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Adults vs youth. Why do we expect the worst of our kids?

Updated on December 28, 2010

Last weekend, a young man died on the road where I live. He was only 19. He was on a motorcycle and a car pulled out in front of him and he was killed instantly as his motorcycle crashed into the back of it.

Apparently some of his friends saw the accident and went to get his grandfather, who lives around the corner. His grandfather arrived to see his grandson dead under the car.

In itself there is nothing unusual in this accident at all, young men die every day in road accidents. Between the ages of 17 and 25 it's very risky to be a young man, in many Anglo-Saxon cultures the chances of death for that age range is far higher than after the age of 25 and I suspect that this is true everywhere in the world. Young men take more risks that they don't have the experience to judge properly and when they get it wrong the consequences are severe.

What has struck me since then is the attitudes of the adults in the community. When I speak to them, not one of them has done anything but blame the young man for the accident, despite the fact the car obviously didn't see him and pulled out in front of him and caused his death. Apparently the car driver couldn't actually see what was on the road behind them as there was a large white van parked behind apparently blocking their view.

The adults are quick to condemn the young man - he was speeding, wasn't concentrating, he shouldn't have been riding that size of bike... you name a reason and they'll attribute it to him. Not one person has mentioned the blocked in car and the short skid marks which indicate to me the driver quickly nipped out hoping there was no one on the road and the young man paid the price for that poor judgement.

I came across the aftermath of the accident around half an hour or so after it happened. I saw the young man's friends huddled together in a group; stunned, shaking and some crying. With no adults to comfort or help them, they were standing together yet isolated in their shock.

At the time I didn't know the full extent of what had happened and just continued on my way but with hindsight I wonder where their parents were and how much help they have been to these young men who have lost a friend. Adults get used to death (well, as much as is possible) but the young don't have those defences.

Thankfully they're strong enough to help themselves with the grieving process. By Sunday the memorial below had appeared beside where he had died and the flowers and candles have increased with each passing day. Each night since then there has been a steady stream of visitors, friends and family who gather for a while to pay their respects and share their grief, then every morning as I leave for work I see the people who live around here passing by, pausing and reading the cards.

The memorial opposite where he died.
The memorial opposite where he died.

To most people this is just another fatal road accident and is either ignored as just another teenager dying after doing something stupid, is an opportunity for political grandstanding (as with our local MP who made the front page of the local paper calling for a reduced speed limit..  as if that would have stopped this) or just something else for the gossips to take the moral high ground and tut over.

To me, it highlights so clearly our attitude to young people these days.  People expect the worst and are gratified when they hear things that confirm that view. 

The demonising of our youth is endemic within English society. Whenever the newspapers report on youth it's overwhelmingly negative.  One newspaper in particular has noticed this trend and has started publishing positive stories about young people to try and balance the reporting of the other papers.  Interestingly they feel the need to flag the stories in some way to identify that it is a positive piece.  There's something seriously wrong when a newspaper treats a positive story about our young people as a novelty item.

In the end, this episode won't change the way people feel about the young but I hope it does have an impact in some way on those who live here. If it makes some of his friends more cautious and brings home to others that there are others who share our space outside of the gated communities then perhaps it will do some good. The disparate groups that make up this area where I live rarely interact or even acknowledge the others exist.

Yet, all I've seen so far is the adults are joined in common agreement that it was all his fault and it has confirmed their worst expectations of youth.

How did we ever become so narrow minded?

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