Wednesday 21 April 2010

Honesty is Not Always the Best Policy

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.


humanature said...

I am enjoying your blog immensely, Winston. In fact, I work with teenagers too and you have inspired me to write about my experience. What's different about my job is that I'm a British teacher working in a school in America. In my case, the kids have firm boundaries and almost never cross them. If they do, there are consequences and a lot of parent involvement. I also place emphasis on curriculum that teaches the importance of concepts such as morals, responsibility, good citizenship and reason. I'd love for you to read if you get the chance. I've only just started. Cheers:

WinstonSmith33 said...

Thanks bweasty Ill give it a read later.

MarkUK said...

Young people have no judgement of their own until they learn it. I was just the same, 40 years ago.

How are young people to learn about judgement unless they are shown it?

In fact, we all judge people and situations all the time. It's important. I judge whether the "tradesman" I'm thinking of employing to mend my house can do the job. You are judged every time you go for a job interview.

Unless young people are judged on their lifestyle (and they will be by their peers), how will they know which way to go?

Yours judgementally.

Anonymous said...

You seem to think that it is somehow worse for 12-18-year-old girls to be sexually promiscuous than it is for teenage boys, as you only criticise the boys who have fathered a child.

What is wrong with an 18-year-old teenage girl being promiscuous as long as she uses condoms?

Best wishes

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Clare above,

Please dont put words in my mouth or make assumptions. I think it just as terrible for boys/men to openly discuss their sex lives in detail in front of me. This should be a private matter and not one for public display. As a middle aged man though I am even more disturbed by young women and young girls openly discussing their sex lives when I am in earshot or directly in front of me. I dont think its appropriate chat to be having with or around grown men twice or three times your age and some of the girls I have heard openly discuss their sex lives with no shame that adults and strnagers could hear were under 16. However, before more accusations of misogyny and sexism reign down on my head I believe it's just as bad for boys to speak that way but for some reason it doesnt shock me as much although it's just as unacceptable.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Clare again,

I have no problem with an 18 year old girl/lad being promiscuous if they are responsible in doing so but I dont think its acceptable to openly broadcast it to the world with sometimes graphic detail.

News Bitch said...

I find your blog interesting, amusing and frustrationg all at the smae time. you are the reason I came on here after reading the piece in the mail, am looking forward to making my way through all your posts and the future ones.

WinstonSmith33 said...

I've had some problems uploading some comments on here tonight so for all those who have stated admiration for the blog and my writing thanks. I appreciate your time to come on here and leave a comment but some of them will just not publish due to a technical fault. Ill get it sorted a.s.a.p but this is only seems to be affecting certain posts.

Anonymous said...

Hey Winston,

I think that is your finest post yet.

Keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

Your blog is a work of genuis. I just wish my brother who is in a secure unit had someone with your sense and intelligence, before that he was in a sheltered project- he has a wide variety of learning disabiities- and the way he was allowed to carry on was shocking.
His social worker, quite obviously takes what I like to call the namby pamby approach and I have no respect for the work he does because he is actually damaging my brother as opposed to helping him.
He openly talked of the girls he had slept with and the drugs he took in public, was rude and very agressive as he learnt very quickly that it has no consequence.
It's people like you Winston who keep my faith in social services, I thank you from the bottom of my heart


Anonymous said...

I also work with young people and have worked in supported housing. I agree that a lot of young people have a lack of boundaries (I think this has a lot to do with how technology has changed the way we communicate and made people feel fairly unaccountable for what they say directly to or in front of others).

But I always take these as opportunities to talk with young people about their choices. It's very possible to do this in a non-judgmental way and I've found that young people appreciate someone being real with them instead of trying to be their friends. Sometimes, it's clear that they are talking so frankly because they want some guidance.

Setting up these boundaries is not only the responsibility of the professionals who work with young people, it's also necessary to help young people learn that they need to behave differently in different settings. If young people can't learn to be adults from adults, who will they learn from?

Lawy said...

Some excellent observations here and in the blog in general. As a teacher dealing with under-achieving students (maily boys), 15 - 16 yrs, I often listen to them talk when they think I am doing something else. The main topics of conversation is illegal, off-road motorcycless, follwoed closely by what drugs they have had and how pissed they have been recently. They very rarely mention girls or sex in general.

They have respect for nothing including themselves and regard any form of sanction as unreasonable. There are no ground rules at home and as a result they are semi-feral in their attitudes and actions.

If I could, I would time-travel back to 1955 and stop ANYONE from doimg a sociology degree. The fact that this was an easy option at the time and then had to be followed up by showing that targets were being met has fucked society!!!

RichieRich said...

If it is being judgemental to say to a child in care that them committing theft is wrong, it is clearly also judgemental to say that it is not wrong. If the former instance of being judgemental is viewed as "obselete", is the latter too? In other words, is it deemed OK to judge what the child did as not wrong, or is any judgement about rightness/wrongess viewed as obselete?

Do those who run the care system distinguish between (the rightness of) judging a person's behaviour and judging the person themselves?

Sorry if this is pedantic but I think it can be quite difficult to pin down what is meant by "judgemental".

rielouise said...

