Every day the media decries the lack of positive role models for young people, citing a never-ending cycle of press attention directed towards Kim Kardashian's bottom and Wayne Rooney's latest haircut. Why is there always this assumption that young people are so enthralled by the razzle-dazzle of celebrity, and that they are unable to find their own role models?
Of course, these celebrities are constantly in the public eye, and we cannot deny that there will be some people who aspire to be like them. But it is a patronising and unfair assumption to believe that the overwhelming majority of young people find inspiration and direction in the pages of a glossy magazine or on the gossip page of a website.
Dr. Helen Wright, headmistress of a leading girls boarding school, stated last week that almost everything that is wrong with Western society today could be summed up in a photograph of a scantily clad Kim Kardashian. Her point, that physical attractiveness, wealth and celebrity have become the benchmark for success and hold a higher value than character or substance is important to the broader conversation about the aspirations of and the opportunities for young people.
At a time when youth unemployment is at staggeringly high levels, and educated university graduates are struggling to get their foot in the door, it is important to remember that the positive role models that we so desperately need are out there. We just need to look for them. And we need to look a little closer to home than Hollywood or the pools of 'Marbs'. I have never aspired to be a WAG. I have never aspired to be famous for my bottom. I am sick of hearing that I am part of a 'lost generation', that there are no jobs out there for me and that there is no one of value to look up to.
I have always (excuse the cliché) wanted to play a role in making the world a better place. In the summer of 2009, I had the honour of being one of the British representatives to the Africa Youth Summit in South Africa. The summit hosted around one hundred Global Changemakers, members of a programme for future leaders and youth activists from around the world run by the British Council. I learnt more and was more inspired in those six days than I had ever been in my life. Gathered together in a hotel in Cape Town, I talked to youth activists who had dedicated themselves to affecting positive change in a region that many in the west write off. Their projects, which ranged from climate change activism to education programmes for the poorest in their communities, showed what can be achieved if you work hard enough. I found inspiration and strength in their courage, intelligence and determination, and to this day get some of my biggest inspiration from friends that I met there.
Please do not underestimate the intelligence of the 'youth' population. The vast majority of us are not so enthralled by the culture of celebrity that we are entirely blinded to the realities of the world. We are engaged, we are interested, we are ambitious and we care. We care deeply. Unfortunately, we are frustrated and scared about our future. The entry-level jobs of old are now unpaid internships, the job market is flooded with people who are all as qualified as each other and student debts are set to treble. When do we get our chance?
It is time that the media shifted its approach in the way it presents the views and future of young people. Don't tell us that there are no jobs, it only perpetuates the cycle of despair that many of us feel, and makes many give up before they even start. Tell us how to take our future into our own hands. Help us start our own projects. Give space to the people who have managed to do this, to the people who really have something to say, to the hidden role models in our society. It may not be as sexy as Kim Kardashian's bottom, but it's so much more important.
Natasha is the Founder & Director of the International Political Forum, which gives young people around the world the opportunity to talk about the political & currents affairs issues that are important to them. You can visit the website here.
Follow Natasha Lipman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/natashalipman