Angry Young Men in Bradford, Toxteth, Oldham, Salford, Lozells…
In every era of history young men have demonstrated hotheaded and sometimes unacceptable behaviour. Recent violence in our inner cities is nonetheless hugely worrying, especially in contemporary contexts of instant communications and global politics. Intervention to change this behaviour must come from many different angles. One way is collaboration between youth service and school professionals to help alientated and challenged young people develop skills to help themselves.
Groups of young men (and just occasionally now young women) who rove the streets perhaps not averse to a fight, or perhaps even a riot, are nothing new. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare wrote about the mediaeval tragedy of the Montagues and Capulets; and Mods and Rockers in the nineteen fifties were the basis of Graham Green’s novel Brighton Rock.
But that this happened in the past doesn’t in any way mean that it’s not of deep concern now. Indeed, with global communication many might argue that, when hotheaded youth meets fundamental conviction, the problem for us all is if anything more serious than before.
The issue in a generally tolerant society is obviously very testing. How can we tell young people meaningfully that we value them, and everyone else, as individuals, whilst also making it crystal clear that we do not, and cannot in any circumstance, tolerate the belief of a minority that violence is sometimes justifiable?
The answer lies in part with how we provide for young people and children, in schools, youth groups, in their communities (howsoever defined – which can be a big question…). And we have to start early.
Quite recently I was the evaluator in a project which involved close collaboration between the youth service and two schools in a hugely disadvantaged part of a northern city.
The object of this pilot collaboration was to see how intervention by the youth service could support children in secondary education who faced multiple challenges. Some of them were
very low achievers, some had personal problems, some were asylum seekers (who often didn’t speak much English). The majority were boys.
What became very clear to us all, teachers, youth workers and others, was that these children needed to develop confidence and communication skills, and that was best done in very small groups using youth work techniques rather than the conventional classroom approach. However kind and caring the teachers, in their usual classes the children felt swamped and unable to contribute – with the inevitable consequences.
Managing anger in testing circumstances
What was also very clear was that for some children from ethnic minority communities racism was a daily experience; and one they often couldn’t cope with. Anger management for all the children, whatever their community background or colour of skin, was also therefore an essential element in their skills development.
The aim was to help all the children walk away from trouble, full stop.
Continuity is the key
On the whole, this approach was actually beginning to work by the time the pilot project came to an end. The lessons we as professionals learned from this pilot collaborative project were many, but one of the most striking was, you can’t start too early – and you can’t just cut off because a young person has a birthday.
Schools may be structured to impose enormous transitions at eleven and sixteen; but children sometimes remain children in their perspectives and behaviours in ways which may relate little to their chronological age – especially if they have had a pretty rough time of it to date.
A multi-disciplinary approach
Another lesson we learned was that multiply challenged children do indeed need multiple approaches to their problems – teachers, youth workers, health and social care professionals, all have a part to play; and they have to do this together, understanding what each professional approach has to offer the children.
Nobody is suggesting that youth service-school collaboration will bring an immediate end to very serious current concerns around the behaviours of some young people; but it does seem that investing in more of this work is also investing very positively in our futures.
The more extreme and unacceptable beliefs of the small minority of angry young men are best challenged by their peers, as well as just by ‘outsiders’.
If we can somehow give some of these peers the support and skills they need to be able to stand up for good sense and our common humanity, we will have achieved something really worthwhile which offers hope for everyone.
Post your comment below: