Nip stupidity in the bud
This week, the craze sweeping our school is "cinnamon parties". These involve kids imbibing large amounts of cinnamon - look it up on YouTube if you don't believe me - because, they tell me, it's "fun". This "fun" causes minor paralysis of the jaw and throat and chafes the oesophagus. They are essentially poisoning themselves. But do I believe that some dreadful, corrupting craze is sweeping the country and that civilisation teeters on the precipice? No. I believe they are teenagers doing moronic things.
Teenagers also stab each other with pencils, play some horrible card game where they strip each other's knuckles with the deck of cards as a punishment for losing, or straddle each other in the playground in some weird play-fighting ritual - all for "fun". Do I, as a teacher, extrapolate the darkest possible meaning from it? No. I try to point out how and why it's stupid and actually not "fun" at all - and hopefully get them to appreciate the upsides of desisting.
It's an approach that might have been worth trying with the recent, and far more serious, UniLad scandal. This, for anyone who missed it, was the discovery by the Twitterati of online publication UniLad, which seems to be aimed at the sort of student who few would have expected to get into university. In particular, the virtual mob was rightly enraged by an article that suggested that the fact that many rape cases went unreported amounted to good news for sexually predatory males.
But before concerned parents burn their son's Ucas application and lock him in a room with the collected works of Germaine Greer, which, as a weekend exercise, might do all teenage boys some good, I would argue that it is telling that the stupidity of what UniLad published was matched by the stupidity of how they handled the subsequent uproar. In general, boys and young men are not wannabe criminals, but a) prone to saying and doing stupid things, and b) completely hopeless at PR.
Any adult supervisor of the UniLad creche would have said, "Seriously, make a grovelling and unequivocal apology, right now, and a sizeable donation to Rape Crisis." But being young men, UniLad did what young men do when backed into a corner - got defensive, bolshie and made up a lot of crap. However, rather than facing a detention or grounding, they got six of the best from what must have felt like the entire country.
The heartening thing about the affair was the disgust and disappointment it provoked in men, many of whom saddled up and chased the UniLad crew across cyberspace with particular vigour, fleetingly ashamed of sharing the same chromosomes.
There will always be dickheads who seek to drag young men into the locker room and tell them that women bang on about rape because they are ugly, feminist lesbians, or secretly want it. But these boneheads have a harder time of it if the smarter members of their gender stand up and say, "You know what, this isn't cool, and here's why."
So don't castigate young men as an entity. As the UniLad incident amply demonstrated, they're at the most lonely, confused and ignorant stage of their lives. Just talk to them. There's no need to lock up your daughters. Only your cinnamon jars.
Chloe Combi teaches at a comprehensive in London.