A big meeting of minds


Thousands of socially conscious young people will gather in Dublin today to showcase their projects and compete for Young Social Innovator of the Year 2010

AFTER MONTHS of planning and preparation, the big day has finally arrived.

Today, 2,500 of the 6,000 Young Social Innovators will descend on the Croke Park Conference centre in Dublin, with 60 shortlisted projects competing for nine challenge awards and the prestigious title of Young Social Innovators of the Year 2010. Every county in Ireland will be represented.

This year’s finalists have prepared a diverse and stimulating range of projects. One group from Co Wicklow has prepared a project on food security and sustainability, developed an allotment garden in their school, and produced a book on healthy eating. In two separate projects, students from counties Clare and Dublin have highlighted the issues of teen depression and mental health, while students in Mallow organised a jobs fair to help local people affected by unemployment. Climate change, youth facilities, Fairtrade, money management, and litter are amongst the other issues that will be tackled at today’s conference.

The awards ceremony will begin today at 2.40pm.

Also today, we can reveal the winner of the Irish Times/YSI competition is Patrick McGonagle of St Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, for his essay, Part Of Me Is Missing. Patrick’s essay is published today).

Part of me is missing

Patrick McGonagle

Part of me is missing. It’s an identifiable, yet indescribable absence.

How odd that some people can find more information about the initial supposed creators, Adam and Eve, than about their own. They don’t know their fathers, and perhaps never will. Some men walk away because of an inability to support their children, or because they can’t handle the pressure to be the morally upright person everyone expects them to be. Too many children are only able to associate his or her father with a support cheque number until they are 18. After that, who knows?

Thousands of children across Ireland, born into the arms of a fellow child, face the same problems everyday. Pregnancy amongst teenagers has risen dramatically in my local area over the last 20 years and its repercussions are felt throughout the community. When a child has a teenage mother, he or she is roughly twice as likely to grow up fatherless, and even more likely to be raised in a financially inadequate or stressed household. This can lead to severe mental and emotional ramifications for the child and ultimately for the community too as recent studies are beginning to find that teenage pregnancy and delinquency amongst their children is directly linked.

This is a problem that must be addressed immediately to prevent further delinquency; in my honest opinion, the root cause of such high numbers in pregnancy amongst teens is this growing culture in which casual sex has become a way of life. Our society teaches young people that having sex at a young age is perfectly acceptable. The media glamorises celebrity teen pregnancy. Mainstream music and television has transformed sex from a private act between two people committed to each other into a cheap thrill. Bombarded from every direction, young people nowadays think free love is just another part of the Irish way.

My solution to this problem is simple and pragmatic. I propose that within schools – and specifically Social, Personal Health education (SPHE) – we begin teaching students more extensively about contraception rather than abstinence. This would apply for every school regardless of any religious affiliations that the school may have.

I also propose that on varied weekends in the school year, transition year students be paired and must watch over and mind infant simulators known as Baby Think it Over. These are dolls designed to look, sound, and act as much like a real infant as possible. These dolls cry unpredictably around the clock, and the “master” is the only one who can feed it; upon commencement, the instructor can easily decipher whether or not the baby has been neglected by the brightness of a light on its back.

Rather than telling teens about the difficulty of unwed teen parenthood, Baby Think It Over allows them to experience it for themselves as the doll gives teenagers a hands-on dose of reality and forces them to rethink the challenges of parenthood and potential repercussions of careless sex. We must take action now. Our society, our economy, but most importantly our communities, demand it.