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Adolescents and youth

Enabling environments

© UNICEF/HQ00-0373/Balaguer
Adolescents work together in a multimedia workshop part of a UNICEF-assisted programme by the local NGO Cipo, to promote youth development and leadership in city neighbourhoods and communities in Salvador, Brazil.

Adolescents need relevant and reliable information to make informed decisions and to understand how the choices they make will affect their lives. This can come from a variety of sources, including parents and other family members, teachers, the mass media and other young people.

As adolescents develop, they are increasingly influenced by their peers and by adults other than their parents. They begin to explore their sexuality and to test themselves intellectually, creatively and socially through sports and other recreational activities.

A right to feel supported and safe

Young people's ideas are constantly being shaped and influenced by their environment. When adolescents have opportunities to learn and express themselves without fear, they are more likely to be engaged with their parents, peers and communities. They gain self-esteem and become positive role models.

National and local laws must also promote and support adolescents' rights and young people should participate in the development and monitoring of these laws. Adolescents who are denied opportunities for growth and feel trapped by circumstances may come into conflict with the law. How society responds to a young lawbreaker can make or break a young person's future.

"Punishment does not purify; if anything it only hardens children," said Mahatma Gandhi. Increasingly, communities are recognizing that incarcerating young people in facilities designed to punish rather than rehabilitate, can create embittered adults who lack the skills to be productive and responsible citizens when they are released.

A right to make a difference

Adolescents look for a sense of belonging as they mature. They learn, grow and thrive when they are given a wide range of opportunities to make an impact. The contributions adolescents make in their homes, schools and communities and through municipal councils, youth associations, media and international conferences can inspire and ignite lasting change. They can transform the world.

National and regional Youth Forums are increasingly giving youth a platform to identify and express their opinions about issues that affect their lives. Young people are able to analyze their current situation and present their visions and recommendations to leaders for future action in these fora.

Youth Parliaments, such as those in Cote d'Ivoire, Morocco and Senegal, provide an opportunity for young people to express their views to the government and to become partners in planning strategies for lasting change.

Finally, national youth opinion polls and referendums enable young people to voice their opinions and concerns to the government, media and general public. They can be important tools for mobilizing political support for adolescent programmes.
Knowledge that prevents, attitudes that respect, skills that protect .
Adolescents are more likely to build self-esteem, self-confidence and develop skills and capabilities when they are encouraged to express their opinions and feelings, be assertive and stand up for what they believe. They become better equipped to deal with abusive, threatening or unfair situations because they are in a better position to seek advice, exit a harmful situation when necessary, or cope creatively when they cannot leave.

If given a voice, young people can provide important information about conditions at work or at school and about risks to their own health and that of their community. They can provide suggestions for change that adults may not have considered and they play a vital role in researching, monitoring, evaluating and planning.



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