Opinion: Youth violence on the rise but are we to blame?

The front page of today’s Daily Express leads with a dramatic headline “Life is a ‘war zone’ for today’s children”. This is in reference to a story the paper is featuring focusing on the rising youth violence.

The article they are running as an exclusive features the thoughts of Chief Constable, Dave Thompson, the Chief of West Midlands Police. The front page splash states that exposure to domestic abuse and extreme violence can leave youngsters in a “hyper-edgy state” fuelled by adrenaline. The story likens what the Chief Constable believes children experience to what soldiers have experienced. I’ve been a child, I’ve never been a soldier but I know soldiers who have fought for their country and bear the constant mental scars from that so let’s not trivialise what those brave men and women have done.

If you’re reading this as an adult one thing for certain is that you were a child. I was a child just as you were and we’ve all had to go though childhood to reach adulthood. As an adult I am a Parent to a near 4 year old son and a God Parent to 14 year old boy.

As a man, I grew up a boy. I therefore went through the childhood of a boy. To a degree this allows me to empathise with my 14 year old Godson on the difficulties of being a teenage boy. Now I am fully aware that children of today face a lot more in trials and tribulations than children of my generation.

Social media is something that came into my life as an adult. Social media is something today’s youth grow up with. From an early age they put themselves under the microscope craving approval. Instagram posts need likes, Youtube accounts need subscribers and videos need likes. There’s a ton more social media accounts that today’s youth crave “approval on”.

As a child growing up I played out with my friends. We got fresh air, we played outside. As a child today a lot of play takes place over the internet on games consoles such as Playstation and Xbox. Despite games having age restrictions I’m certain there’s a huge number of people under those age restrictions playing those games.

The life of a 2019 child is much different to the life of their parent as a child back in their day.

While I’m sure the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police is a clever, educated man, and has made his comments based on a lot of information I can’t help but disagree.

Youth violence is sadly on the rise. We read daily of a youth losing their life in what’s often youth vs youth violence. To read of any youth losing their life is one too many. Somewhere there’s parents whose lives will never be the same again, there’s siblings who’ll never get to see their (usually) brother or sister again.

BUT, I think we, as society, haven’t helped. We’re probably now into the children of parents who were the first to pass through what I’m about to describe but things are very different now from even when their parents were children.

See in 2019 there is a fear of issuing discipline and instead an excuse is sought. When I grew up knowledge and understanding wasn’t what it is now and children misbehaving were labelled naughty and they were disciplined. Nowadays we are much more alert to possible reasons for naughtiness and that’s good. Some of those children in my day were just naughty, but some may well have been recognised differently if they were children now.

While it’s great that we have a better understanding of reasons why some people have behavioural issues it’s also given rise to excuses why others do. Because we are more knowledgeable of conditions on the autism spectrum we are able to offer help to those in need. In my childhood someone who may now have been identified as being on the autism spectrum and offered help was just labelled naughty and disciplined.

So far so good but no! What’s happened is that we’ve turned soft on discipline altogether. People who have no reason to be naughty other than knowing they’ll get away with it can be naughty. Because the world has gone soft the boundaries of “acceptable” naughtiness are pushed further and further and eventually we end up with voilent and out of control youth with no idea of doing the right thing, no concept of respect and no fear of doing what they know to be wrong.

As parents it is our job to help our blank canvas at birth navigate childhood picking up things that will help them to be the best adult they can be once they reach adult life. Initially we do everything for them, then we let them start taking independence, encouraging them along the way. We are there to provide academic support and encouragement, personal support and encouragement and the same if they decide they want a sport or hobby.

I have a simple view as a parent that I’ve also used as a Godparent. I will be my son’s best friend, and I will be my Godson’s best friend. They both have / had boundaries set for them and as long as they stay within those boundaries we are best friends. I am not afraid however to be a parent and step back from that best friend position if the boundaries are crossed.

I’d say I’m probably old fashioned. I expect my son to grow up and be a man he can be proud of. I expect him to grow up to respect those around him (who deserve respect), to be kind, considerate and thoughtful. I want to be proud of my son but most important I want him to be a boy and then a man that he can be proud of being.

I know that in order to help him reach that there will be times where I have to not be a friend, there are times that I will have to be strict and be a parent in my old fashioned ways! I will never hit my child, I don’t agree with it, but I’m not afraid to change the tone in my voice and point out to him intentional wrong doing he has done through deliberate choice.

Another example of us going soft I read earlier this year of calls for exams to be scrapped to save children the stress of sitting exams. Crazy!!! I sat exams, my parents sat exams, their parents did. Fact is adult life is stressful, exams are a way of ascertaining what children have learned from education but also a vital stage in preparing their youthful selves for adult life.

Let’s not ruin our children by making excuses for everything! Let’s accept yes, life is tough as a child but rather than justifying everything with an excuse, let’s help our children on the journey to become people both we and they can be proud of.

I was a naughty child, and I’ll admit I’ve brought a bit of that to adulthood with me but I thank my parents for disciplining me as a child to make sure I came into adulthood a bit cheeky rather than out of control naughty. The simplest way I can describe it, as a child I thought nothing of breaking boundaries, thanks to my parents telling me right from wrong and disciplining me where necessary and not just finding an excuse for my naughtiness, I have reached adulthood as someone who’s never afraid to push boundaries but respects that while they can be pushed to just shy of breaking point they’re not there for breaking.