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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.


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 girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes

In 1992, at the age of 12, Severn Suzuki raised money with members of ECO, to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Along with fellow ECO group members Michelle Quigg, Vanessa Suttie, and Morgan Geisler, Suzuki presented environmental issues from a youth perspective at the summit, where she delivered an impassioned and articulate speech to delegates. The video of the speech has 1,924,973 views on YouTube and is popularly known as "The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes".

I'd never seen the video before - clearly coming to it rather late. It was sent to me by someone who put 'Good Teens' Speech' in the subject header. Perhaps she thought that the Teens' Speech film would be shot along similar lines. It's not, you know. It's something else entirely - it's a visual poem, documentary in style, but artistic at its heart. It's also quite serious, but maybe it's time we took young people seriously.

Anyway, on Christmas Day, head over to MySpace at 3.10pm, toggle fullscreen, settle back and enjoy a little bit of history.

Is this it?

In November, The NME released its top 100 albums of the decade, at its summit was the instant classic, Is This It? by The Strokes. As we approach the end of the year and the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it seems a timely winner - I mean, is this it? Do we keep calm and carry on or are we going to collectively leap into the limitless possibilities of an unwritten future?

For the remaining weeks of The Teens' Speech project, we're going to turn our attention to the future. We'll be asking teenagers where they see themselves, their family, community and country in the coming years. It's always been at the heart of this project and something we feel connects older generations to what we are doing. At its core, The Teens' Speech is a chance for us to glimpse the future through young peoples hopes, aspirations and personal sense of opportunity.

As Barack Obama recently demonstrated, harnessing and articulating the hopes of the young can be a powerful force for political change. His presidential campaign focussed specifically on the young and by tapping into their optimism, he was able to radically renew a staid and moribund political landscape. It's undoubtedly something which British politicians will seek to emulate in the months leading up to next years general election.

So, as we rip the last page from the calendar year and turn to the future to ask what it holds, we're not just engaging in a romantic notion - although that's also a part of it - we're doing something that carries tremendous potential for personal and social change. Because if we can see it, imagine it and believe it - then we can make it happen.

The Teens' Speech thrives on participation. If you're aged 13-19, head over to YouTube or MySpace and tell us what the future means to you. If, like me, you're a tad older than 19, then subscribe to our Twitter feed or friend us on Facebook. Hell, you could even leave me a message on the blog. My door is always open.


Meet Hatti. Since joining YouTube in March 2007, her YouTube channel has enlisted 3,154 subscribers and received nearly 58,000 channel views. She is also supporting The Teens' Speech.

In a short and sweet video clip, Hatti talks with some feeling about the influence the internet has had on her relationships - both friends and family.

For example, the idea of connecting with people online and forming meaningful relationships with them is completely natural to her. In fact, she met her current boyfriend through the medium.

According to research published in October, Hatti is part of a new culture of technology users who are living 'hybrid lives'; communicating and networking in a more advanced way than previous generations. They can't live without the internet - its a place where they feel most comfortable. This is actually borne out by some of the relaxed and open honesty exhibited in the videos posted to our YouTube Teens' Speech channel.

When asked to comment on the research, the Government Advisor on Children and Technology, Professor Tanya Byron, said "...it's essential the adults and organisations that provide support to this age group...offer services that are easily accessible through the internet."

Hatti agrees. In her clip, she says that if she needed advice she would first go to her friends, then Google and as a last resort, her parents.

And speaking of Google, it was Eric Schmidt, its chief executive, who recently put these digital natives into a wider economic context.

When asked what he thought the web would look like in five years, he said, "Talk to a teenager about how they consume media and remember in five years they'll be your employee."

So, it seems that future generations will more technically sophisticated than ever before. I guess it remains to be seen how quickly the rest of us adapt to their needs.