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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

Signposts Young Adults and Choice

Young adults and choice for 6th form education.


A pilot programme for life choice in schools

Life has changed for young adults in the last decade. Many (49% of 20-24 year olds) still live at home. They are less likely to improve upon the economic success of their parents and more likely to live with fewer guidelines than their parents. Young adults have more choices to make about work, study, partners, marriage, housing, travel, orientation, alcohol, drugs and sexual activity than their parents. At the same time the impact of social media and marketing can take over their freedom to choose and leave them confused and at risk.

Risks around choice: Young adults are at risk from two directions: to give in to the general drift of the pressure group and lose the energy and vision of a life well lived. Or secondly, they can give into the frustration of a life without a focus and make impulsive choices without considering the consequences.

The Signposts project wants to contribute to healthier choices for young adults whilst they are still at school. With support and knowledge young adults can make wiser choices for themselves, be more alive and engaged with community and society as a result. This would make them better citizens with better developed gifts and it will help them to be better friends who can share the wisdom they have gained through wiser choices.

up to 55% of young adults can expect to be made redundant and have up to nine different career roles in their working life

The wider social and psychological context behind the issue of choice:

Adolescence continues into the mid-twenties with brain development and hormonal changes not fully settled before the age of twenty five. One of the consequences of brain development in early adulthood is that the connections between actions and their consequences can be very weak leaving young adults at risk of making lasting damaging choices for themselves and others. Another problem is that the slow development of the pre-frontal cortex in particular makes emotional maturity and positive self-image more difficult to maintain.

There is further evidence from Prof. Frank Furedi (University of Kent) that young adults are becoming less aspirational and losing the drive that changes their own lives and the life of society around them. The desire to make a difference seems to be in decline and the desire not to rock the boat seems to be increasing- all to the detriment of society in general.

The choice problem has always existed for this age group but it is more exacerbated today because of the break down in the stability of the family unit, the increase in the range of choices about lifestyle and careers. The absence of accepted wider values leaves a young adult alone with a lot of major choices and not a lot of mature experience on hand to make sense of them. As a society we are not offering much to help young adults with these more holistic choices that link their vision, personality and sense of vocation to the choices they need to make.

The awareness of a job or a role as a vocation has diminished over the last few decades to the detriment of society. The spiritual dimension of many roles seems to have been eroded by increased emphasis on targets and job descriptions. The leader of the nursing and midwifery council this year had to write to all nurses to remind them,

“you are never off duty….there is an expectation still

that you have a certain standing in society.”

The vocational aspect of teaching, policing, nursing and many other roles is at risk and Signposts is a small reminder that vocation is important for both the individual and society in general.

The natural home for the formal development of a sense of vocation is obviously in the school. However, increasing pressures on time and the energy of teachers in school leads to a narrowing of the curriculum where little time is available for a more holistic education. Many schools work tirelessly to satisfy the demands of targets and the deeper needs of young people but they are often only recognised for the former and perhaps under pressure to put aside other values in the battle for survival. Even the chairman of Ofqual (the exams regulator) has put this remark on record.

”there is more to life than exam grades…don’t let curriculum thinking collapse into qualification thinking.”[i]

In vocational terms this insistence only on measured progress for both pupils and teachers creates a perfect storm that erodes one of the core tasks of education- to draw out the breadth of the spirit and the gifts of individuals in a vocational, self-sacrificing relationship between teachers and pupils. Signposts, operating in the leaving years of the curriculum can help to address holistic life-choices more effectively.

Young people's choices are wider than ever

Vocational complexity is unlikely to go away as social, economic and relational flexibility in society is set to continue. Research shows that up to 55% of young adults can expect to be made redundant and have up to nine different career roles in their working life. They will also have to work seven years longer than their grandparents. In addition they are likely to be co-habiting and have a less stable pattern of relationships than in previous decades. So, as the range of choice increases, so does the general instability of work, family life and relationships in general. In addition, choices about the use of free time can become a space for renewal or for depression according to the choices a young adult makes. Thoughtful choices about free time can create a space for a sense of vocation to flourish to the benefit of the individual but also for the good of society in terms of culture, social cohesion and a broad sense of community.

If young adults do not have the skills to negotiate the variety of choices and their consequences society will suffer and not just the individual concerned. One of the insights of Signposts is that people are always inter-connected and that individual decisions affect all of society. No one is an island and leaving individuals to drift into choices eventually leads to society, culture and values drifting as a cumulative effect of so many individual inadequate choices.

The Signposts project has operated so far within tertiary education and is the initiative of the Salesian Vocations team. The team plans to re-direct this work into the leaving years of school. They will be piloting the work in a number of 6th forms in the year 2019 - 2020 and you can follow their progress in this blog.

[i] The Times (London) May 16th 2015)

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