Not all teenagers are antisocial thugs and vandals
... in fact, some of them are really very nice
I've done it myself, and I'm sure I will do it again. I have gone to the shop at the end of our road for a loaf of bread and a pint of milk, and I have felt intimidated by the youths congregating in the car park. They usually don't say a word to me, or even acknowledge my presence, but I find myself mentally preparing to parry a verbal assault.
The attack has never actually been forthcoming. I have never been abused verbally, or physically, by a young person on the street. I will not deny that antisocial behaviour around bus stops, and street corners exists. Of course it does, and it is shocking and regrettable. It makes the lives of many innocent people an absolute horror and misery. But I wanted to say a word for those teenagers who hang around our streets, because they have nowhere else to go and nothing to keep them occupied, but who have no malicious thoughts in their heads. They are bored, and they are disillusioned with life, and they are full of frustration, but they don't choose to turn their problems around and take them out on passersby. I applaud those teens. They give me hope, and reaffirm my belief that we are not entering a dark age, and that there is far more beauty and good in the world than there is ugliness and evil.
Why, then, do I still have half an expectation that one of the gang in the car park will say something crude or inappropriate to me? Well, it's precisely because I know that it does happen in other parts of town and all over the country. Those who can't control their anger, or their base desires to see other human being suffer, who lash out and hurt people just for the fun of it, ensure that we are wary of every child who has no place to go in the evenings.
But, I have talked to them.
I'm not completely naive. I am aware that I might have caught these particular teens on a good day, and that the next they might well be out smashing car windscreens. But who knows, if I do take the split second to smile at them and show them that I'm not judging them, they might catch a glimpse of some niceness. It might be the spark they need to realise that some people are friendly, and some people have sympathy with them. I'm not a youth worker, so I don't pretend to know anything about this subject at all. But I do know that on the occasions when I have asked a young person in the street for directions, or asked them what the time is, they have looked genuinely surprised for a moment. And without exception they have answered my query very politely, with a smile, and with beautiful manners. But I have also had longer conversations with young people that I've never met before. Sometimes we might be in the play park when a group of young lads come in to hang about around the swings. I do sometimes feel intimidated when this happens, but rather than leave, rather than give them the impression that I don't want to be in the same space as them, I have gone over to talk to them. I wouldn't do this with any group of young people, and I think you have to trust your instincts a little with this. But sometimes I just think that it doesn't hurt to give them a chance. I've had some lovely experiences talking to young people about their lives. They all do have the same thing to say - that they have nowhere to go, and that they find it frustrating being a teenager in our town. I do feel for them, because I was a teenager here too, and there is very little to keep them entertained. It's all very well saying that they should be able to make their own entertainment, but I don't think it's so easy. They have nothing to work with.
I don't really know what the solution is, because I don't think we need to spoil our teens and give them everything they would ask for. But I do think we need to start helping them to empower themselves, to feel pride and motivation, and an eagerness to learn and to improve and to work. I have hope for some of them, but not for all. It's sad.