In commenting on my Let's hear it for the good kids post, Peter has set me another poser to address:
"I have a question. We hear a great deal over here about crime and yobs and chavs and the estate culture, etc. Brit always said it was overblown, but there is no doubt your media is full of it. Dalrymple is always going on about the "underclass". My question is, do you see this as limited to such a class (dysfunctional, unemployable)or is it an increasing problem in what used to be known as the "working class" too? Is there still a large, hardy, moralistic class doing the hard work more or less responsibly or are more and more of them being attracted to drunken punch-ups in town centres?"
I begin by agreeing with Brit, that it is overblown. The reports we see in the press would not make the headlines unless they were startling exceptions to our everyday experience. Unfortunately, such reporting is counter-productive in two ways: it presents a false image to young people of what they are expected to be doing out of sight of their parents, and it stirs up fear in older people who then avoid going into certain areas in the evening. If we were all out and about, walking in the parks and town centres, I'm sure much of the poor behaviour just wouldn't happen.
So, the media has to bear some responsibility for the current situation but it is not a simple, single-cause problem, nor is it new. A common theme in my posts is the fallacy of the idea of a 'golden age' in education, moral standards, social behaviour or anything else. We only have to look at our literature and social history books to find accounts of young men (sometimes girls) defying the norms of behaviour set by their parents. The seventeenth century had its 'roaring boys' and the eighteenth century had 'mohocks' and 'young bloods', gangs of wealthy young men who roamed the streets of London: "They put an old woman into a hogshead, and rolled her down a hill; they cut off some noses, others' hands, and several barbarous tricks, without any provocation. They are said to be young gentlemen; they never take any money from any." (Wentworth Papers)
Outrageous fashion and flouting of convention were the hallmarks of the nineteenth century 'dandies' and the twentieth century 'flappers.' These, again, were the young members of the upper middle and aristocratic classes. I suppose the lower classes were too hard at work to indulge in such behaviour; the change seems to have occurred after WWII, when the term 'teen-ager' came into use and a whole youth subculture developed. I can remember the 'teddy boys' of the 50s with their drainpipe trousers, suede shoes and greased hair; for the most part, they were just flexing their fashion muscles but in some places they were little more than thugs and were involved in the race riots of 1958.
In the 60s we had Mods and Rockers. This generation of working class youngsters had more money to spend and more leisure time. They bought leather jackets and motorbikes and followed rock bands if they were Rockers and bought Italian suits and motor scooters and followed The Who if they were Mods. I think they just attacked each other and not the general public.
There is no doubt that there has been a change in the youth subculture in recent years largely due, I think, to the use of alcohol and a lack of adult supervision. City centres, town centres and now even our village centre are full of drunken teenagers on Friday and Saturday nights. Pub staff and nightclub managers could reduce this problem at a stroke if they would refuse to serve drinks to those who are obviously drunk. The massive expenditure on police units and first aid posts to deal with the problems after midnight might be better used on a police presence earlier in the evening, ensuring that the existing laws on serving alcohol are enforced. I won't mention the farcical extended-licence law.
The 'estate culture' is something else. Vulnerable, unsupervised children are prey to drug-pushers and this seems to be where the gang culture is growing. Boys as young as eleven and twelve may be recruited and some have started to carry knives to protect themselves or to bully others. We are seeing the effect of this bullying in the reluctance of the people of Liverpool to co-operate with the police in tracking down the killer of Rhys Jones. This appears to be a growing problem but it is not typical teenage behaviour in Britain.
Who is to blame and what can be done? Family life isn't what it was, or is it? This is what a Flapper had to say to her parents in the 1920s:
"It must begin with individuals. Parents, study your children. Talk to them more intimately. Respect their right to a point of view. Be so understanding and sympathetic that they will turn to you naturally and trustfully with their glowing joys or with their heartaches and tragedies. Youth has many of the latter because Youth takes itself so seriously. And so often the wounds go unconfessed, and, instead of gradually healing, become more and more gnawing through suppression until of necessity relief is sought in some way which is not always for the best."
On the whole, good parents produce well-behaved children, who grow into well-balanced adults. Schools have an important role but they do not produce badly behaved children, they just have to deal with them. Governments have a responsibilty to provide a healthy economy so that families can work and earn enough to allow parents time to spend with their children. Fact: there are far more good parents, good kids and good schools than there are bad ones.
What won't solve the problem is yet more legislation.