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How to steer your kids away from scourge of knife crime

Keeping teenagers on the straight and narrow can be tough, but a dad whose son was stabbed to death has some ideas, says Lisa Salmon

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Life lessons: Dr Mark Prince

Life lessons: Dr Mark Prince

PA

Life lessons: Dr Mark Prince

Knife crime is on the rise and parents need to ensure children are aware they should never carry a weapon, no matter how much pressure their friends put them under or how unsafe they feel.

While it can be hard for parents to know how to discuss the issue with their kids, it's vital that they do, stresses Dr Mark Prince, whose 15-year-old son Kiyan died after being knifed while trying to break up a fight outside his school in 2006.

Two years later, Prince set up the Kiyan Prince Foundation, which aims to raise young people's awareness about the devastating effects of the issue.

"Let's be honest," he says. "If politicians were being stabbed at this rate, what would be happening? They would do everything within their power to put an end to it, so let's put the same value on young people's lives."

To help get the 'no knives' message across, Prince has teamed up with children's author Dan Freedman, whose latest book Unstoppable addresses knife crime.

Freedman was inspired to write the novel after hearing a boy in primary school talk about carrying a knife.

"It's so important to have positive conversations with children, even as young as 10 and 11, about how to keep themselves safe," he says.

"As they come to the end of their journey in primary school, it's the right moment.

"It's about empowering, educating and inspiring them to make the right decisions at key points in their lives."

Here are some of the ways Prince and Freedman think young people's involvement in knife crime can be reduced.

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Dan Freedman wants young people educated early

Dan Freedman wants young people educated early

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Dan Freedman wants young people educated early

Teach them what true power is

"The most harmless looking child could be carrying a knife nowadays," says Prince.

"This might be out of fear or out of trying to make an impression. Either way, it's tough growing up now.

"If your peers laugh at you, calling you soft, it's a big deal and, depending on the circumstances, can lead to conflict and, at its worst, death.

"We're fed a culture of violence and negativity on every platform young people use, so our responsibility is to give all children the best chance possible to become emotionally and mentally positive.

"We need to demonstrate that real power and respect come through kindness, caring, love, thoughtfulness and forgiveness. Every child must be taught this and see this played out in the lives of people around them."

Start teaching key messages in primary school

Education about serious violence and other social issues affecting young people should be part of the curriculum, taught by specialist organisations, with mentors to help students in need of further support, say Prince and Freedman, who also believe such education should start at primary school.

"Teaching children to celebrate differences among each other, and also how to communicate their feelings without hurting others, would see young people enjoying their academic experience, which would have a knock-on effect in so many other areas of their lives," says Prince, who believes it would keep more children in education and away from violence.

Use books to open up conversations

Books that tackle issues facing young people should also be used at school.

Freedman says: "One of the catalysts for writing Unstoppable came when I heard a 10-year-old boy in a primary school boasting about stabbing someone.

"While he may have just been trying to look tough, I thought, 'This is serious. We need to talk about this with children as soon as possible, before it's too late'."

Stories offer a safe space to enable conversations about sensitive and important subjects.

Parents don't have to talk 'street' and they can get around their lack of knowledge by letting their children know how much they care that they becomes a success, says Prince.

Children will embrace you once they recognise you're committed to them.

Establish boundaries at home

Prince and Freedman stress parents should never forget to maintain boundaries for their children in the home.

"It's an uphill battle, even for parents who have put a lot of time and effort into setting boundaries, discipline and developing their child's emotional and mental wellbeing," explains Prince.

"Some parents let children out until all hours without a clue about who they are with or what they are doing. They are doing them a great disservice.

"Freedom to act as a grown-up without recognising grown-up responsibility never works well for a child's development.

"Responsibility is given not by age, but by maturity shown in situations."

Rethink punishment for young people caught with a knife

An intense programme in an army training camp-style forum would be more useful than a short jail term for those caught with a knife, say Prince and Freedman, not least to avoid the chance of a criminal mind being developed in prison.

"We should be teaching our children the blueprint to live successful lives, especially if they get caught with knives because at their age there's a higher chance of turning their lives around," stresses Prince.

Everyone needs to collaborate

Everyone - police, politicians, the education system, the justice system, social services, youth offending teams, probation officers, parents and the public - needs to come together to educate, inspire and create opportunities for children, insist Prince and Freedman.

They add: "We would not criminalise our children - we would support them and guide them to become the best versions of themselves, allowing them to learn that there are consequences to actions that hurt others people."

Unstoppable by Dan Freedman is published by David Fickling Books, £7.99

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