A thought dump on teen violence and a broken society

The idea of this post was to get some stuff I can’t make sense of out of my head. You may or may not agree with it, and that’s cool. It’s purely what I was thinking and nothing more.

Violence among teenagers in the UK is on a massive and frightening increase. I think it would be easy to say ‘a lot has changed since I was a teen’, but I’m not sure what and I don’t really believe it. Ipods and mobile phones are the gadgets of the day, but when I was a teen it was Walkmans and the rare story about a kid in a bigger city getting beat up or killed for his Michael Jordan trainers. (Never understood the urge to kill for fashion. Self-defence, sure. But for shoes?) We all go through puberty and the awkwardness of being not-really-a-child and not-really-an-adult,¬†so, I struggle to understand this wave of intense violence that is killing kids at records levels.

I did not grow up with money or privilege. I had flawed but good parents. My dad died when I was thirteen and my mom did not work. We shopped at second-hand and discount stores and cut corners where we could but I still went on to get a degree which my (also poor) grandma helped me pay off over years and years. Other members of my family have had their problems, but that’s private business and I won’t go into it here since it’s not my place to air their issues, but suffice it to say that some of it is worth a seat on a talk show. But how’d they turn out? Fine. Educated, well-behaved, and fine. Respectful, too. Me? Fine. None of us had money (still don’t), some of us lived in trailers, all of us did the best we could to become good people because it is what we chose to do. This is part of why I don’t understand what teenagers are doing to each other now. I’m twice their age but feel planets away in understanding.

I was never bored as a teen. I was not into loitering outside other people’s houses, shopping centres, outside corner shops. What is stopping any teen from creating art, reading a library book, volunteering, getting a job, anything? I had my first paying job when I was fifteen. Since then, I have been unemployed twice-¬†both times as a result of a major relocation. As a teen, I skateboarded, I got involved in extracurricular academics at school, and mostly kept out of trouble. (Though, we still did a bit of binge drinking every so often.) I was a victim once, but never started a fight. The idea of fighting still makes me terribly uneasy. I never played sports, but went out of my way to find other ways to involve myself at school. I was smart, but not a particularly good student. I wasn’t popular, in fact, I was a bit of a misfit, but I never once thought my only option was to carry a knife (or the gun we had in the house) and get into trouble. I always wanted to be thought of as smart, so I spoke properly and kept up my spelling. I had a lot of good and bad times when I was a teen and of course I thought about suicide. But see, despite my rather average teenage life, I have never believed I am without choice.

So why all the killing and violence? There is always a choice. Unfortunately, this shit seems to have gone way out of control now.

Again, this is just a brain dump after reading an article about some steps being removed to stop teens from gathering and becoming rowdy in a London neighbourhood. There’s a big debate about it but no one seems to be telling the teens to make a choice. Every person has choice and if a teen chooses to not actively better his or her life then it is not the responsibility of society. This isn’t going to sound sensible on the surface, but I’m going to say it: we don’t need more skateparks and leisure centres for kids to hang out in. OK, they may help some kids, but those are the ones who want to change anyway. Besides, we had none of that when I was growing up, so why now? Building, building, building isn’t helping. We need teens to stop expecting handouts and pats on the head. Even more, we need to stop conditioning them to expect someone to fix the world for them. It’s an unhealthy relationship- they do less so society does more. Unbalanced and corrupt. In the meantime, kids die for nothing. And unfortunately a bunch of kids brave enough to make positive choices are getting caught in the crossfire. To the kid with a knife in his waistband: here’s a youth club, run along and be a good kid now. THAT WON’T WORK. How could anyone possibly think that could work? Same with tearing down the steps… that’s not going to work either. But I guess it’s easier to tear down some steps or build a youth centre than to admit we’ve failed at raising an entire generation or two of humans.

Another thought: how about we stop calling teens and young adults derogatory terms like “chav” – maybe if we stopped labelling them, they might believe they can be more than how we see them. We are negatively programming them. Tell a person he’s scum enough times and he will eventually believe that’s all he is. And he’ll resent you for it while all the time doing little to break the cycle. Then you buy him a youth centre to try to make it all better, and you see how it goes on and on and on… we’re all at fault here.

I don’t have any idea how this can be stopped, but I’m not in favour of rewarding bad teens with more parks and centres (or punishing them by taking away hang-outs) if they’re not going to give something positive back. Personal accountability and responsibility would be a good start. Society is locked into some sort of ‘fix-me’ cycle, everything requiring an external influence to change or pacify. (That ‘fix-me’ thing goes for adults too.) Teens are not encouraged to be resourceful or independent. This is damaging. What happens when you get everything you want for Christmas? You want more. Want and apathy and fear. If society sincerely wants to help then it should probably start with those things instead of material fixes and urban environment changes.

