Monday, November 24, 2008

Children deserve better from us

THERE exists a kind of collective amnesia among the middle-aged in Britain. It's as if all memory of being a child or teenager has been wiped, along with common sense and empathy.

That's the only possible explanation for a recent survey by Barnardo's in which over half the adults questioned likened children and teens to animals, even using words like "vermin". They also believed children were responsible for 50 per cent of crime, rather than the reality of a 12 per cent maximum (which, by the way, means 88 per cent is down to adults).

That was followed by another study which revealed one in five Scots aged 17 to 25 believed they had little chance of making a success of their lives and were left hopeless, by which I mean "without hope".

The conclusion that the two are connected is inescapable. Somehow we have got ourselves to a point where we have so demonised youngsters that they are beginning to believe our hype. They are spoiled wasters, troublemakers, stalk in packs, are an "infestation". Tell any child that often enough and they will start to live up to it.

We drone on about their binge drinking. Yes, it's awful but are they the only members of the community who drink too much? What about the rising number of middle-class alcoholics?

We are appalled by their drug taking. Easy to say for generations for whom recreational drugs were non-existent unless you were in the know, rather than available on every street corner. And who imports the stuff? Middle-aged criminals with dirty money and fast yachts, unhindered by police and customs officers who are constantly under-funded by the Government.

How much easier it is to blame the kids than our own adult failings.

In fact, not content with that, society now blames teenagers for just being teenagers.

I don't know about you but I clearly recall hanging out with mates, sometimes on the streets around our houses and sometimes elsewhere. It is a natural part of the growing up process to want to be with your friends away from adult supervision. It's normal, not criminal.

Mind you, in my day adults were far more understanding. Today's hoodie, banned from shopping precincts and seen as a badge of dishonour among older people, is merely a fashion. Our equivalent was far more offensive at the time . . . skirts that were so short they could double as hair bands, knickers proudly displayed; and boys with shoulder length hair which was anathema to our parents, most of whom had seen military service and war.

The oldies might tut-tut but they never suggested for one minute that we were all bad, just young and daft.

They understood we needed places to go apart from Scouts and Guides. We had jukebox cafes with pocket money affordable non-alcoholic drinks and discreet cafe owners who didn't interfere or tell tales. We had coffee bars and a weekly disco in every community hall. I'm the first to admit that a hot orange squash and a bit of Tamla in the background wouldn't cut it with today's 14-year-olds. But the reality is that they are worse off.

No longer little children who have to be in bed by eight, not yet 18 and eligible for bars and clubs, they have nowhere to go that isn't organised and under the intrusive eye of sports coaches, teachers or youth workers. We impose curfews and expect them to stay home every night and do homework. Why? We certainly didn't.

When I was young there were oodles of Saturday and holiday jobs for unqualified teenagers, jobs that simply don't exist nowadays. And even those aspiring to a hum-drum job after school knew they had a good chance of owning their own home one day. We didn't have mobiles, PlayStations and Wi-Fi but the really big things in life were much easier for us.

And we weren't hated. So it was easier for us to maintain respect for our elders rather than feeling despised and alienated.

The Greatest Love of All was a song penned in 1977 which began: "I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside; give them a sense of pride."

Seems we, the grown-ups, have fallen way short of that.

By Helen Martin

Scource: Edinburgh Evening News

No comments: