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The Teens' Speech


On Christmas Day this year, teenage Britain delivered its own message to the nation. Find out more

Hello, I must be going

It's Friday January 8th, 2010. The country is swaddled in a tight silver blanket of snow, Celebrity Big Brother is exhaling the last, dying breath of reality television, we're still fighting a forever war in Afghanistan, career weirdo Lady Gaga is at number 1, Jonathan Ross has just announced his departure from the BBC after 13 years of faithful and needlessly controversial service, Avatar, filmed entirely inside a ZX Spectrum and requiring viewers to don silly 3-D spectacles, has already become the second most popular film in history. (It always had number 2 all over it, as far as I could tell.) And yes, today, The Teens' Speech finally bids you a fond farewell.

For the uninitiated, who will stumble across this site in years to come, possibly via a hybrid pair of augmented reality mittens, The Teens' Speech was a project designed to give a voice to young people in Britain. It was predicated on a simple truth, espoused by philosophers as diverse as Bertrand Russell, Friedrich Nietzche and yes, Whitney Houston. Children are our future. They will define this country in years to come. Therefore, its everyone's best interest to listen to what they have to say. It's also in everyone's best interest to give them the best possible start in life and create a society where young people can make mistakes and learn from them, a society that removes them from the moral and legal equivalent of Newton's third law of motion - that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. We need to develop the moral imagination and courage to allow children to develop into well rounded individuals - or we face a future based on the worst qualities of humanity, rather than the finest.

So, yes, The Teens' Speech tried to give a voice to young people. We did it by interviewing hundreds of teenagers from all over the U.K. - mostly over the telephone, but also face-to-face and on camera, we conducted research and ran polls and we also instituted an unprecedented campaign of engagement on YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.

What we found on YouTube is something that I don't think the mainstream media is aware of. Maybe that's the point - I don't know - but anyway, there are hundreds of thousands of young people posting and commenting on each other's videos. Yes, some videos are spectacular examples of existential navel gazing, but others are honest, intimate, funny and really, really creative. They use sophisticated editing, text, animations, interviews and music to create little no-budget video vignettes. A handful of these video diarists have developed a massive following, a constituency of digital natives, who see the internet as their turf, their place to express themselves honestly and without interference from adults, corporations or any other manifestation of 'The Man'.

The Teens' Speech approached these YouTube 'Super Users', explained the concept and asked them to get involved. And they did. They helped us promote the project and raised awareness among hundreds of thousands of users, some of whom visited our channel and watched our videos and some of whom started posting videos themselves. I think that it was our biggest achievement. The Teens' Speech ceased to become ours and ownership was passed on to the young people it was dedicated to.

Finally, all our research, interviews and social network activity was funneled into The Teens' Speech film. A 17-minute documentary that attempted to reflect the mood of Britain's young people at the edge of a new decade. It's a brooding, beautiful piece of work and, if you haven't already, please do take a look.

If I was personally going to draw any kind of conclusion from The Teens' Speech, then it would be this: young people's lives may be permeated with stress, alienation and misunderstanding, but their innate hopefulness and burning desire to forge better lives for themselves remains undimmed and is a source of inspiration - for everybody - to ensure that our futures are filled with better days.

At Barnardo’s we'll continue to speak out on matters that affect young people, but there will be times when we'll need your voice to make sure an issue gets the attention it deserves.

Right now we're calling on politicians to support the UK’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable children ahead of the general election. You can challenge them and make sure they hear our call for change. Take the next step and become a Barnardo's campaigner at www.barnardos.org.uk/campaign.

I'll leave you with a video redux of The Teens' Speech film, featuring a specially commissioned poem by Kate Tempest and photographs submitted to MySpace by friends of the project.


The Teens' Speech

And here it is. The final film. Please watch it and if you like it, pass it on to friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, everybody.

Reading the comments that followed the publication of an article on The Teens' Speech in The Guardian, it appears that, as a society, we still have a long way to go in the way we treat our young.

The Teens' Speech was predicated on the belief that if we gave young people an avenue to express themselves, they would reward us with a genuine insight into a section of society that is, as one contributor in the film states, a 'taboo'.

And so they did.

Actually, they were already doing it - on YouTube, mainly. We just cut a rip in the curtain and had a peek inside.

This is the day

After 4 months of activity, featuring hundreds of interviews with teenagers from across the United Kingdom and a truly ground-breaking campaign of engagement with young people online, The Teens' Speech is finally ready.

Brooding, atmospheric and powerful, The Teens’ Speech is a documentary film that seeks give a voice to the most vulnerable members of society while providing the rest of us a glimpse of our country's future through their eyes.

It also features a unique collaboration with acclaimed spoken word artist, Kate Tempest, who has contributed a passionate, lyrical poem based on the interview transcripts of every young person involved in the making of the film.

The Teens' Speech will be broadcast today, at 3.15pm on the home page of MySpace and then later on YouTube, as part of an unprecedented partnership with both social networks. It's the culmination of The Teens' Speech project and hopefully the beginning of something else.

The optimism gene

Which of these describe Christmas with your family (tick all that apply)

In the latest of our findings, it seems that the overwhelming majority of teenagers are looking forward to Christmas with a real sense of optimism. But, rather than being a product of our upbringing, is having an optimistic outlook a genetic predisposition?

Writing in the acclaimed research periodical, Proceedings of the Royal Society, psychologists claim to have identified an optimism gene.

"We've shown for the first time that a genetic variation is linked with a tendency to look on the bright side of life," says Elaine Fox of the University of Essex. "This is a key mechanism underlying resilience to general life stress."

This kind of research worries me. And depresses me. And fills me with pessimism.

Because, if it's all genetically predetermined, then how can we change? Or, to put it another way, what's the point in trying? Or, to put it another way, rather than being the conclusion of a reasoned argument, drawing upon my experience and understanding of the world, am I actually genetically obliged to reject this research and write this post?


In another study by scientists - this time from the Max Planck (love that name) Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, research indicates that making a decision may be a process handled to a large extent by unconscious mental activity. Even several seconds before we consciously make a decision its outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity in the brain.

Oh joy. My consciousness, that complex, beautiful sum of all knowledge and experience has nothing to do with the decision to be happy or optimistic - my brain has already done it for me.

So, when I say Merry Christmas, it's not because of the mince pies, or the fine wine, or seeing my daughter's face when she opens her gifts or watching The Teens' Speech on MySpace (you see what I did there). Its all down to my deoxyribonucleic acid.

It reminds me of that moment in The Phantom Menace, when The Force stopped being something that any of us could commune with and instead was dependent on stuff completely out of our control, some weird symbiotic organism called Midichlorians.

Talk about taking the fun out of everything.

All I Want For Christmas

Do you worry about debt in the run up to Christmas?

If, like 44% of teenagers, you're feeling a little light this Christmas, then why not spare a thought for that malfunctioning corporation, The United Kingdom?

Estimates of the national debt level range from a cool £800 billion to a cheek sucking £1,340 billion. Estimates of our personal share of this start at £13,000 and ascend infinitely at a 90-degree angle.

But, worry not, there is a way we can help. A way in which we can collectively wrap our warm and comforting arms around the quivering future of this country and hold it to our nurturing breast.

It's called the 'Whittle Down the National Debt' initiative and is being billed as "a wonderful present for children and grandchildren".

All monies go to Her Majesty's Treasury to help reduce the national debt.

Imagine explaining the concept of deferred gratification in perpetuity as you look into the innocent and questioning eyes of a brutally betrayed toddler this Christmas.