Event on the theme of ‘young people’s safety’ provides both guardians and young people with tips on how to improve their personal well-being

5.4.2022 5.24
Young people outside.
Photo: Taru Turpeinen

The City of Espoo’s well-being group for young people organised the event on the theme ‘young people’s safety’ online. At the event, young people and experts from different fields discussed the current challenges. Issues brought up included the sexual harassment young people encounter, gang forming, cyber bullying, and hate speech.

Harri Rinta-aho, Head of Education and Cultural Services at the City of Espoo, reminded the attendees at the start of the event of the fact that the city has zero tolerance for hate speech as the leap from hate speech to actions can be surprisingly short.

Hate speech has increased after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“There are hundreds of children and young people of Russian background in the city. I hope we all remember that these children and young people have nothing to do with the politics Russia practices,” he emphasised.

The City of Espoo is prepared to receive refugees from Ukraine and to provide children and young people with preparatory education, which will later on facilitate their participation in the actual education.

Adults need to earn young people’s trust

Street gangs are a new phenomenon among young people. The news has reported on conflicts between Espoo and Helsinki street gangs, for example.

“Unfortunately, the phenomenon has found its way to Espoo,” said Chief Inspector Hannu Väänänen, Western Uusimaa Police Department, at the safety event.

According to Väänänen, the aim is to prevent the forming of gangs by increasing surveillance and adult presence in public spaces where the confrontations between gangs usually take place.

“The gang phenomenon is particularly attractive to the young people who cannot see beyond the present moment and who are uncertain about their future. The most concerning are the young people who are within the gang phenomenon’s sphere of influence and do not fully realise what they are seeing and experiencing, and unknowingly end up in the phenomenon’s sphere of influence.”

The life of a criminal can also fascinate some young people.

“The first element that reveals the presence of this phenomenon is that children are carrying knives and fake guns concerningly often. The matter has been investigated and there seems to be no reason to be carrying a knife, it is just something the child does because everyone else has a knife too. The main issue is that once the confrontation comes, the threshold for using the weapons is low,” Väänänen explained.

A gang can provide a young person with financial gain, reputation or status among other young people. A young person can earn money, first by selling electronic cigarettes that seem fairly innocent, but it might not take long before organised crime offers products that would provide the seller with much higher income.

Espoo Youth Council member Aaron Komulainen is familiar with the phenomenon.

“The situation has changed lately. I still regard Espoo as a very safe place to live in,” he emphasised.

Sauli Taipale, an outreach youth worker, is of the opinion that now is the time to rebuild young people’s trust in adults and, through that, prevent the forming of gangs.

“Young people’s trust in safe adults has grown weaker, which is reflected in the anti-authority attitude. I do not only refer to the authorities but the general trust in adults.”

“Young people want to be independent and earn money by themselves. They think that small-scale selling of things like electronic cigarettes or snuff is nothing, and it is an easy way to earn some dozens of euros, but it can lead to a spiral of issues.”

In Espoo, the social media is full of sales advertisements for intoxicants and drugs.

“My estimate is that two-thirds of young people know where or from whom they could get intoxicants, even if they have no intention of using them,” Taipale said.

He reiterated that in the big picture the young people of Espoo are doing well, but for a small portion of young people, the issues have began to pile up.

The police are also of the opinion that the majority of young people are well.

“Espoo is a safe place to live and spend time in. Some young people have become socially excluded and have become clients of the police,” Väänänen elaborated.

Repairing the damage caused by the pandemic

“The past two years in the middle of the pandemic have been a very rough time for the young people of Espoo,” said Rinta-aho, summarising the message of the safety event.

Due to the virus, young people have been isolated, which has weakened their social skills.

Rinta-aho emphasised that restoring the young people’s social skills is one of the most important tasks at the moment.

The increasing malaise of young people is also reflected in the statistics.

According to Minna Eväsoja, a health care specialist at the City of Espoo, the factors causing the malaise, such as discrimination, hate speech, sexual harassment and cyber bullying, are highlighted in the national results of the 2021 School Health Promotion study which also represent the experiences of young Espoo residents.

This was the first time discrimination was included in the study.

One in three upper comprehensive school pupils and girls studying at vocational schools have experienced discrimination in the last year. The reason for the discrimination has been the victim’s skin colour, facial features, language, disability or sexual orientation. According to Eväsoja, the result is alarming.

Based on the young people’s answers, sexual harassment has also increased. As many as half of girls at upper comprehensive schools, upper secondary schools and vocational schools have experienced sexual harassment or propositioning in the last year. For boys, the figure was considerably lower.

Only a small portion of the harassment takes place at schools; the majority takes place in public spaces and online, where cyber bullying has in the last four years increased considerably, according to Eväsoja. This might be because girls spend more time on different social media channels while boys prefer gaming.

“The experience of violence is also a crisis situation for the parents of the young person targeted with violence, and it is important that parents also talk to professionals about the situation,” Service Manager Saara Sandelius emphasised. She works at the Nupoli Youth Clinic in Espoo.

The City of Espoo will in the future be strict when addressing cyber bullying and harassment.

“We have started cooperation with a company called Someturva. The company has both technological competence and lawyers which the company uses to address and investigate bullying taking place online,” Rinta-aho said.

Anxiety is not shameful

Many young people are concerned about the situation in Ukraine.

To combat anxiety, Terhi Pippuri, Head of Student Welfare, recommends open conversation at home, but also limiting the consumption of news to set times. She also recommends discussing which news should be consumed and when and from which channels.

“There is no reason for young people to feel ashamed for being anxious,” Pippuri emphasised and said that adults are also worried about the situation.

Limiting the screen time might not necessarily be the solution. Instead, it is important to find a safe adult with whom the young person can build a natural and confidential conversational connection, according to Väänänen. This enables the young person to show the adult things such as posts on social media.

“It is important to understand that the young person cannot be pressured; it often takes four to five discussions to reveal the true cause of the issues,” Rinta-aho and Pippuri said.

Rinta-aho wanted to express his thanks to Oscar Smith, a student who led the safety event with merit.

Useful links (some in Finnish):

Tips for young people on how to promote their own mental well-being: https://www.mielenterveystalo.fi/nuoret/Pages/default.aspx(external link)

For victims of sexual violence, less than 1 month after the incident, people over the age of 16: https://www.hus.fi/en/patient/hospitals-and-other-units/womens-hospital/seri-support-center-victims-sexual-assault(external link)

Social and crisis emergency services: https://www.espoo.fi/en/units/62024(external link)

https://www.espoontyttojentalo.fi/(external link) Provides services such as individual meetings for young persons who identify as girls and have experienced sexual violence.

https://nuortenexit.fi/(external link) A chat for young people, materials and service counselling for young people and parents                                                             

The police’s blog post on young people and violence:

A recording of the safety event is available via this link:

  • Youth Services
  • Growth and Learning