Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Young people, anti-social behaviour, and involvement in decision-making A few things lately have got me into rant mode about the automatic association of anti-social behaviour with young people. But I'm a little clearer having read about some absorbing research from the 1990s by Sheila Brown.* The author looked at adult and young people's attitudes towards crime and disorder in Middlesbrough, north east England. She notes how adults, in unrelentingly punitive responses, ascribed the moral deterioration of the social fabric to young people. "'Getting young people off the streets' could fairly be said to be a major preoccupation of middle aged and elderly adults." The young people's experience of crime and harassment was barely visible to the adult world - including the fact that 59% of young people aged 11-15 had been victimised by adults in the year preceding the survey. Brown suggests that older people tend to see young people not as victims, but rather as perpetrators and as both symptom and cause of the collapse of the moral universe. "It is the social biographies of adults which need to be understood," she says, "as much as the actual behaviour of young people." I would add an interpretation that young people are not seen as participants or co-producers of that social fabric; and that if you have a tendency to see 'social fabric' as unchanging idealised object rather than as organic context, the notion of damage by the as-yet-unqualified is what you'll get. So it's time to offer two cheers at least for the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit's latest initiative to involve young people in decision-making, through pilot projects in East Brighton, East Manchester, West Middlesbrough and Hull. "The young advisors, who will be paid £8 an hour, will be tasked with showing community leaders and local decision makers how to engage other young people in community life, regeneration and renewal." This is very welcome, although the blurb talks about "giving youngsters aged 15 to 20 years old the skills to become involved in local decision making." I think I'd have tried harder to avoid sounding patronising: under what criteria are they judged not to have those skills already? I suggest (respectfully of course) that what's been missing is to do with opportunity, encouragement, and someone listening; not skills necessarily. * Crime and safety in whose 'community'? Age, everyday life, and problems for youth policy / Sheila Brown. Youth and policy, 48, Spring 1995, p27-48.

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