Riot! The kids aren't alright!

So Tuesday evening and bits of London are burning, Manchester is the latest urban centre to be hit with Birmingham and Liverpool having gone before that. On Twitter there are reports and rumours of riotous behaviour.

The word “youth” has been used a lot. This is not and has never been a political blog, I do not rant about the unfairness of how young people are looked upon and treated in the UK. I have heard people I know and in some cases have worked with refer to young people, as hoodies, rugrats, chavs and even worse. Now after the past few days of rampant vandalism and theft I fear that all young people are going to be tarred with the same brush and have more epithets added to the already large pool of slurs against them vandals, thieves, anarchists.

I have seen pictures and videos of children and teens taking part in the riots, disturbances wholesale theft and vandalism. What may be overlooked is the fact that these violent kids are in the minority, once the smoke clears and the rubble is cleared away and all the right noises have been made by the powers that be and various civic and community leaders the lasting legacy will be a memory of youth led violence which will lead to even more demonising of young people than ever before.

I could be wrong, money could be pumped into youth services and into libraries to offer young people an alternative. What are the chances?

Here is a bittersweet story that I will share with you:

When I worked in Edmonton Green Library I ran a monthly manga group, it ran on the first Thursday of every month without fail for nearly four years, from 3:30 – 7pm over 20 teens gathered in the library to share their passion for manga, anime and just to hang out in a safe location. I left Enfield Libraries a year ago to work for Brent, and within six or so months the manga group had been wound up due to staff lacking the knowledge and confidence to run it. Not everyone can work with teens and you do need a working knowledge of manga to be able to talk about it.

I dropped into Edmonton Green Library last Thursday to say hi to my ex-colleagues, and in the (reduced) Teen area were half a dozen of the original members of the manga group – they had enjoyed it so much that they had taken it upon themselves to keep it going at the same time and place each month.

They were relaxed and enjoying themselves and, as teens do, they got a bit noisy and I heard some staff tell them to keep it down or they would have to leave as they had been there all afternoon. From what I could ascertain no-one had complained and I had heard them make an even bigger noise when I used to be there. The kids did run a massive guilt trip on me for leaving and said they missed me and the library was not the same.

They are also feeling side-lined by the service. This is a group of young adults 16/17 years of age that want to run a group in the library, they do not cause more trouble than the average library user and are generally self-reliant and they are ignored! Why? Because working with teens makes some people feel uncomfortable and unless they are ordered to do it they will get away with not doing it. BAM! an entire segment of the community is sidelined – and people wonder why some teens say they feel like there is a conspiracy against them.

After this week it will be worse. I do not advocate hugging a hoodie like D-Cam did, actual physical contact between adults and teens is not advised, mainly to keep things simple.

Remember Matthew’s First Rule: no touchy the librarian!

All I am saying is that Teens are good people they are and have been affected by the rioting.

Next time you think something negative about a teenager try replacing the word “teenager” with “”black”, “gay” “disabled” and it may sink in that discriminating against someone on the basis of their youth is just that – discrimination.

The kids are not alright and we need to look after them and we can start by treating them like we treat everyone else, and it doesn’t hurt to smile either!

3 Thoughts on “Riot! The kids aren't alright!

  1. Jenny on August 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm said:

    So true. A lot of people are terrified of teenagers it seems. Funnily enough I remember writing some really bad poetry aged about 18 (17 years ago now!) about this very point. I remember that constant feeling of being mistrusted in shops and public spaces, the hate stares you got when you were out with a few friends and just the general feeling of being seen as the lowest of the low. I was a very swotty kid too, I often hung out with my friends in our GirlGuiding Ranger uniforms, we did a lot of community service, and I was not at all scary in any way shape or form- heck I even wrote poetry about people giving me bad looks! I feel for the kids today in general because of the harsh economic situation they’re facing but after this week I think you’re right, they’ve even more to face.

  2. Pingback: Riots and Youth « YA Library UK

  3. Hear hear! I am against demonising the all for the actions of a few.

    Re: librarians and attitudes toward teens. I think that part of the problem is that adults really need training to work with youth, especially teenagers, in order constructive ways to interact. Libraries need to foster positive relationships with teens, not just (barely) tolerate their presence.

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