Adults must grow up and let kids be kids

18th June 2010 at 01:00
If there was any doubt that Britain is losing a sense of distinction between adulthood and childhood, the recent case of the two boys convicted of attempted "rape" should put it to rest

If there was any doubt that Britain is losing a sense of distinction between adulthood and childhood, the recent case of the two boys convicted of attempted "rape" should put it to rest.

Personally, I thought putting 10-year-olds on trial for the "murder" of Jamie Bulger was a nonsense - but at least then you had a dead body. In the recent rape case at the Old Bailey, all we have is the testimony of an eight-year-old girl, no witnesses, no useful medical evidence, no DNA evidence and no forensic evidence.

On top of that, despite having said she had been raped when first interviewed, the girl explained in court that she had not been and that she had made up the story as she was worried she wasn't going to get any sweets off her mum because she had been naughty. Despite this lack of evidence, the boys are still found guilty of attempted rape.

When I watch my 10-year-old standing in the bath with a curious expression on his face, proudly pointing at his erect penis, and my nine-year-old daughter giggling at him, am I witnessing a sexual act, perhaps even a form of flashing? Or if a 10-year-old at school puts his hand up a girl's skirt, are we witnessing an act of sexual assault? Of course not. We are watching immature children being immature, naughty perhaps, but criminal - absolutely not. Why? Because they are children.

The fact that a parent took this to the police seems strange. The fact that the police - no doubt following "correct procedure" - arrested the boys, is bizarre. And the fact that the case ended up in an adult court, indeed in the Central Criminal Court in England, is madness.

Ironically, the court itself was made "child friendly". No wigs or gowns. Baby seats for the kids. Break times, and the mothers being allowed to sit next to their children. I was almost surprised Zippy and Bungle were not brought in to see out the proceedings. But then, most of us would not object to turning a court into a kind of nursery in cases like this. Why? Because they are children.

It appears that Britain is fast losing the capacity to treat kids as kids, largely because adults are losing their own sense of adulthood and of adult authority. The disciplining of children has become so problematised in recent years that parents are no longer sure if they should shout at their children and teachers are paralysed in schools, while teachers like Peter Harvey who smash in a child's skull are treated (childishly) as heroic victims of bullying.

Meanwhile, on the streets, kids who misbehave are no longer spoken to or told off, but are given anti-social behaviour contracts and orders.

A key aspect of being an adult and learning to act responsibly rests on how we relate to and discipline children. Unfortunately, the more distant we are from taking on this disciplining role as responsible adults, the more infantile we appear, and the more confused we become about what an adult is and what a child is. Consequently, we start to rely more on the police and the law to monitor naughty children.

The end result is that we lose the capacity to differentiate between adult and children's activities and start to see a game of doctors and nurses as a form of sexual perversion, abuse or even rape.

Stuart Waiton is a sociology lecturer at the University of Abertay, Dundee.

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