THE Scottish Government loves a themed year and in 2018 the theme is young people. According to its website, the aim of The Year of Young People is to celebrate the achievements of the young in Scotland but also to create opportunities for them locally, nationally and globally. It also aims to create a more positive perception of the young in society generally. It is a good idea, with some inspiring aims and ambitions, but there is no getting away from the facts and the scale of the challenge: in many ways, the lives of young people have never looked bleaker.

It is an assessment that many young people seem to agree with. According to the latest research from the Prince’s Trust on young people’s attitudes and outlooks, almost a third of people between 16 and 25 years old in Scotland do not feel in control of their lives – an increase on the previous year. More than half believe that a lack of self-confidence is holding them back.

The people who took part in the research also felt particularly pessimistic about their future employment. Almost half of the young Scots in the research felt that the economy would provide fewer job opportunities for their generation in the next three years and that when jobs did come up, they would be low-paid, temporary and probably not in the career they would choose. In addition, almost two-thirds said the current political climate was not helping matters and was making them feel anxious about their future.

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So what are we to say to those young people? How are we to comfort them or reassure them? Well, perhaps we might remind them that feeling anxious and lacking in self-confidence is often the lot of the teenager or young person – that used to be the case, it is the case now, and it will be the case as long as there are teenagers.

But we also have to be realistic, as well as a little hopeful. Realistic about the fact that, in many ways, the lives of young people now are worse than those of their parents, but hopeful too that, with the proper investment in education, employment and health – as well as some changes to how we approach and use social media – the future of young people can be improved.

On employment, there is no denying that the picture is mixed to say the least. Unemployment is low, but, as the Scottish Fiscal Commission points out in its latest analysis, much of the employment is in the so-called gig economy or flexible labour market – both euphemisms for jobs that are often low-paid, temporary and precisely the sort of work that the young people in the survey said they felt they were doomed to end up doing. There is also a huge shift in the economy towards new digital jobs – something which, if anything, is a challenge for older people and an opportunity for younger ones.

However, if the Scottish Government really wants to live up to the vision of The Year of Young People, then it should be doing much more to maximise opportunity – and support – for young people. There are some good initiatives on the go – the Government is making some good progress towards its target of 30,000 new apprenticeships by 2020 for example – but opportunity springs from education so why is the attainment gap still so great? Why is college funding being cut?

The mental health of young people is also nowhere near the priority it should be. Why is mental wellbeing – including its relationship with social media – not at the heart of the school curriculum? And why are our mental health services for young people in such a poor state?

These are the central questions for anyone concerned about the future of young people. And if there is any hope that in years to come the results of the Prince’s Trust survey will be much more positive, then answers to those questions must be forthcoming.