to find help.

Young people are already helping a great deal and want to help each other even more. What could we learn from them about helping? “I hope that people would truly hear and see each other. That everyone could feel that someone actually cares about them, even if a solution could not be found right away,” Nea says.

Simple, but so hard to keep in mind at times. Instead of losing ourselves in the world of service maps and solution models, we, as adult professionals, should just take a moment and focus on the present from time to time. Instead of providing suggestions, we could offer space.

According to the young people, it would be essential to make everyone feel that their experiences matter. “You shouldn’t belittle anyone if they say that they are not doing well, you should really listen to them.” If we meet young people struggling with escalating problems every day, we may sometimes doubt the necessity of help when it comes to more common problems of youth. But everyone looking for help truly needs help.

Finally, we asked the young people what kind of message they would like to send to a young person going through some difficult times:

“You are not alone with it, and surprisingly many people are going through something similar. There is always someone willing to listen, you are not alone. You shouldn't try not to tell anyone about it; talking about issues always helps.”

Indeed, we should make sure that we hear the experiences and messages of young people, also those messages that are quieter or hard to tell. We need to make space for young people to speak and be seen, both as recipients of help as well as helpers and influential persons.