Sunday, March 30, 2008


Are We at War with our Children?

The lead article in Time magazine currently is about Britain's mean streets and it is sobering to realise such a piece could be written about the country one lives in and, still (mostly) loves. The article(I've lifted its title picture) makes its charge regarding 'Britain's Mean Streets' with a list: over 20% of adults are scared to go out at night for fear of young hooligans; 27% of 15 year olds have been drunk more than 20 times(compared with 12% in Germany, 6% Netherlands, 3% France); 44% have been in fights (28% Germany); our 15 year old girls are the most sexually active in Europe with the highest level of illegitimate kids and STDs; violent crime for under 18s has increased by over a third 2003-6 with 27 teenagers murdered in London in 2007.

Quite a charge sheet and hard to answer as we know its basically true. My partner and I have given up going out at weekends in Manchester because of the 'wild-west' binge drinking of youngsters and the menacing atmosphere this causes; Stockport, where we live, is no better. Why do we have these problems? The explanations offered are varied but all contain an element of truth.

1. Poor Parenting: The 2000 OECD report into British youth concluded they had the hardest time of it in Europe with the least time spent with children. In consequence young people have not been integrated into the adult world and have created their own disaffected 'counter culture'.

2. Binge Drinking a National Epidemic: certainly young people receive few lessons on moderate drinking with all ages and classes indulging in it together with influential celebs like sportsmen and even royal princes.

3. Large Wealth Gap: we all know how this has gaped ever wider over the past three decades leaving one third of children in the 'disadvantaged' category; ethnic minorities even more so than indigenous kids.

4. Education is Poor: we don't need Ofsted reports to tell us our state schools are very poor in many areas, making it hard for poorer youngsters to rise above their backgrounds. The Sutton Trust recently revealed a study showing children who won scholarships to fee-paying schools went on to earn double that of their less fortunate peers.

5. Negative Attitude to Young People: We Brits are not very child friendly- visits to Italy and Spain where children are celebrated with astonishing warmth and allowed to eat with parents until late at night. In Scotland the age of criminal responsibility, at 8, is the lowest in Europe; in England and Wales it's 10.

It is hard to read all this about one's own country in an American magazine with a worldwide circulation. To retort that figures in USA are even worse is no real answer. In December last year Ed Balls declared:

a 10-year plan "to make England the best place in the world for children and young people,"

Electoral arithmetic, depressingly, makes it seem unlikely his party will have a chance of achieving this. Are the Tories our last hope? I doubt it. I end this post by quoting one of the many case studies in the article; this one refers to a crucial intervention by a stranger:

Dan-Dan Walker was born one of nine kids to drug addict parents:

his first arrest, at 7, was for stealing baby milk and disposable diapers for his siblings. Now 18, he learned about Kids Company seven years ago as he rode on a London bus. He was about to snatch a handbag, and his accomplice was already seated next to the target, hemming her in against the window. As Walker moved to grab the bag, a stranger tapped him on the shoulder. "You don't need to do that," he said, and gave him the address of a Kids Company drop-in center. "I fell off that cliff," says Walker, "but someone caught me." Would that all British children could say the same.

Trouble is, most 'strangers' would be too scared to nudge the arm of any potential bag snatcher for fear of being attacked, stabbed or even killed. So are we at war with our children? To some extent, I think we have to confess that we are. Should we be worried? I am.

Whoa! Watch out for the curmudgeon. All this wild-west stuff is bit silly.

I agree that parents have much to answer for, but it’s also true that we bully the youngsters far too much.

The idea that 'Dan-Dan' (tragic character though he is) is in anyway typical of today's youth is utter nonsense.

You're guilty of basing your world view on a couple of extreme anecdotes and a country of sixty million is bound to produce the odd bizarre story.

Walking around Manchester I feel nothing but pity for the bored teenagers you see huddled in the Arndale doorways waiting to be moved on for being unsightly (which they are; poor spotty EMOs).

The letters page of the Evening News contains pensioner (that's how they sign themselves) after pensioner whinging about kids hanging around in Cathedral Gardens. And it does feel like a sixth form common room at times, but so what? Whoever heard of a miserable old pensioner visiting a museum like Urbis anyway?

