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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

UK Riots: Our shared responsibility for what young people do.

I have just returned from holiday in India, so viewed what was happening last week from a distance and through a distorted lens. This post is a response to Wakka Khan on the Common Purpose website, who himself comments on the  response of Tariq Jahan to those who killed his son and two others, asking them to 'calm down and go home'

It is indeed a brave and dignified response from a bereaved father to ask for calm rather than for revenge, and some of this spirit would be better shown by some of politicians and commentators who offer strident rhetoric rather than recognition of our system failing and solutions.

Young people are a vulnerable group in our society, in transition economically and emotionally, uncertain about whether they will have a better or worse future than their parents. Those whom we have supported to understand their political and cultural position may protest noisily yet peacefully, or be motivated to study and work harder to ensure they aren't left at the bottom of a social system.

For those without such confidence, analysis and resources, crime against others and self-harm are techniques they use at the best of times to assert anger and frustration at their lack of control or self-determination. This is a persistent problem which we should be addressing through support from early years, through education and engagement in social and community life, especially in the things that young people enjoy, like sport or music and increasingly the creative use of new media.


Earlier this  year, we have seen largely well-off, educated young people protest about student grants, and now less advantaged young people striking out against their own communities. Many young people I speak to from across a wide social range feel unhappy with the government, the police, and the way things are at the moment, as may many other groups in society.  But young people often feel their sense of disempowerment much more keenly.

We should not try to silence young people, but listen to them, understand their frustration and work with them to find solutions. Where family support is strong, 'calming down and going home' may work, but we risk too much by expecting families alone to provide a secure future for our young people.

I hope these recent events can help us to start seeing young people in all our communities as our opportunity, not as our 'problem'. The young have so much energy and creativity, they will want to change the present, but hopefully by using their spark to create a better future, rather than setting the torch to their own neighbourhoods.

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