After issuing my challenge to other bloggers to find something quirky and unusual in their neighbourhood, Natural, of Thinking Out Loud, posted this rather delightful mixed bag as a response. Buried in there is a link to a video documentary which appears to have been made by the youth of Maplewood, New Jersey, with the help of various locals. Watch it before reading the rest of this. It’s enlightening, the young people put their point across well, and the movie is very watchable.
It got me thinking. Maplewood is not unusual in this one failing, nor is it exclusively an American problem. I think many of our own towns and cities fail the younger generations in this way. You might almost expect it in villages with a small population, because they simply don’t have the resources to provide much – and yet they often manage very well. My own village is well served, since it hosts a local secondary school with an intake which covers several rural communities and this school provides evening classes, sports facilities and a youth club. We also have a busy village hall which offers various activities including Shotokan karate.
In other areas, where there is less to do, public benches have been removed to prevent local teens ‘hanging around’ and ‘making noise’. Okay, no-one wants groups of rowdy kids outside their door, but for crying out loud, do we as a society really not understand that if you give kids nothing to do and nowhere to go, they are going to be a damn nuisance? It’s like confining an adolescent border collie to a house and tiny garden with insufficient exercise and no mental stimulation. Is it, or is it not, going to turn into an uncontrollable hooligan? Of course it is. It is simple cause and effect. Hopefully, no sane person would expect otherwise.
So why do we expect our teens to get to the point where they’ve outgrown the kid stuff like playing round each other’s houses and biking around the park and playing on the swings and being taken to ballet classes and Cub Scouts, and miraculously turn themselves into steady, responsible young adults when we give them absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go? They are still young and physical, and they don’t want to hang at home with the old fogeys, they need to get out and be doing.
We take away the biking and the swings and we give them a bunch of ‘don’ts’ – don’t bike or skateboard or roller blade on the pavements. Don’t climb on stuff. Don’t rough-house with your mates, and please! Don’t even think about freerunning, you might hurt yourself or break something or get in the way. And then we give them no alternatives at all and expect them to keep out of trouble.
Is it any wonder that they feel alienated? Is it any wonder that they sit in front of the computer chatting on IM, and MySpace, and Facebook, and playing games all day and half the night? Is it any wonder that they climb buildings and hang off bridges and spray graffiti, or that they get frustrated and break things, just because they can?
What is so hard about providing one single ‘you can hang out here’ venue in each community? Sure, these days you’ll have to police it, but actually, young people have always benefited from a supervising adult. And the cost – while high – is surely less than the policing and fixing and repainting you’ll be doing if you don’t amuse them, and much less than providing secure accommodation for repeat offenders.
I’m not completely naive (having raised two boys myself) and I don’t imagine that this is the easy fix to all social ills, but just think about it. If you take any young dog or horse or monkey and confine it and frustrate it, I guarantee there will be huge great wads of trouble, with a sizeable potential for harm, both to others and to themselves. Young people are not so very different.
What’s wrong with an area set aside for teens, with very much larger equipment for them to play on, or sit and hang out on? Now, I realise that in this litigation-minded society this ain’t gonna go down too well with the Powers That Be, but it’s maybe what they need. Young people need somewhere to exercise both mind and body, and they need to dare. To risk. To see how far they can push themselves.
And until we adults remember how we were as teens and do something constructive about that – are we not always going to have trouble?