Leave the kids alone and get a life of your own.

I recommend giving up the Dailies Mail & Express and investing in season tickets to the Royal Exchange and Library Theatre. Living in the Heatons, as you do, you’ve a good choice of bars that attract a more mature clientele; use ’em or lose ’em.
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Are you saying the figures quoted are wrong? Have you spoken to a wide range of people recently? Have you noticed this topic is the concern of a majority of voters? Or do you think your own bilious views trump those of everyone else? Seemed to me you had written tour comment after downing a few cans of strong lager yourself.
I don’t dispute your statistics, but I would point out that the fall in crime (recorded by the police and picked up separately by the British Crime Survey) shows that fear of crime is the real issue. And that fear of crime is generally anecdote driven, which is why your Dan Dan has so much appeal to those excited by the idea of a ‘war on children’.

If there is a war, then the older generation is winning (though you don’t know it). Suicide rates among young people are rising at an alarming rate and young people are far more likely to be the victims, than the perpetrators of crime.

I don’t accept your portrait of Manchester, because it’s at odds with my own experience. There are, of course, parts of the city dominated by younger people with a tendency to dress terribly immodestly, listen to appalling music and throw-up. But I find it quite easy to find venues that suit my tastes and I don’t judge. Young people’s venues like the Printworks are heavily policed.

Indeed, young people in general are over policed. Not so long ago the chief constable of the West Midlands complained that people often dial 999 to report teenagers simply walking down the street. I mentioned Cathedral Gardens, Manchester’s outdoor sixth form common room, where wardens are deployed to watch the melancholy EMOs mope about.

It’s also worth noting that schemes to take young people off the streets need to demonstrate how they’re going to improve the youth (e.g. encourage them to eat better, learn some new skills or whatever) if they have any hope of funding.

That is to say, the kids are not allowed to simply chill out and relax. No wonder they’re inclined to excess whenever the opportunity arises.
I wouldn't put it in terms of being 'at war' but I do agree with the analysis of Jenni Russell in the Guardian a while back. She said man cannot now communicate in any way with a strange child, even if it is in distress, for fear of being mistaken for a paedophile. She adds: ‘This is a historically unprecedented way for children to be brought up – leaving the job exclusively to parents and paid professionals’.

I agree entirely. Nowadays one is very wary of going up to strange children not just for fear of being labelled a kiddy-fiddler, but because any reprimand of unruly children (as was the norm for any adult when I was a child) invites aggressive parental response nowadays.

One doesn't wish to come over all Daily Mail but reading of the unfortunate Karen Matthews does make one wonder. Seven kids by five fathers none of whom have very much to do with them cannot make for a particularly stable upbringing for any of them ...

Nor does wealth have very much to do with it. If anything, a lower income would be a disincentive to binge drinking. Again I look to my youth when there were no personal computers, ipods and no-one cared about what brand of trainers one wore, yet we got by without binge drinking ...
Political Ump
Yes, we agree I think on this. Sometimes I think my generation, like all older ones, tends to think we were not like that and that such views should therefore be discounted. But, like you, we really were not this disrespectful or irresponsible. Things have changed and not for the better.
Sorry if I was a bit waspish in my last comment- not really my style. You're right about a degree of over-policing in some cases and, tom be honest, I haven't been to the city centre for a while-I think it was Christmas before last. And then it was just as I described- but it might well have got better.
And there we have it: a Christmas drinker.

The season of goodwill has always been a season of excess; in Cardiff they use they use the Millennium Stadium for a field hospital:

I’m sure you’ve been on a Christmas do and witnessed otherwise sober colleagues fall into drunken stupors. It’s not a pretty sight, but does no real harm precisely because this is not their typical behaviour.

Christmas drinkers aren’t particularly popular with licensees, because they drink so infrequently they tend to over estimate their capacity and give everyone a bad name.

(Don’t apologise for being ‘waspish’ I was being deliberately provocative, after all. I think we can all benefit from a good poke in the ribs from time to time.)
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