Belfast Telegraph

We need to discipline riot kids, not mollycoddle them

Fionola Meredith

At what point do we stop offering love, tolerance and respect to delinquent kids and, instead, make them take responsibility for their own actions?

I laughed out loud when I heard children's commissioner Patricia Lewsley-Mooney attack a PSNI initiative against juvenile anti-social behaviour. She said it was "heavy-handed" and "very alarming" and only served to demonise young people.

So what had the cops actually done? Stripped and whipped a young thug in front of City Hall, as a deterrent to others? Handcuffed him to the steering wheel of a car he was attempting to nick?

No, actually. The PSNI merely stuck a few leaflets through people's doors, asking them to keep an eye on what their children were up to, after receiving a series of public complaints about street trouble caused by youngsters.

The flyer, which shows a humpy-faced wee hoodie, reads: 'Playing up, or playing out ... do you know where your child is?'

It seems like a fair enough question to me, one which can hardly be construed as an all-out attack on blameless youngsters.

If your darling progeny is upstairs polishing his Duke of Edinburgh medals, then you've nothing to get aggrieved, or concerned, about.

If, on the other hand, it's 12.30am and you haven't the faintest clue where he is, or what he's doing, you're in serious dereliction of your duties as a parent and should immediately get off your lazy, heedless backside and haul the young reprobate home.

Sorry, Patricia, that doesn't sound very respectful, does it? That's intentional. Because, whether you're 15 or 55, respect is something you should earn. It shouldn't automatically be granted to you, regardless of your own behaviour.

Ms Lewsley-Mooney also wants to know whether there was any kind of consultation with young people before the cops took the decision to leaflet houses.

To this, one question: do the kinds of youngsters who snap wing-mirrors off cars and break old people's windows for fun respond to consultations?

The underlying assumption is that if only the poor, persecuted kids had a glorious, green space to play, full of butterflies and fresh air and undisturbed by the cloddish reach of authoritarian policing, then all would be well. Nonsense. It's never as simple as that.

I remember talking to the retired head of an east Belfast boys' school – a man of great experience and insight – during the loyalist flag riots, which involved children as young as 10. He had little time for the wishy-washy belief that, if the kids had a decent leisure centre to go to, they wouldn't be taking part.

No matter what facilities they had, he said, the lure of recreational rioting – and the subsequent thrill of watching themselves on news footage – is so great that all other activities pale by comparison.

He was right, but it didn't stop children's rights activists from taking him to task for daring to use the phrase 'recreational rioting', which is now apparently considered a judgmental, offensive label. Yes, God forbid that the self-esteem of one of the junior yobs throwing a breeze-block at a cop's head should be in any way shaken.

We're constantly told, by Patricia Lewsley-Mooney and others, that we are far too intolerant of young people. The unpalatable truth, however, is that we have become far too tolerant of bad behaviour.

It's getting perilously close to the stage where the rights of the individual miscreant begin taking precedence over the rights of everyone else to live in peace.

Take the 14-year-old Londonderry boy who took a legal challenge against the PSNI's decision to publish a picture of him and scores of other youths who were suspected of a sustained campaign of sectarian rioting. He claimed the pictures breached his right to privacy.

What about the rights of the residents of a nearby nursing home, who were too terrified to step out of their door, such was the ferocity of the attacks?

Enough of the sanctimonious rubbish. Of course, it's important to protect the welfare of children, both inside and outside the criminal justice system.

But you don't empower kids – whatever their background – by patronising and indulging them. Such sentimental soft-soaping turns them into life-long victims, blaming everyone but themselves for their problems.

Forcing them to face up to the consequences of their actions at least offers the possibility of real growth and change.

Belfast Telegraph


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