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The RSA hosted a powerful speech last week by Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, former Children’s Commissioner. The thrust of his argument was that we need as a society to collectively nurture our children better. Al presented a litany of examples of appalling practice in relation to children and young people - and these were exclusively British. Examples ranged from the use of 'mosquito' devices to deter young people from congregating in public places, to the detention and repatriation of children, to the demonisation of 'yobs' and 'hoodies' in the British press.

The RSA hosted a powerful speech last week by Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, former Children’s Commissioner. The thrust of his argument was that we need as a society to collectively nurture our children better. Al presented a litany of examples of appalling practice in relation to children and young people - and these were exclusively British. Examples ranged from the use of 'mosquito' devices to deter young people from congregating in public places, to the detention and repatriation of children, to the demonisation of 'yobs' and 'hoodies' in the British press.

Banksy image by Unity. Click photo for link to Unity's flickr page

There were so many important and challenging issues covered that it is impossible to do justice to them all. But we want to pick out just two of them here.

One is whether we in Britain are really worse than other countries in our treatment of children. A range of international reports suggest that we are, but does some of this reflect perception? No-one can argue with examples of bad practice such as the detention of children. But parents and the media often talk wistfully about the contrast between British approaches and 'child-friendly' Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain. Christine Gomez at Roehampton University is studying different early years childcare practices in England and Spain, and public practices in relation to children, for her doctoral study. Although her study is not yet concluded, her findings indicate that the different countries prioritise different issues - there tend to be better facilities and care for health and safety for children in the British context, but this is partly because children tend to be more segregated from adult activities in Britain.

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A second striking point made by Al related to mosquito devices, the use of which appears to exemplify our country’s attitude towards our young. The devices indiscriminately inflict a highly unpleasant high-pitched noise on any young person under the age of about twenty. Indeed, with help from our media, it would seem that we consider all our young people to be ‘hoodies’ or ‘yobs’ that we feel the need to disperse from the often warm, dry places they might choose to spend time. And there is no differentiation – this noise affects all young people – babies, toddlers, people with aspergers, autism and so on. Worse still, apparently Britain stands alone in its lack of regulation of their use.

Of course, we must not be naïve about the fact that there are times when groups of young people vandalise property or scare and intimidate other people, but this is surely the exception and not the norm. Surely it does not require us to treat all young people as pests who must be got rid of from somewhere.  We use high-pitched noises to get rid of flies, rats, mice and bed bugs – but surely not children! Instead, why not address the problem head on. If there are young people who are causing a nuisance by hanging out in a bus station, for instance, then it is likely that they don’t have anywhere better to go. (When I was younger, our bus station was dingy, noisy and smelt of the public toilets. Not my first choice of places to socialise, but warm and dry at least! - Charlotte Young, RSA) A more constructive and caring approach would be to provide youth clubs or local venues where young people are encouraged to relax and hang out with friends. Indeed, where we might be able to nurture our young people!

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