TEENAGE KICKS

imageA few weeks ago I had a conversation with a teenager in the village. She was talking about “walking past the bus stop outside the church” and said “usually we cross the road if they’re there but this time we thought they weren’t there but they were… They were just hiding inside.”

It was an interesting insight into a child’s world for all sorts of reasons. There was the identification of a problem, the cool practical way that it was being dealt with, and the horror that she clearly felt when this practical solution had gone awry. She was at least laughing.

More serious is the problem itself. The “they” she was referring to were the groups of youths who frequently gather in Wye outside the church and on the village green. These youths are predominantly teenage boys. They are often over-loud and frequently dare each other into carrying out increasingly anti-social behaviour. Young men desperately searching for challenges to prove themselves as adults, this is a sometimes intimidating gang right in the heart of our village.

There’s a danger here that I might be accused of taking a minor problem over-seriously. “Hey J! Lighten up!” I can hear friends say, “Boys will be boys… Intimidating gang? What are you on about? Just ignore them!” But there may be others who agree with me that no-one should be made to feel uncomfortable in their own neighbourhood – least of all a child.

Something that is very likely completely unrelated to the emergence of this gang is a sudden increase in police-recorded petty crime in Wye – as reported by the community warden in this month’s parish council meeting. There have been seven instances of rubbish bins being over-turned or set on fire in the past month.

These crimes represent a small blip on Wye’s otherwise fairly impeccable police record. They are something for the insurance companies to chew over when they set all our premiums. But otherwise I would imagine that they’ve gone practically unnoticed.

Sociologists and criminologists might however clock them as interesting episodes in the development of a community. Indeed, they might refer to the “cycle of decay” identified in 1981 by American criminologists James Q. Wilson and George F. Kelling in a famous article called ‘Broken Windows‘. Stage one is the appearance of an unemployed group of young men. Stage two is a rise in anti-social behaviour.

There are eight stages in all, culminating in the place becoming a no-go area – even for the police – with drug gangs and boarded-up windows, and, quite probably guns on the street… Imagine it! Shoot outs on Church Street! The vicar driven in an armoured car to church?

I wouldn’t want to suggest that Wye is heading all the way down this particular path. After all we are just talking about a very small gang, and anti-social behaviour is fairly minimal.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do something about it as a community. Currently the way that we deal with the problem is as follows. The insurance company picks up the tab (though with bins costing £70-80, we have not been able to claim for most of the damage as the amount falls below the excess). The police look for evidence and compile statistical data. And the community warden is the only individual who has responsibility to interact with youths on a regular basis, whether or not they were involved in such incidents, and request that “whoever has done it…. Please don’t do it again”.

I don’t think that is sufficient – particularly given that our community is growing and we will be playing host to increasing numbers of teenagers at Wye School over the coming years. Possibly the soon-to-be-opened Multi-Use Games Area will make a difference (but could just as easily be a target for damage as a place to let off steam/demonstrate sporting prowess). The fact that the Friday night youth club (predominantly for 10-14 year olds) is thriving is definitely a positive.

But I still think that there is a lack of provision in the village for 14-25 year olds – particularly boys – and the fact that most adult men leave the village for work compounds the problem as this is a group who do not have adult mentors to help them on their way. The result is that a small group search around for some way of asserting their manhood without any proper adult guidance.

Recently I have been in email communication with someone at Kent County Council about the possibility of commissioning our own youth services for the village. If we were to do such a thing, it could be very rewarding because we could commission exactly what it is that each group in the community needs. I’m particularly interested in what we could provide for this 14-25 age group.

Maybe others are too? If we were to commission our own children’s services, we’d need many more people to come and help out. If you’re at all interested and have a bit of time to invest in your community, please get in touch with me through the blog.

About jasperbouverie

I am Jasper Bouverie. I have two blogs: jasperbouverie.com which is about promoting sustainability in the village of Wye in Kent (and beyond); and FunderFilms.com which I will fill with short films dedicated to promoting social and environmental awareness and change. Find me on Twitter: funderfilms and finelinej
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3 Responses to TEENAGE KICKS

  1. Linda Cobb says:

    Perhaps it would help if young people in the village were listened to. My son and friends wrote some time ago to the Parish Council with a suggestion for a skate park (he and his friends knew this was most unlikely but worked hard and even got some costings. They young men even acknowledged that this was their idea but other young people may want something different). The then Parish Clerk said he and friends would be invited to discuss ideas. However, they were actively excluded from the discussions and meetings. ( You may recall my discussions with you concerning this Jasper!) What was being modelled here by adults and the PC with regard to actively involving our young people? What message is given regarding that early interest in community?

    Whilst the MUGA is great, the previous Parish Clerk felt this was lead by what Adults thought was best rather than really exploring what the young people in our village wanted. So, that is history -but lets find out what our young people actually want and consider how we respond to them when they do show any interest in their wider community. Lets consider how we really engage with them!

    Linda Cobb

    • Thanks for this Linda. And yes of course I remember the conversation.
      I agree about consultation and involvement. This was why I coordinated the teenagers’ survey back in late 2012. Further discussions with younger children were had at the Children’s Fayre in the Spring of 2013, and I still have data from this.
      I think the difficulty is progressing from ideas to actually making things happen. Maybe that can be done through commissioning our own services. Maybe we should be doing something more Wye-centric. Am happy to talk about this.

      • Linda Cobb says:

        Yes I appreciate the work undertaken but it doesn’t explain the exclusion of my son and his friends or acknowledge that they tried to contribute ideas about how to undertake the teenagers survey. Nor does it acknowledge the impacts of exclusion and the message that gives our young people. There is so much learning for our young people through community involvement, even if their ideas aren’t always realistic or the approach they take may be different to that of possibly more experienced adults.

        My son has the feeling that young people, if they hang out together, are viewed as a nuisance. In other countries it’s quite acceptable for groups of young people to gather. I think there is a sense that somehow the village isn’t theirs and of course it is. Anti-social behaviour statistically decreases when people feel a sense of belonging. Lets try and create that and involve our young people in a very meaningful way.

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