Give children some respect

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Adults have moaned about the behaviour of the younger generation throughout history. What concerns me is that we are making laws and adopting approaches that embody our most punitive response to these feelings.

In a country that says children are criminally responsible at 10, but cannot buy an alcoholic drink until 18, nor have sex until 16, we are giving very mixed and mostly negative messages.

Children and young people hear and see these things. They speak of the way in which they are treated with suspicion in shops, made unwelcome in restaurants and generally viewed as actual or potential trouble.

They notice that we have introduced legislation against "anti-social" behaviour that can lead to imprisonment for activities not in themselves criminal. One said: "It feels like it's an offence to be young and energetic." The Home Office recently announced "ambassadors for anti-social behaviour orders" designed to increase their use among the young.

Why are we so keen to control our young in this way? Why not engage with them and make the effort to provide the facilities they want to use? Skateboard parks, not curfews, access to leisure facilities, not just dispersing groups to gather elsewhere.

Most young people are a justifiable source of national pride and make our world a much better place. We are in danger of disrespecting children as a whole, because of our concerns about the actions of a few.

In the absence of a lead from the Government, let us all become ambassadors for children and challenge unfounded, negative attitudes.

In an atmosphere where children are generally held in high esteem and respect, it will be far more likely that we can constructively deal with the small minority who are troubled and troublesome.

Peter Clarke is the children's commissioner for Wales

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