Our Kids

This weeks Time magazine has a very long article entitled “Britain’s Mean Streets”.  The international version has the title “Unhappy, Unloved and Out of Control”.  It’s a pretty damning report that claims that our kids are . . . yes, out of control – that Britons are frightened of their own young.  In short, British teenagers are a bunch of unhappy, binge-drinking, slap-happy sex-addicts with a deep disregard for authority and a disturbing lust for violence. 

Just recently I’ve been thinking – a lot – about Britain’s teenagers.  And I won’t deny that I’ve been worrying, in particular about the rise in gangs and mindless teen violence.  It’s been disturbing me on two levels:  firstly, the fact itself – the rise in teen violence.  And secondly it’s bothered me because it’s changed my attitude towards our youth which has left me feeling suitably at odds with myself.  I’ve always been open-minded about kids – liberal you might say.  I’ve always looked upon youngsters with non-judgmental fondness and trust.  And I would get irritated when adults showed intolerance towards them, forever moving-them-on, mistrusting them, pre-judging, assuming they were up to no good – basically allowing themselves to be intimidated by a bunch of young kids who are just hanging out with their buddies.  I would shake my head and think to myself . . . get off their backs, they’re just kids hanging out.  What else is there for them to do?  So for me to suddenly become wary of them myself and make assumptions from nowhere has led me into making some uncomfortable self-reassessments.

In spite of the eye-opening contents of the Times feature, I’m sure my sudden change in attitude is as temporary as it is unreasonable.  Our youngsters have not collectively become our enemy?  We are not at war with our kids.  And I really shouldn’t be demonising the lot of them just because a small minority make woefully wrong choices.  But, there is something going on with many of our kids at the moment.  There does seem to be a definite rise in thug-culture and as things stand, there seems to be more questions than answers.  

I’ve read a few responses to the Times article and predictably, the whole world and his dog is to blame for the rise in teen anti-social behaviour.  The political Right are of course seizing this opportunity to blame the Labour government along with woolly liberalism, political correctness, benefit-scrounging single mums and absent fathers.  Mercy me, even the smacking ban is being blamed.  Yes folks, now that we no longer hit our kids, they’re carrying out gratuitous acts of violence and turning into lazy, good-for-nothing louts. 

But as Pete from Change Alley said,  there’s a long list of potential influences  and I agree that things such as poverty, family breakdown, the failure to instill values, the lack of guidance, the lack of discipline and so on are all factors to a greater or lesser extent (and remember, I did say there are more questions than answers).

There’s also a theory going round that many kids of this current generation are the product of the last generation’s teenage single mums – kind of a kids-bringing-up-kids syndrome.  I’m sure there’s some truth in there but I think it’s unfair to generalise on this because there are some very responsible young mums who defy their critics and work hard to care for their kids.  And sure, some would argue that the benefit’s system makes it too easy for them but I would argue that disadvantaged young mums without a decent support system or good family back-up are more at risk of a poor outcome than those who get the appropriate support so I think it’s safe to conclude that helping them rather than not is to society’s advantage.  

The Times article also states that we Brits just don’t like our children very much.  I’d say there’s some truth in that too.  Oh, we love our own children.  We just don’t like other people’s kids.   From my experience, we are, generally speaking, very self-righteous about our own kids and it’s everybody else’s kids that are in the wrong.  It’s never our own kids!  So much is our blind adamance that our own kids are perfect that, for example, parents often end up in school-gate brawls with each other while our kids (and this is the important bit) stand by – and they watch and learn.   What’s more, the point I made earlier about adults assuming the worst about group of kids hanging out, is another example of our intolerance for other people’s children. 

And socially, we are still way behind our European neighbours when it comes to the family.  I suppose we have made some progress but we have to do much more in order to catch up with our child-friendly Euro-cousins, (you know those Europeans that are actually proper Europeans).  And we really must try to get over our ridiculous *breast-feeding in public* phobia.

Anyway, clearly I’m going nowhere with this but like I said, I didn’t promise any answers (just plenty of mad rambling musings on a wet Tuesday night) so to quickly sum up because I’m tired and I’ve probably contradicted myself a million times, here are my main non-conclusions . . .

