The Teenage Wasteland

“It’s not my community, so why should I live by their rules?”

This pithy comment (or something very like it) was made on an episode of World’s Strictest Parents last night. The speaker, one of the two usual characters for the show, was an intelligent teen with a penchant for gothic style and an argumentative relationship with his mum (putatively remedied by the time with the titular strict parents from foreign parts).

His comment, in conjunction with a recent documentary aired on BBC4 The Great Estate: The Rise and Fall of the Council House, struck me as particularly enlightening in respect of the recent riots in London.

In the documentary (which I worked on and which I recently saw a re-airing of), one of the conclusions presenter Michael Collins draws regarding the state of government housing is that the housing devolved from family communities in which generations of the same family were given preference of residence to encourage a sense of belonging and community, to under-budget, short-term, needs based housing deliberately preventing a sense of long term investment in the community.

The simple teen anti-establishment trope stated above is writ large in the ‘anti-social behaviour’ seen in the riots, where large groups of un- or under-employed teens suddenly decided to act out, like a character on WSP, to prove that they didn’t need to follow ‘their’ rules.

That’s essentially the meaning of ‘anti-social behaviour’, isn’t it? Someone, or some group, decides (in this case clearly on a whim), that they aren’t part of this ‘society’ and therefore have no reason to uphold its basic tenets.

Image: George Rex

So how do you explain to kids that stealing, setting buses and buildings on fire, and running over passers by, are the wrong thing to do, and that they are members of a community with an obligation to it, like everyone around them?

I don’t think we can send them all to an Orthodox Jewish community in Tel Aviv. Though to be frank, that might be cheaper and more effective that sending them all to jail.

There’s been mention of making these kids perform some kind of reparative labour in the neighbourhoods where they caused so much damage – maybe a kibbutz would do the trick?

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