Two very different articles about young people caught my eye today.  One was from an author of Children’s books – Terence Blacker writing in the Independent.  The other was a commentary from a chief constable, covered in a story in the Guardian by Alan Travis.

You might be intrigued to know this, but I was much more heartened by the words of the Chief Constable of Cleveland, Jacqui Cheer than the words of the children’s author.

Aptly named Cheer who is the Association of Chief Police Officer’s lead on children and youth talked about how society is becoming intolerant of young people being, well, young people! She said that society was becoming quite intolerant of young people and ready to label “what looks like growing up to me as antisocial behaviour”.

The article warns that new measures under a new antisocial behaviour bill due to come into law shortly in England and Wales could see 10 year olds receiving injunctions for ‘causing a nuisance’, and older children being jailed for breaking these injunctions.

Young people taking to the streets during Belfast's Culture Night, October 2013
Young people taking to the streets during Belfast’s Culture Night, October 2013

Cheer talks about how many of the places where young people might meet have been closed down and then we criminalise young people who meet on the street.  Young people need places “to meet and push the boundaries in a safe environment”, she argues.

Blacker on the other hand (bit of a Dickensian thing going on with the surnames here) presents a bleak picture of “The Lost Generation”.  His article talks of the woes of young people of privilege, who (based on a US survey in Psychology today) “…are twice as likely as their peers to suffer from anxiety, depression and mental illness leading to addiction and self-harm.”   He talks of a superficial world created by media shows which present unrealistic aspirations of instant success (from the X-Factor to The Apprentice), and crude caricatures of what he refers to as “the underprivileged”.  A more accurate description might be the ‘not privileged’.

I am a bit sick of the language of “the Lost Generation”.  It recently appeared in a draft of our First Ministers’ “Together: Building a United Community” initiative.  If it is a lost generation – who lost who?  The implication is generally that a generation has drifted away from society.  Isn’t it really the other way around?  Isn’t the problem society’s jaundiced view of children and young people as a ‘problem’ to be solved – rather than anything that young people themselves (certainly as a collective) have done?

If you want a terrifying look at where Theresa May’s logic is taking us, you just have to look at the stories around the bewildering so-called “school to prison pipeline” in the USA – where young people are ending up in jail for misdemeanours at school.

I am with Cheer on this one – it is time to fight back and protect the right of children and young people to be children and young people.  Perhaps in Northern Ireland more sense will prevail (not too often we are accused of that!).  It is hard to imagine a local Justice Minister bringing in such draconian measures.  Here’s hoping!

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