Monday, 3 June 2013

An adult rants : lay off our youth, we - or I - are (am) the real problem.

Now before anyone begins to mouth off  that I’ve become too adolescent-centred let me  say that adults can say, do, and, not do things which can be considered very good for young people and so also for themselves. I think the self- same adults can also say, do or not do things that are an injustice to young  people.  Too often adults give young people a bad press. This was confirmed for me when recently I read a report in my local newspaper about a public meeting in our Town Hall which had been called to discuss a general concern about street crime.

Don’t get me wrong; destructive and violent street crime disturbs and frightens me as much as the next person, but on reading the newspaper report it became obvious within the first few sentences that the meeting considered young people to be the principal villains when it came to street crime.

Naturally,  epitome of good citizenry that I am, I was not at the meeting, and to be fair, the report seemed to suggest there was a consensus in the meeting that young people should not be stereotyped and that only a minority of young people were involved in delinquent behaviour. Nevertheless it appeared that for many at the meeting delinquency on the town’s streets could only be put down to youth. 

Street crime : not happening

One of the reasons wheeled out to explain this problem was that there was not enough organised activity available for youngsters and so with nothing else to do they go out on the streets and rampage. There is usually some truth in old chestnuts but adults who totally fall for this one are in serious denial. They have consciously or unconsciously blocked from their memory what it is to be young.

Hasn’t it always been the case that for some young people to be involved in organised activity like the scouts or to be a member of the youth club has been cool, while for others, perhaps those of a more solitary nature, belonging to such organisations has always been uncool? That a substantial number of young people do not join in the activities of a youth organisation does not necessarily mean there is a shortage of resources, neither does it mean that  youngsters who do not join organised youth activities are more likely to be street criminals.

We forget too that like us before them, teenagers either quietly or more obviously, are embarking on that often embarrassing and painful search to find an adult identity. As part of this process youngsters need in some way to break away from their parenting figures and sometimes they do this by rejecting what adults provide for them.
These rejections can be painful for adults. Few of us can be perfect parents, and this is a time when both generations, parents and youngsters are meeting new experiences, and so mistakes are made, but parenting adults have a vital role in allowing enough space for  a youngster's quest for adult identity to take place.  At the same time as keeping our young people as safe as we possibly can we should ensure that young spirits are not broken. Adolescence is a time for using  the mutual trust that has built up through the childhood years to allow the risk-taking that necessarily has to take place as young people grow into adulthood.

This is why it is so regrettable that our idea of the adolescent period is largely centred on the behaviour of young people, rather than being seen as a time of re-negotiating personal positions between two generations. If there is a relationship problem between two generations, then the older generation has to take some (and in my view, most) of the responsibility for it, since after all it is supposed to be wiser.  So, when, as we walk up the High Street of our local town or city,  we see or hear something which suggests to us that the behaviour and values of our young people are deteriorating,  we should be more open and tolerant in our thinking when we ask what has caused this “deterioration.”
My particular generation, those people who were teenagers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, were the ones who believed they had revolted against what we thought was the repression, (particularly of emotional and sexual matters) suffered by our parents’ generation, and so it seemed we should offer our children greater freedom of expression.

Street crime may have happened

In any such social developments there is a down side as well as an up side. It is all too easy for us to forget, when we complain about the foul language of some young people nowadays, that from the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the spirit of freedom from repression (some called this “ becoming permissive”), our generation allowed for the first time sexual intimacy, sexual swear words, violence and sexual violence to be increasingly viewed on the cinema and television screen.

I happen to think that there are more positives to having less censorship rather than increased censorship, as long as the problematic issues which arise are discussed sensitively between generations, and between parent and young person. I do not think these discussions occur often enough or when they do they tend to turn into adult rants (like this know-all one you may still be reading now).

More worrying is that when we adults lay the responsibility for increasing anti-social behaviour in our society at the feet of young people, we conveniently forget our part in cultivating a social environment in which anti-social behaviour can flourish because we have failed to take on our full parenting responsibilities.  We do not always work very hard at being positive role models for our youngsters. All too frequently, we leave this to social networks, the internet, television and computer games, the youngsters’ peers groups, and other adults. At the same time we deny the paradox that those very acquisitive, aggressive cultural role models and values - which we adults, from the righteousness of our moral pedestal,  condemn as powerful negative influences on our young - are in fact the values of a political system and marketing and media industries which we,  directly or indirectly, in our clamour  for greater financial wealth,  have allowed to develop and flourish.
It is not helpful to deny that there are serious problems facing young people in our community or that there are some youngsters who are behaving in a way which harms others and themselves. But shouldn’t adults reflect on ways to solve these problems by first acknowledging a significant responsibility for their creation, rather than passing the blame on to young people, or indeed on to their teachers, youth workers, social workers and the police? Isn’t there a need to recognise and accept the necessarily perennial inter-generational problems involved in the process of growing up? Adults have a responsibility to contain these problems but also to accept them as a normal part of life.

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