  • The authors of the Times article should broaden their research sources.  Relying mainly on the Sun and the Mail and the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) report is only ever going to give them a distorted and agenda-loaded view.  But yes, for sure, we should listen to and act upon the Unicef report that placed Britain at the bottom of the child well-being league.
  • Asbo’s don’t work.  It’s a label that either stigmatises or glorifies the recipient.  There’s never a solve-all inbetween.
  • The so-called benefits culture that is often blamed for teen violence is part-myth, part-fact – and always will be.  Of course, there will always be those who seek to exploit but we should continue to support the disadvataged who are willing to try and we should always strive to provide a level playing field because, as we know, the alternative breeds contempt.
  • A poor family or a young single mum doesn’t neccessarily equal bad parenting.  Stop being so judgemental.  
  • We should take into account the abuses inflicted on teenagers behind closed doors by primary care-givers – adults in positions of trust such as parents, foster parents, teachers, carers, religious leaders . . . people who are supposed to care.   And we should ask ourselves . . . what message are we giving out when we fail our unloved and neglected children?  Remember, this is the age of the internet.  Kids know when society is failing them.
  • GCSe’s are so just as hard as they were twenty years ago.  Stop dumbing them down.
  • There has to be an effective deterrent against teen crime.  That deterrent may be prevention – in essence, the removal of the motive.  Or failing  that, it might be an appropriate and effective form of punishment and rehabilitation.
  • Some kids are more vulnerable than others and get in with the wrong crowd – and youngsters can’t always grasp the concept of consequence . . . but-some-things-are-just-wrong – plain and simple.
  • Most kids are decent, normal, healthily mixed-up teenagers.   They make mistakes but they learn as much from adults as they do from their peers.
  • It’s way too complex for there to be a fix-all solution. 

Well, as you can see, without really answering anything, I’ve just argued myself full-circle.  And thank goodnes.  Maybe now I can stop worrying so much . . . stop focusing on the bad and the ugly and see the good.  Let’s celebrate our kids instead of alway giving them the cold-shoulder and changing the goalposts.  Less of the demonising and stereotyping. 

And finally, let’s make the boundaries reasonable and fair, absolute and non-negotiable.  They are just children after all.


8 responses to this post.

  1. I still trust the majority of our youngsters will become women/men of good tomorrow.

    Just a question: in a crowd don’t you look for those who shout the most or who misbehave, disregarding all those whose composure is praise worthy?

    I remember the times when the hippy movement started. We all thought our young were going to destroy the planet, but here again common sense grew with them and we can see now hippies of old who are perfect family parents of today.

    Yes I am happy to say I don’t despair.


  2. Sorry for the mistake, I meant to say …for those who shout the loudest…


  3. Spot on Jose. We always pick up on the bad stuff. Teenagers always have, and always will, rebel to some extent or other. That’s not to say they don’t need guidance. A healthy dose of teenage spirit can be a good thing if it’s not misguided and if they’ve been taught values and morals from an early age. The key I reckon is to make sure they don’t know they’re being guided. Lol.

    Of course, the violence and the thuggery is never acceptable from our youth; nor is it acceptable from adults. Instilling non-aggressive values into our kids is best done by example.


  4. I blame rap culture. 🙂


  5. Well rap culture is associated with violence, sexism and drugs so I would ask, does it negatively influence kids, or would kids who are drawn to the rap culture already have existing tendencies towards drugs and violence and that’s why they are attracted to it? A bit like the chicken and the egg conundrum.

    Either way, it’s a bad message to put out there. Glorifying drugs and violence is unethical and socially immoral in my view.


  6. The media is talking a lot at the moment about the break up of families breeding disfunctional, unhappy children, some of whom turn their frustrations to violence. A senior Family Court judge has said such things this week for example.


  7. Yes, I saw something about that but I haven’t got round to reading it yet. Looks interesting.


  8. […] I’ve argued before against the demonisation of children and none so heartfelt as when I wrote this […]


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