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Teenagers who filled me with hope

PUBLISHED: 10:00 05 December 2008 | UPDATED: 09:31 11 May 2010

TEENAGERS today can do no right. Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

If they score a handful of GCSE A*s, they're told they're not that bright - just lucky because dumbed down exams are so easy, and are 10 a penny.

TEENAGERS today can do no right. Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

If they score a handful of GCSE A*s, they're told they're not that bright - just lucky because dumbed down exams are so easy, and are 10 a penny.

If they drop out because they don't fit the narrow GCSE pathway, they're lazy wasters.

Every group of youths in dark clothing on the streets feels intimidating, spreading fear into passers-by. If girls offer to help a pensioner cross the road, she'll think they're after her handbag.

It's tough being young today and, on the face of it, it might look like they've never had it so good but the pressures they face every day are immense. Pressures from society, the internet, their peers, their parents, the media. It's coming at them from all angles.

We say we want them to speak out and have their say. But if we don't like what they say we accuse them of insolence, arrogance and being “mouthy,” of a lack of respect.

If they say nothing, they're inarticulate, monosyllabic morons brain-addled computer games and mindless TV.

If they have ambition, people scoff that the “younger generation” have ideas above their station, expecting to run before they can walk, with an eye on the main job without serving their time. Typical youth of today, they moan, expecting the earth.

If they have no ambition or aspiration they're condemned for low expectations, expecting nothing out of life. You only get out what you put in, they're lectured.

See. They can't win any which way and but. Quite rightly, they've had enough of being negatively labelled by anyone over 30. Briefly looking at life through their eyes, I can't say I blame them.

I hold my hands up. I've been as guilty as the next woman to making sweeping statements about young people, being less than impressed by some I've seen.

But I had the pleasure of spending a day in the company of Year 10s, 11s and college students and was so impressed with what I saw and heard, I left with more than a spring in my step, energised and full of hope for the future.

These young people were fed up to the back teeth of being criticised, condemned and tarred with the same brush as the minority who prowl the streets armed with knives and selling drugs.

They were articulate, passionate about their community and their schools. They were buzzing with ideas and opinions about how young people should be represented.

These weren't privileged youngsters. They had worked out by themselves what they wanted out of life and weren't afraid of putting in the work.

Three girls had set up their own business making and selling jewellery. They had a website and were carving their way as young entrepreneurs.

Another boy was super articulate, informed and opinionated. He had been the victim of racial violence and abuse but was using his experiences positively with ambitions to be a journalist.

Another spoke eloquently about his neighbourhood, talked down and portrayed as a bad place to live. It was a fantastic place to live, he said, with a real community spirit lacking in so many other places.

One girl, Megan, was quiet throughout the workshop as we discussed giving young people a platform for their views on the world in a column like this.

“It's pointless,” she shrugged at the end of the session. Pushed to explain she said. “It's pointless because no one ever listens to teenagers. No one gives us a chance. Whatever we say, no one listens so it's pointless.”

Deflated and disillusioned with my generation, she felt her opinion was worthless - she had been made to feel it was worthless - so why give it?

We are all guilty of making Megan and every young person like her feel that way by dismissing their views as “views of youth.”

Does a younger view make that view less valid? Age doesn't always bring wisdom and judgement, look around at the daft 50-pluses making messes of their lives.

The young people I met were wonderful - many blamed my generation for bad parenting and bringing up the yobs who give them all a bad name. A fair point well made.

Spending time with them was a privilege, changed my views and opened my eyes to a more positive future.

Respect is a two-way thing. Having lived more years shouldn't mean we demand automatic respect, especially if we dismiss the youth, their dreams and beliefs.

THE shameful bureaucratic fiasco in the wake of the death of tortured toddler Baby P and the failure of the gargantuan bureaucracy set up to protect children like him sadly represents so much wrong in Britain today.

The arrogance of Haringey director of children's services Sharon Shoesmith's refusal to accept any blame highlighted how far removed over-administrated managers have become in their grand offices with their big titles.

Procedure, paperwork, principle and posturing now take precedence in so-called care agencies over people, protection and prevention.

The last straw was Shoesmith suspended on her full £110,000 pay while presumably desperately digging for the best pay-off to leave with a hefty cheque, little remorse and feeling heavily wronged. Welcome to public sector Britain. Our lives in their hands.

BEST at something at last. We're top of the league at our national sport - promiscuity.

Yee ha. We're flying the flag for casual sex.

Number one spot in the promiscuity rankings of big western industrial nations.

And before everyone starts to blame the young for bed-hopping and swapping wholesome hobbies of yesteryear, playing football in the street and stamp collecting for no-strings sex, the older generations are just as much to blame.

Unfaithful husbands and wives, catch-up times after divorces, promiscuity isn't the preserve of the under 25s. Over-50s are just as active.

The US research put down Britain's soaraway league success on the decline of religious scruples about extramarital sex, the growth of equal pay and equal rights for women - I knew we'd be blamed somewhere - and a highly-sexualised popular culture.

And now we're in a recession. At least we won't have problems finding something to do to wile away the months we can't afford to do anything else. And we'll get a gold medal for it.

Depressed? We haven't seen anything yet.

THE mentors on the faded old X Factor - it's looking more old-fashioned and yesteryear every week - burble on about role models, hawking in divas like Maria Carey and cuddly Take That to inspire the singers and boost their aspiration.

What was their thinking behind the walking car crash Britney Spears' cringingly dreadful performance on Saturday? She clodhopped her way around the stage with all the grace of a water buffalo wobbling her barely-covered buttocks miming - badly at that?

A role model? The audience were open-mouthed trying to fathom how she ever made a cent out of “performing” let alone millions of dollars.

Talk about the emperor's new clothes. The judges like clapping seals gave her a standing ovation. Like Ms Spears and Danni Minogue's Botox, the show is well past its sell-by-date.

CRIMESTOPPERS wants the public to give information about domestic violence abuse of a loved one, colleague or neighbour.

Two women are killed every week by a current or former male partner in England and Wales with domestic violence accounting for 3pc of all murders.

If a baby can be tortured and covered in bruises and injuries for months without anyone noticing and a father can impregnate his daughters numerous times in different communities over the years without anyone alerting the authorities, I'd say Crimestoppers are on to a loser.

Will a neighbour really shop a violent man next door if his victim refuses to make a statement?

People don't want to get involved. Can we believe no one noticed Baby P's injuries or no one asked questions or surmised about the circumstances of the father and daughter? If they did - and of course they did - nobody reported anything.

For two reasons - fear of reprisals and ending up as a witness in court and a lack of belief in the authorities.

Neither reason good enough but excuses all the same.

Whether it's fear, apathy or plain immunity to all the bad in the world because there's so much, it's a big fat failure by all of us who refuse to get involved.

AN Oxford graduate and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, we might expect Brian Paddick to be a supreme negotiator and an intelligent intuitive leader.

Durr. In the jungle, he was the personification of ineffective. Was this the great leader of men who hoped to become Mayor of London. He made Boris Johnson look like a towering force to be reckoned with by his lily-livered try-to-please-everyone faffing in the jungle.

But even he was a noble giant compared to the odious Timmy Mallett. A small man with very big issues. Very scary.

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