Many of my colleagues believe strongly that young people should be able to act and speak with little or no constraint without fear of judgement, censure or negative consequences. As one of my colleagues, a father of two teenagers under the age of eighteen, put it:
"I buy my kids booze and let them get drunk at home. In fact my daughter (16) had a party in the house last week and I bought her a bottle of Bacardi and I did so for her friends as well. I'd rather they did it under my nose and I don't see anything wrong with it as I used to drink when I was their age."
One of the consequences of this man's excessively ultra-liberal approach to parenting is that one of his kids is also dabbling in drug use and has been in trouble with the police for possession of drugs, but as he put it: "My daughter is just smoking a bit of spliff and she shouldn't be criminalised for this."
Well, yes she should, it is after all a criminal offence. However, that said I don’t think she should be penalised her whole life for a minor offence. Needless to say this staff member feels that we should turn a blind eye to both alcohol and drug abuse within the project even when it is being committed by under eighteens.
Now, whilst I do agree that young people should be able to talk to adults openly, I disagree with the notion that adults should then eschew their responsibility to provide a degree of judgement and a negative consequence for bad behaviour.
However, in both the care and supported housing sectors terms like ‘judgement’, ‘authority’ and ‘discipline’ are viewed as oppressively obsolete concepts that have little or no place in dealing with young people.
What then are the fruits of this approach, where all authority is undermined and where young people and children can be forthright with adults in how they lead their lives without fear of censure or the absence of any kind of judgement?
Well, from what I’ve observed (in schools, care homes and supported housing projects) the first casualty of this approach is the deterioration in the consciences of many young people. The absence of any judgment has led to a moral climate where anything goes regardless of the effects it has on oneself or the wider society. Here are just a few examples of what I’m referring to: girls from the age of 12-18 openly talking about their sexually promiscuous lives in front of staff without any degree of how inappropriate this is, feckless young men openly talking about children they have fathered casually (they don’t use protection as they don’t like how it feels) with no compunction for the fact they can’t/don't or wont support their offspring, kids as young as 12 openly admitting to being under the effects of drugs when you are talking to them and teenagers/young adults that openly talk to you about various kinds of criminal activities they are involved in with no sense of shame or remorse. What’s more if you challenge any of this behaviour they often get confrontational and accuse you of being ‘judgemental. ’ The majority of staff and management have inculcated them with a hostility to all forms of authority that they view as a right in itself.
Now, I was no angel as a teenager and I expect a degree of rebellion and the pushing of boundaries in young people. However, it is the role of adults to provide such boundaries and do their best to enforce them and if they are a wise adult they should expect their young to try to circumvent the boundaries laid down to a minimal degree. Thus it always was until adults that have never grown up themselves decided to be friends with their children instead of parents.
There was a time in my late teens and early twenties when I smoked a lot of cannabis which brought me in to conflict with both my parents and the law. My education suffered a lot for a few years as did my mental health. Throughout that period of my life I was often troubled by my conscience which nagged me incessantly about the fact that I was living a dysfunctional existence. However, that conscience didn’t evolve in a vacuum, but was shaped and formed by the society in which I grew up, which deemed it unfitting for one to be stoned out of one’s brains day and night, week in and week out. Eventually, as problems mounted due to my lifestyle (including an appearance in court for drug possession) I had to seek help from my parents, but it wasn’t an easy or comfortable conversation being honest with them and nor should it have been. Knowing I had caused them trouble, worry and hassle played heavy on the conscience they had helped instill in me. Although they were supportive in helping me, they were judgemental and laid down some immediate consequences for the way I had been living my life. This is what I needed from them, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. If they had taken the softer, non-judgemental approach with me and tried to be my friend then I would probably still be living under their roof smoking a bong and trying to learn the didgeridoo. I am grateful that my parents tried to parent me when I needed it rather than be a friendly colluder in my own dysfunction. It’s a pity that the care and supported housing sectors don’t operate a similar approach.
They say honesty is the best policy, but I would rather have a young person lie to and deceive me about his or her dissolute lifestyle as this is an indication of guilt and perhaps shame, (the guilt and shame may one day be the thing that reforms them), rather than have one ensconced about the house honestly and openly destroying him or herself in a non-judgmental fashion.