Growing up as a teenager in the 1980’s in the idyllic English countryside I had very few worries and certainly none that kept me awake at night. Our teenagers today, however, are not so lucky. Young people’s happiness in the UK is at its lowest point for seven years according to The Children’s Society, Good Childhood Report 2017.
What is making our teenagers unhappy? Families struggling to pay bills and lack of emotional support at home were among the pressures mentioned, but according to the report’s findings, fear of crime is the biggest concern. A total 2.2 million of those interviewed cited this as the thing that worries them the most.
One in three girls surveyed said they were concerned about being followed by a stranger and one in four boys were worried about being assaulted.
As a parent of both sexes and living in London, these figures and statements don’t surprise me. Stranger danger is omnipresent. As for being assaulted, sadly there is rarely a week goes by without reports of an attack somewhere in our capital.
One of my worst fears during my parenting journey to date has been that I won’t be able to protect my children from danger. Now as they grow up and become increasingly more independent I fear they won’t be able to protect themselves. My teenagers have become used to me frequently asking them to “be careful” every time they venture out. There is, however, more to it than just being careful.
Being streetwise is a good skill to have and a prerequisite to keeping safe whether you live in London or any other major city. Our teenagers need to know how to be observant and aware of their surroundings and not to put themselves at risk.
We have a duty of care to our teens to guide them on that, but of course it does not provide a cast iron guarantee of avoiding danger. Despite everything my eldest has fallen victim to crime twice this year, but in both scenarios knew compliance was better than resistance and thankfully escaped shaken and not physically harmed – albeit poorer.
Crime is of course nothing new, but what is disturbing nowadays is that it is so prevalent and so violent. The use of weapons and now acid to cause serious injury is commonplace with no thought given to the consequences. In fact the ONS figures revealed a 20% rise in gun, knife and other serious violence.
News At Ten featured a series of reports earlier this month on violent crime which made for frightening viewing. Aside from the staggering increase in the total number of offences committed, it was the frequency at which they occurred that struck me.
Every 14 minutes, there is a knife crime committed across England and Wales. In London the number of incidents where shots are fired has doubled to two a day and one-in-six gun crime victims last year were aged 17 or under.
It is shocking and upsetting in equal measure that this is the cultural landscape our teens are growing up in. Add to this the fact that as a result of living in fear of crime in their neighbourhood some teenagers are resorting to carrying weapons to protect themselves and thereby driving this increase, then the reality is even more horrific.
The teenage years are such an exciting time, it is a shame that for so many it is a period dominated by problems and fear with an inevitable long term impact upon their well-being.
What can be done to help? First and foremost these unhappy teenagers need support but if it is not available at home where do they turn? For many the children’s services provided by their local authority are a valuable resource, providing a much needed safety net not only in times of crisis but in a preventative scenario too. As a rule those adolescents lacking the support of a stable emotional and financial family environment are the most vulnerable and arguably more susceptible to turning to crime themselves.
Youth centers give teenagers a place to meet and make friends, as well as a chance to take part in workshops, recreational activities and short courses. Youth workers operate outside of the centers, getting to know young people in schools, on the streets and in parks. They also work alongside specialist teams responsible for youth crime prevention and issues connected to serious youth violence including gangs.
Unfortunately funding is being cut for these valuable local services that help our country’s children. This situation has various permutations and far-reaching consequences,all with potentially devastating results for the next generation. As parents we owe it to all our country’s teenagers to speak up on their behalf in a bid to help make life a little easier and our teenagers’ world a safer and happier place.
How? Well charity begins at home and in a week when the focus is very much on the needs of children, we can lend our support to the efforts of the Children’s Society and sign their petition to ask for more funding to maintain local youth services.
It is not a time to turn the other cheek. We can all make a difference to the society we live in. Our teenagers today are tomorrow’s adults and at the moment they need our help to reverse the decline in their well-being before it hits crisis point.
Disclosure: The Children’s Society invited me to review their report. No payment was received. All views and opinions are my own.
Editor’s Note: The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services and campaigns to change the law to help this country’s most vulnerable children and young people. The Good Childhood Report 2017 is the sixth in a series of annual reports about how children in the UK feel about their lives produced in collaboration with the University of York. It is the most extensive national programme of research on children’s subjective well-being in the world.