Remember, this has been a thought dump, so it’s probably disjointed and perhaps even contradictory in places, but nearly EVERY DAY the BBC reports another kid dead from teen violence.
Enough, already. I just had to get some of this out of my head.

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8 thoughts on “A thought dump on teen violence and a broken society”

  1. I agree with a lot of what you say, but I need to add to the family bits. I did not work because of major depression episodes. Fortunately, your dad had left us enough insurance money to live an average life financially through your high school years. During those years we were mostly prudent, but not always 🙂

    We always owned our own home, and it was a nice one.

    No one in our family ever got in trouble with the law, except one. That involved alcohol. There were no charges. The policeman scared the person in a big way, and that took care of that. No more trouble.

    Teen violence is such a problem here, too. It seems as if kids just don’t care. They can’t see beyond today. And parents don’t parent. I see kids out at all times of the night. I don’t have any idea where we go from here. How do you change an entire society?

  2. I didn’t put a lot of family detail in because it wasn’t the focus. Reasons or explanations, for me anyway, were not important but I respect that you wanted to offer some clarifying points.

    Insurance money aside, I know we blew through plenty of it and ended up selling a lot of what we owned to get me off to college. We sucked at investing but did have a damn good time spending, which in hindsight probably was partly due to our combined brain issues. I don’t regret a bit of it and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. 🙂

    Our family is made of tough stuff; lots of what ours has been through would produce bad kids. Ours didn’t. Wish I could bottle whatever it is that made the difference and add it to the water supply.

  3. Regret the times we blew money? Nope. We had great times and created a lot of memories. I’d do it all again. Twice.:)

  4. The problem really escalated when woolly headed do gooders began telling kids they were deprived so it wasn’t their fault they were depraved – see “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story, it’s brilliant and says it all. Oh and then tell them they’ve got rights….. It does nobody any good, least of all the kids.

  5. Oh, I agree with EVERY word here. It’s all so true.

    I just won custody back for my oldest daughter last summer. We’ve had her for almost a year now – she just turned 13. I don’t know *what* her father did, but everything you’ve described in here is exactly how she behaves. I have two other children – 4 and 2 – and *they* are more respectful than my oldest. (My 2-year-old’s 2nd and 3rd words were “Thank You” and “Please”- something I have to practically tear out of my oldest’s mouth.)

    It’s been a tough year, but we’re working hard to “deprogram” her and teach her some self-esteem and how to be independent and self-sufficient. It’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be.

  6. I agree completely. Having two kids, both still young (4 months and just about 3 years), we’re already facing the truth about the future of their peers.

    Even at this age, the parents don’t generally care what their kids do. We’ll be at play groups, in an art, music, or play class, or at a playground and most of the parents could care less if their children are hitting, pushing, name calling, whatever. Heaven forbid if *your* child does something wrong to their child though. Then they’ll read the riot act and go off the deep end. We were once at the playground and saw a 3 year old take off his belt and start snapping it to intimidate another child (more details: http://breighton.qseg.org/?p=1272).

    Being a parent is bloody hard work and many parents, through choice of lifestyle, don’t have the time or desire to do it. They want the schools to do it or the kids to just figure it out themselves. I know there are far too many families where both parents have to work to make ends meet, and even then barely rise above the poverty level. However, there is a huge number of two parent working families where the reason to work isn’t because they “love it” but because they want the money to live in a McMansion and have the Lexus, etc.

    The problem isn’t the kids, it’s the parents. We’ve a generation of parents who by and large “love” their kids, but don’t want to parent them. They want to come home from work and veg. and ignore the kids. I don’t know the solution, but to some degree it has to come from encouraging family values (not to be confused with the US Republican Party and “family values” as an alias for Christianity). Looking around here in Florida, just about everyone values *things* not other people or their family. We’re a consumeristic society. Look at the fall of the USSR and Socialism/Communism. Before that, most of the population didn’t have much, but when I was there a few times the people I met were always friendly and focused on each other – not on whether they have the latest gadget. Post fall, things seem to have radically changed. The consumerism seems to be dragging away much of their friendliness. It’s now that much more about competition.

    Anyway, long rant aside… you’re spot on and something needs done. But I tend to believe it’s got to come from changing how the parents and society operate. Less consumerism, more “quality time” with friends/family.

  7. @ Shelly. I truly wish you and your daughter well. I believe it was easier raising kids when Jen was a teen, although she could be a handful at times. Everything is different now.

    By the way, her 2nd and 3rd words were Mama and Daddy. For some weird reason, her first word was cracker!

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