Gangs are on the increase. Children are missing out on their childhoods. Are we failing this generation as adults responsible for making a compassionate positive society? Why are the young so susceptible to joining this alternative culture? How do they come to show little care or concern for their own or others’ lives?
We know that the reasons for this happening are complex and no single reason is the cause. We have listened to over 5000 children at Jamie’s Farm, all of whom are disengaged from education or at risk of exclusion. So many are vulnerable to the seduction of gang culture. This is what they have taught us:
If you are a young person who is socially disadvantaged and living without an ‘extended family’, you may lack a sense of belonging. Consequently, you will look to gangs as a way of joining a more meaningful ‘family’. Gangs espouse values that appeal to young people. They like the clarity, the sense of potential progression, the requirement of loyalty and leadership and adrenaline rush. We know that young men in particular like and need some risk in their lives. All or some of these may be missing in the family units they live in.
Gangs offer a clear hierarchy, structure, and sense of meaning. They uplift ambitions towards wealth and power which society and social media keep uppermost in their minds. ‘Being someone’ can be defined by what trainers you own and earning money through gangs is a highway to feeling successful.
The education system is currently measuring children from such a young age and reducing value to their performance in academic subjects. Consequently, their potential for feeling a ‘failure’ is almost greater than ever before. So many young people are disillusioned, sad, feel unimportant, lost and floundering. They can feel blamed for their poor ‘performance’ and while not showing it overtly, speak about the burden of guilt they bear. This disconnect can leave them vulnerable to looking for success elsewhere.
Young people turn to gangs for safety as some no longer feel safe to be on the streets without gang protection. There are few places for young people to network, relax, play and create. If you live on an estate the only way to get about without fear is to join the gang.
Families that are struggling financially may feel it is the lesser of two evils to have their children in a gang if this means they bring in some money that is needed to cover the essentials of life. They may turn a blind eye but deep down feel guilty and despairing.
In a world where children are growing up with technology and video games they are being desensitised to real violence. Life can seem cheap, danger exciting, kudos desirable.
Children coming to the farm have taught us a lot, but one thing overall stands out, they would prefer to be ‘good’. If things were different they would prefer to feel lovable, effective, kind and caring. They would love to feel more confident and have a vision of a positive future as part of a caring world. They yearn to have people they can respect and feel respected in turn. They show their appreciation and demonstrate that the values they aspire to would help build a safe and caring society. Most are not afraid of hard work, especially if there are tangible outcomes. They are generous and collaborative if given the opportunity. When feeling cared for and confident they quickly flourish. Their inherent goodness is not far from the surface. It just needs a nurturing environment to allow it to grow and be maintained. Children often describe their inner city lives as living in fear and watching their back, feeling a failure, being anxious about the people they love, often struggling with insufficient resources and having few opportunities to have safe spaces to spend time with their peers. Something is seriously wrong in what we are providing for the youth of today and it is important we find creative ways to bring about positive change that does not alienate the next generation and cause a huge rift in our society.
If we want our young people to contribute to society as opposed to joining dangerous gangs, we would do well to put positive values back at the heart of our education system. How should we expect children to grow up to be respectful, kind, generous and productive if we do not show them such values ourselves, and give them opportunities to demonstrate them in action?
Tish Feilden, Lead Therapist, Jamie’s Farm.