spiked proposals: Youth and community

Policymakers should make public space more public, for both young and old; encourage local people to resolve local problems; and foster an environment where individuals can relate to one another without a third party.

Stuart Waiton

Topics Politics

Policymakers are increasingly worried about social fragmentation within local communities. But attempts to regulate relationships within such communities are often counter-productive.

Instead of looking for regulatory solutions, policymakers should attempt to make public space more public, for both young and old; encourage local people to resolve local problems; and and foster an environment where individuals can relate to one another without a third party.

  • Public space

    Safety initiatives within communities are helping to create an environment in which everybody feels under siege. CCTV in communities, fenced-in concierge flats and caged-in schools often reinforce an exaggerated sense of risk within areas, and such measures should be used far more sparingly than is currently the case.

    Children should be encouraged to use public space more freely, rather than using only those designated areas set aside for them. In developing play areas for children, policymakers should recognise that focusing too strongly on issues of safety encourages the idea that designated areas are the only places children should be allowed to play. Encouraging children to become streetwise is not only important for their development, but will contribute to their ability to keep themselves safe from harm.

  • Policing

    Police safety initiatives, from safety advice tapes for pensioners to curfews for children, often encourage an existing sense of fear within communities.

    Initiatives like the Hamilton curfew (1) and the stop-and-search campaigns carried out by Strathclyde police – the most recent of which, up to August 2000, has resulted in 100,000 people being searched – should be stopped. Such initiatives have a far greater impact on young people’s liberties than they do on levels of serious crime, and add to the sense that all young people are out of control.

    Nuisance behaviour of children should be differentiated from more serious criminal activities that threaten life or property, and the police should play a less active role in regulating this more everyday kind of behaviour. Policies need to accept that public space is an acceptable place for children and young people to be.

  • Adult-child relations

    Policymakers already realise the importance of the role adult volunteers can play in terms of passing on their skills and abilities to young people. Promoting such constructive relationships requires the creation of an atmosphere that accepts, and indeed encourages, other adults to relate to children and young people within the community.

    Within schools, ‘stranger danger’ campaigns that foster mistrust should be replaced by initiatives that inform children about particular ‘strange adults’ who do ‘strange things’. Strangers per se should not be presented as dangerous people to be avoided.

    When it comes to involving adults in voluntary work, policymakers should be wary of blanket vetting procedures or codes of conduct, which can only discourage adults from helping out.

  • Child’s play and youth provision

    Local authorities should encourage play and youth provision to focus on activities that develop the experiences of young people, rather than narrowing these experiences through an obsession with safety and risk.

    Play areas, and the equipment in them, should be developed to encourage adventurous play. The benefits for child development of unsupervised play should be promoted by local play schemes. And local adults should be encouraged to help out with special play days within these play areas.

    These initiatives should be promoted as positive, fun facilities, there for the enjoyment and development of children and young people, rather than as initiatives aimed primarily at controlling young people, by keeping them off the street or helping to reduce crime and drug taking.

  • Freedom and responsibility

    Policymakers should take a more hands-off approach to local communities, thus encouraging local people to take more responsibility for their actions and those of others within their area. Greater freedom will encourage adults to take a more active role in regulating public space and the activities of children and young people, which in turn could lead to a renewal of community bonds.
  • Stuart Waiton is the author of Scared of the Kids: Curfews, Crime and the Regulation of Young People, Sheffield Hallam University Press, 2001 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)), and a contributor to Teenage Sex: What Should Schools Teach Children?, Hodder & Stoughton, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)).

    Read on:


    Are scruffy youth so scary?, by Stuart Waiton

    (1) See Are scruffy youth so scary?, by Stuart Waiton

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    Topics Politics


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