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Uploaded: 05 August 2003

Young people. 

There is a growing number of young people who, disaffected and alienated, can be seen roaming the streets of towns and cities freely using drugs and alcohol and often becoming involved in crime for no better reason than for something to do. In no way is it suggested that all young people are in this position, however the number of young people on the streets with nowhere to go is increasing. The following is an attempt to examine some of the issues involved.

Young people are economically inactive and dependent. They have no choice in this. It is a condition imposed on them by law and subjects then to pressures that, unless we take account of them, will increase the growing dysphoria displayed by them. Adolescence is a relatively new phenomenon, it was created to protect young people from exploitation in the work place and to provide a time of education and growth in relative safety. In so doing it recognised that young people are personally and socially naive. Adolescence is, then, a time for maturing and learning before entering the independent world of the adult. 

Youth is characterised by energy and a voracious appetite for life and experience, often exuberant and noisy. Not providing for this has created a vacuum in which young people are being forced to find their own way subjected to immense commercial pressures, peer pressures and a largely negative media that presents them as threatening and dangerous. With the decline of the Youth Service and the breakdown of community and extended family links engendered by our industrial societies demands for a mobile work force, the vacuum around youth increases.

Parenting is not innate, it is learnt. Through not understanding that or providing for it in any way we are losing the battle for our young people. Family dysfunction is on the increase. The modern nuclear family is under pressure, it has become inward looking and isolated. The needs of parents and children are clashing in a power struggle in which there are no winners. Parents are people too and their hurt and pain is being perpetuated in their children.

The most basis nurturing requirements of young people are not being met. The need for touch, approval, affirmation, involvement, safe boundaries, fair and just discipline are being neglected. The challenge of the Sixties, where the rigidity of the past began to be questioned is found wanting in the new generation. The pendulum had to swing. The long haul from rigidity to more liberal views and attitudes, whilst laudable and necessary, has to be encompassed by learning and teaching. In rejecting the old, there is no new to embrace, merely vacuous-ness and the voracious hunger of industry. The needs of individuals have been swept aside on a tide of technological development without historical precedent. We have become technically brilliant and yet remain emotionally, morally and psychologically naive. Indeed that very technical sophistication has become the means of the increasing dehumanisation and objectification of individuals and families.

Young people born into this age have no historical perspective. The kinship links that provide every age with a perspective of the past and balance are gone. The voice of old age has become a mockery and the isolation and shame of old age is yet another painful story. Young people naively enter a world in which the totality of their experience is about consumption and attainment. Surrounded by the trappings of wealth, if not the reality, in every shop window and advert, coupled with the insecurities of adolescence and the profound dis-ease of an insecure future in a fluctuating market, a financial and education system that objectifies individuals and ignores their well being, young people are frighteningly isolated with needs they are unable to articulate. Experiencing the very real hostility that surrounds them, they are growing up brutalised. That brutalisation is becoming increasingly apparent in peer relationships. There is a rigid conformity to peer norms and an appalling lack of self consciousness and awareness, and great fear.

Traditional responses in dealing with behavioural issues are not only futile but are met with complete derision; appeals to their better nature or morality elicit the response, ‘Who gives a shit?’ There is a loss of expectation beyond the needs of the moment and of concern for consequences. Too many young people are expressing a profound sense of insecurity, but are unable to articulate it. Youth issues need to move more and more towards meaningful face-to-face work often meeting on territory defined by the young people. Issues such as touch, trust, relating and above all listening and non-interference, as they express themselves are critical. The pressures on youth workers in adopting a non-interfering approach are immense. Watching harmful and toxic behaviour is painful and challenging. Recognising the need to deal with the causes and not the symptoms takes patience and courage. The only people who can effectively change their behaviour are young people themselves, when they are ready. Resisting pressures from others to, ‘Do something about their behaviour,’ requires an articulate and positive response not so much to resist and quieten opposition, as to educate and to begin to heal the gulf that exists and the ignorance that maintains that gulf. The old expression that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem is especially poignant around youth today.

We have to let go of the rhetoric of indignation and blame and accept that the threat and fear we feel when faced with the unpredictable and often abrasive behaviour of young people is our problem, not theirs. Blaming parents, teachers, governments or declining moral standards (whose?) is first and last to avoid the reality of, and responsibility for, an ever-worsening crisis among our young people. 

Issues of provision and cost must be looked at, but realistically the first step is a change of attitude. We need to hear what we are saying about young people. Indignation must become care, fear must become determination, ignoring and denial must become involvement and acceptance. We are in a situation where the only way that change can occur is if we actively seek that change. People caring, listening, attentive, loving and courageous are the only solution. This is not a problem that will go away, it can only get worse. If we treat young people like a drop in the economy or a run on the market, as we do, expecting recovery, we are doomed to disappointment and a dark and ugly future. Today’s young people are tomorrow’s adults and parents. Today’s dysfunction is the guarantee of tomorrows if we do nothing. Doing nothing in this case is to actively promote the ongoing abuse and damage our young people are suffering.

© Keith Lindsay-Cameron 2003

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