At uni a boyfriend of mine said that my parents were repressive, bordering on the abusive b/c they forbade ,without question, certain types of behaviour - taking illegal drunks, drinking, promiscuity. My parents were working class Catholics whereas as his were upper middle class. He told me that they allowed him to smoke cannabis in their house because they didn't want to 'alienate' him.

Anonymous said...

Cracking article. I have always felt that lack of shame is what is responsible for the breakdown of society. There is a good reason why the TV programme is called 'Shameless'.

I beleive in conscience and individual responsibilty. Once people are absolved of such responsibility bad things begin. Yes, sense of guilt, and sense of morality are of the utmost important. And of course I believe in redemption as well, but before that happens one has to admit one's guilt.

Hope you win the Orwell prize,

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the best question to ask of non-judgemental types is, do they bring their own children up the way they advocate for the children of the underclass? If the answer is no -why not?

If being allowed to do as one pleases is good enough for Darren and Kylie, it's good enough for Chloe and Jack.

In denying these children a good upbringing, non judgemental state carers are clearly articulating the view that the children of the underclass are inherently worthless and so inferior that they couldn't possibly make use of a first class upbringing. These children have as much potential as anyone and they should be a given better deal than they get.

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston – Firstly, a great Blog but, unfortunately, too much common-sense included:-).
I have spent the past three years involved with children aged from 5-15 through a small Community Association that I formed in one of the most deprived areas of the city in which I live.

The older ones have always tried to push the boundaries/their luck, but they soon realise that they are ‘flogging a dead horse’ with and generally give up trying after a very short time. I have organised a wide variety of events for the youngsters and a specific basic set of rules and values have to be followed by the youngsters if they want to participate. The vast majority ‘toe the line’.

Unfortunately, I am in the process of winding up the Community Association because of the lack of meaningful support from relevant official bodies/organisations whose support, both financial and ‘in kind’, were essential to continue to improve service provision.

To be honest, I have been very outspoken when this support was reduced/unforthcoming and this has resulted in complete withdrawal of support from the local police, virtually all Council Deapartments and external organisations. Local ‘elected political representatives’ are also weak and ineffectual. Call me old fashioned, but when somebody tells me that they will do something, strangely enough, I expect them to do it. Promises of support made by the powers that be and subsequently ignored.

Such is the situation now that any requests for support are ignored, without even the courtesy of a reply. The general quality of life for the whole community has already begun to deteriorate. A sad time indeed.
Kindest Regards –

steph said...

I think I would have abit more respect for you if you put your name on these blogs. Alot of what you are saying is unfortunately true in some cases. However there are some people in the field of social care who despite the consent paper pushing actually enjoy working with young people, which I have to say is something you obviously lack.To critise the system is fine but to personally attack someone, young or otherwise just because they are overweight!What is even sadder is all the people thinking how wonderful your blog is and agreeing with you despite also working in the field.I feel sorry for you that you feel you have to vent your frustrations on a blog in a different name. I assume this is for fear of losing your job? Quite frankly you don't seem to like it anyway so perhaps it would be a blessing

Anonymous said...

so who are you then steph?
i read into this that winston is a bit like me. i work with kids and enjoy it. the big problem comes when those kids misbehave, i try to punish them in some way but then i am criticised for not counselling them instead. they just need to know what the boundaries are and what happens when they go too far. just because i punish kids who misbehave and then get frustrated with people who undermine me does not mean that i am not doing the job to the best of my ability and enjoy the working with kids bit. oh, and i'm not perfect either.

Anonymous said...


I have no relation to this blog, or to the author.

On the question of anonymity that you raise- did you consider that by remaining anonymous himself, Winston Smith protects the identities of those children and young adults he works with?

Anonymous said...

I just have read this blog. I will compare what is going on here in wellfare UK to Poland ( I live in UK for almost 6 years now ).

1. Benefits like in UK does not exist in Poland. The more children the less money.

2. No council houses , flats e.t.c. It is a joke what you get for just having children.

3. No houses like this the blog author works.

4. There is no money for youths for doing nothing. All these benefits like 200 quid/week is criminal.

5. In schools if you don't want to learn you have to repeat year, moved to special school.

In my opinion there's something very strange with this social system. I can't see any chance of improvment in the future. These uncapable to be adults know system, and will live on it as long as they can. NOTHING is gonna change their mind. Even election will not help, no one dares to touch it !

Anonymous said...

I dearly hope that you will be one of the first to go when the austerity cuts come. If you win the prize and lose your anonymity, well that would make for some interesting times as well. Good luck,

rielouise said...

I find Winston's blog compelling and sometimes addictive I get a little concerned about the way he writes about his heavier clients mainly because people mocking me because of my weight as a teenager catapulted me into anorexia.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Louise,

I was once a fairly rotund teenager myself. My friends took to calling me Agustus Gloop (the fat kid from Willie Wonka who got sucked up the pipe). It actually helped me lose weight but made me very paranoid thereafter about eating too much so for me name calling helpedbut I can see how it wouldnt for most people and is something I would never do directly to a young person. I would find a more tactful way. However, on the privacy of this blog I will use terms I wouldn'tuse directly so as to save peoples feelings and to avoid getting assualted and sacked as well.

Will said...

"If you win the prize and lose your anonymity, well that would make for some interesting times as well"


To join the crowd of people, I think that you talk a lot of common sense Winston.