Monday, 9 June 2008

Won't SoMeBoDy Plz th!nk of tEh chldr3n?

The title of this blog post is my attempt to capture some of the confused, nay schizophrenic, thinking about children in our society that seems to be pervading both the media and political climates right now.

The genesis of this post came while I was listening to PM on Radio 4 while making dinner this evening. A slightly different version of this story followed by a potted version of this broadcast got me thinking.

Rowan Williams has articulated something I very much agree with. Proposed changes in how the police deal with young people found with knives and new advisory guidelines suggesting children shouldn't drink alcohol in their parents' homes until 12 (an attempt to deal with binge drinking) are part of a raft of measures that increasingly narrow the perceptions of young people. I think the Archbishop is right here, we are methodically, even if not consciously, demonising younger people.

I've written before here and here about particular aspects of this problem and don't want to repeat myself as that's not the point of the post.

The point is that, on the one hand, we are increasingly terrified of our "young people" and on the other, increasingly terrified for them. The murder of an ex police-officer suspected of being a paedophile appalls and sickens me. Yes, he may have been guilty of gruesome offences, but that's for the courts to decide, not a vigilante loner. This man was subjected to abuse and forced to move house, he was being hounded at his mother's house, where he was eventually killed. Convicted paedophiles deserve help, not abuse, and this man wasn't even a convicted offender. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

As a society, we are keen to absolve ourselves of individual responsibilities and expect the police to do everything, including parenting. This is a dangerous mindset as it means we are willing to give up our freedoms piece by piece. A local police sergeant told me the other day the government were introducing legislation that would make it a criminal offence for "young people" to return to certain areas within in a certain time, having been moved on by police. He said it would be an arrestable offence. I said: "So you mean you'll be able to arrest people for standing on particular areas of pavement?" His response was along the lines that such legislation would largely be irrelevant in Shropshire as "young people" round here are rather well-behaved when compared to places like London or Manchester. This did not re-assure me.

The thing is, the police shouldn't need to be responsible for young people on the street at night. Parents need to accept that they have a responsibility to society to discipline their own children. A sensible parent would do their best to make sure their child wasn't roaming the streets getting drunk or pulling knives on people. Likewise, a sensible parent would keep close tabs on their children if there was a suspected paedophile in their neighbourhood. But they wouldn't kill this person.

I can't currently think of a resolution that will marry these two attitudes towards children into some cohesive whole. Except that our society's perception of children/young people/youngsters and the dangers from them and that they face is severely flawed and needs rethinking fast.

(Cross-posted to an immedia reaction)

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