If you spend a lot of time with young people like I do you will often hear complaints about getting a negative press or feeling despised by the older generation.
What this current generation may be surprised to learn is that schisms between the young and the old are nothing new: a little bit of casual reading will quickly reveal that there has been concerns raised about young people since the dawn of western civilisation.
Given this context I’m not surprised that organisations which deal with the young will seek to build relations by canvassing opinions. Kent police can’t be faulted for wanting to build good relations through the strategy of their Local Crime Commissioner Anne Barnes appointing a Youth Police Commissioner; however the first person to be given this job, Paris Brown, has generated the sort of newspaper headlines that indicates the pitfalls of this strategy:
‘I am very ashamed of myself’: Foul-mouthed new crime tsar, 17, issues humbling apology for sex and drugs Twitter rants… but she refuses to resign from £15,000-a-year job.’
I have every sympathy with young people feeling under attack when headlines like the one above appears to confirm that the press is only interested in them for their shortcomings. Yet my impulse here isn’t to simply dismiss the story as just more negative press, especially when the young person seeks to explain away their racist, homophobic, pro violence and pro drug taking behavior by arguing that they were too young to know better. That line of excuse is concerning but not as much as Miss Brown’s take on what can be expected of teenagers:
‘I deeply apologize for any offence caused by my use of inappropriate language and for any inference of inappropriate views. ‘I am not homophobic, racist or violent and am against the taking of drugs. If I’m guilty of anything it’s showing off and wildly exaggerating on Twitter, and I am very ashamed of myself, but I can’t imagine that I’m the only teenager to have done this.’
Now I’m more than wiling to accept that every teenager is capable of silly or boorish behavior. I’m even willing to accept that teenagers are prone to behavior driven by their emotional state thanks to hormonal changes. What I struggle to come to terms with is the idea that there is an inevitability about racism, homophobia or violence in many teenagers; which appears to be the underlying message from Miss Brown.
Paris is not alone in her belief that her behavior should be excused on the grounds of age. Her boss, Anne Barnes, is on record as saying:
‘I suspect that many young people go through a phase during which they make silly, often offensive comments and show off on Facebook and Twitter. I think that if everyone’s future was determined by what they wrote on social networking sites between the ages of 14 and 16 we’d live in a very odd world.’
I most certainly agree with Anne when she says that no one should be condemned forever for something that they’ve done in their teenager years. Also there’s no argument from me against Anne’s idea that a lot of teenage behavior is driven by nothing more than a desire to show off, so in that regard teenage behavior shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Yet the one thing that I keep coming back to is the idea that we can’t expect better from our young.
While I regularly meet young people who are trouble or who get a buzz out of causing trouble I also come across many who are well mannered, polite and are an absolute credit to their generation. Just to be absolutely clear here I’m not talking about young people from comfortable family backgrounds who have plenty of character forming opportunities; though I know many of those who are equally well behaved. I’m talking about young people who have experienced difficulties and frustrations yet don’t feel the need to victimize others in order to feel better about themselves.
Ultimately my concern is not with Miss Brown and her travails, the fact that she’s apologized and stepped down from her job suggests that she has enough about her to learn and grow from this experience, but with those that don’t know enough about young people to be able to be objectively circumspect. If you are going to ask young people to take on a high profile role with social responsibility then you need to find a candidate who is not only authentic but who can bring credit to the people that they are supposed to represent.
Call me an optimist but I believe in young people and because of this I have expectations of them: which means that I expect to be able to deal with young people who would never be caught out using offensive language because they just don’t think that way.
Paris apologizing on Sky News.
Paris announcing her resignation