Monday, 16 January 2006

Dissing kids Good Will Davies asked me the other day what was my take on the government's Respect agenda, and I hesitantly admitted to having mixed views. It's obviously right to be trying systematically and thoroughly to confront issues which blight many people's lives in unacceptable ways; and it's fascinating to watch an overtly moral government stance being adopted with the explicit intention of changing behaviour. But I still want to know how two key questions affecting young people are to be answered. First, where are kids in low income neighbourhoods expected to go, and what are they expected to do, when they're not welcome at home? The argument has been made often enough that they do not have sufficient places where they can get inexpensive food and drink, and can sit around chatting without feeling they are being judged by adults all the time. Perhaps the reason the arguments haven't been heard is because middle class kids don't have such difficulties and middle class parents often know nothing about them. So what do we get? A much trumpeted youth volunteering scheme. Secondly, what attempts are being made to deal with our widespread negative stereotypical images of young people? That's a massive social problem in my view: so this past week we've had ministers feeding bucketsful to the media to help them stoke the stereotype, rather than stifle it. Now, happily, here's Richard Sennett in a Guardian interview with Stuart Jeffries, noting that there is a tipping point with a lot of young people, between acceptable and anti-social behaviour, and policy needs to recognise that. Referring to his own past experience: "What kept kids out of trouble was giving them something to do. We're not talking about hardened msicreants now but people who could go one way or the other." He also puts his cellist's finger on another key point, to do with the limitations of using muscular criminal measures to address extremes of anti-social behaviour without addressing the sensitive issues of uncivil behaviour - unchallenged insolence and rudeness in the street and so on. And with apologies for the repeated publicity - but I could hardly be expected not to mention again this chance to learn more about these issues in a London seminar on Wednesday, to be chaired by Richard Sennett. We'll be hearing about two fascinating pieces of research which explore informal social control, with presentations by Liz Richardson from LSE and Jacqueline Barnes from Birkbeck.

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