The brutal murder last week of Sofyen Belamouadden, 15, by other teenagers, in front of hundreds of adults at a packed commuter station is an extreme, but not uncommon, example of the complete breakdown of effective forms of adult authority to thwart criminal and anti-social behaviour in our young.
Less extreme examples of the ineffectiveness of adults to guide and direct the young are on display in a variety of milieus from schools, care homes, the youth justice system and the supported housing sector. I have worked in three of these settings and have dealt with the other directly so I am speaking from personal experience as oppossed to prejudice.
In fact, there has been a gradual abandonment by adults of their responsibilities to guide, direct and discipline children and young people for trangressions of accepted social norms. Whilst working in a school I regularly met parents who were annoyed, frustrated and angry that the school had failed to straighten out their errant son or daughter. The school and the teaching staff in turn blamed the parents for the more egregiously badly behaved pupils. As far as I am concerned it was the fault of both the parents and the school and indeed the wider society. We are all responsible for the transmission of social norms to the young. I am referring here to a minimal adherence to generally held social norms such as not verbally abusing people or being violent or agressive, as well as an ability to take instructions from authority figures.
The same trend is on display in the care system and in supported housing. The system is powerless to effectively instil boundaries and discipline in the more challenging and disturbed residents i.e. those who need it most. In some cases, counselling in conjunction with firm and resilient adult authority would in my opinion help turn lots of kids around. However, instead of these measures being put in place you hear the usual nonsense where by the blame is shifted back on to the parents, despite the fact that they are now under the care of or receiving support from the state and in many cases have been from a young age.
In effect, what is happening is that all spheres of adult authority are abandoning their responsibilities towards children and young people. In the past, if one's parents failed to transmit social norms to you the wider society would step in and do so whether in the form of the extended family network, neighbours, at school or with a harsher youth justice system for the more extreme cases. I dont deny that there were problems in this model and that some of the authority of the past needed to be challenged, rethought and restructured. However, what seems to have happened is the jettisoning of all forms of effective adult authority in some parts of society and hence the inexorable rise in problems associated with young people over the past two decades.
In some sections of society the erosion of adult authority has exposed many young people to unprecedented levels of bullying, intimidation, aggression and extreme violence. Traditionally, strong male role models in the forms of teachers, the police and fathers were responsible for stamping out the incipient aggressive tendencies within young males and replacing these inherent dispositions with civilised norms. The fruits of abandoning this approach are all around us and the welfare state, as well as neo-liberal economics, are largely responsible for this development.
In fact, a while ago at a supported housing project I was commended and praised by a manager, for not physically intervening to stop one of our residents whilst he was on a drunken rampage throughout the project. He smashed up his room, kicked in a window and attacked several other residents who managed to get away from him in time. This young man, Sean, 18, was so intoxicated, in the middle of the day for that matter, that he had no idea what he was doing. The following day he remembered nothing of the incident.
Anyway, as we watched the CCTV footage of his debaucherous trek through the project, the manager repeatedly praised me for my non-aggressive body language and non-interventionist approach as well as my use of de-escalation skills, none of which were effective in any way. As a result of employing my useless politically correct armour in dealing with drunken louts, Sean was allowed to continue on his trail of destruction. After getting bored attacking his fellow residents, as well as the fixtures and fittings in the project, Sean decided to share his rage with the wider community. He proceeded on to the street in front of the project and attempted to pull an elderly man from a bike as he was cycling by. At this point I decided to abandon the non-interventionist, non aggressive approach. I managed to grab Sean by the scruff of the neck, place his arm behind his back and lower him to the ground until the police arrived.
In the face of such aggression what else was I to do but intervene? However, I can understand why so many people don't and it is because in our schools, care homes, supported housing units and even in the family home, if a child or young person accuses you of using excessive force the onus is on the adult to prove their innocence to senior management (in some instances this is an understandable stricture) that seem to be a lot more effective in dealing with alleged or minor transgressions of adults than the feral savagery of the young people in their charge. However, with such a sword dangling over one's head, is it any wonder so many adults in positions of authority have effectively abandoned trying to transmit morals and norms to the young?
It is therefore not at all surprising to me that some young people, including teenage girls as well as boys, were involved in the aforementioned murder at Victoria station in front of hundreds of adults. These young people have grown up in a society where adults have abandoned their duty to ensure that their young are civilised and adhering to a minimum standard of accepted social norms.
The underlying cause of the demise of effective adult authority is best articulated by the words of the 18th century Anglo-Irish Statesman and Philosopher Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”