many "leading experts" holding a contrary
view, I remain convinced that, nowadays, general
standards of behaviour among young people are far
worse than when I was young. (By experts, I mean
those academic types who pop up regularly on television
and radio or write long dissertations in the Sunday
suppose it is possible that I'm just getting older
(52) and beginning to hark back to a golden age
that never existed. Admittedly, of late, there have
been signs of my changing with age.
been getting out of bed progressively earlier in
the mornings, to the point where I now rise at the
crack of dawn; I have taken a keen interest in gardening,
which previously I hated; and the other weekend
I actually enjoyed painting the garden shed so much
that I gave it three coats where two would have
then again, I'm no grumpier than ever I was and
no less tolerant. I'm still very much of a "as
long as it's legal and doesn't interfere with me
or mine" disposition where other people's predilections,
pastimes and beliefs are concerned.
all things considered, if anything I seem to be
mellowing with age. Yet, if it isn't advanced years
that has me disagreeing fundamentally with expert
people who try to tell us that, according to all
research into the subject, standards of behaviour
among young people nowadays are essentially no different
to what they have always been, then what can it
it because when I was young we didn't stone ambulances,
fire engines and police cars, as seems to be an
increasingly popular pastime in various parts of
Northern Ireland today. Much less start a fire to
lure officers into an area and then, when they arrive,
try to cave in a firefighter's head with a boulder,
as happened in Belfast last week.
as far as I can recall, did gangs of us terrorise
entire communities to the extent that people were
afraid to venture beyond their front door after
dark. And, again, only in recent years does it seem
that nurses and doctors in accident and emergency
departments would benefit from a crash course in
riot control before taking up their posts.
can we fall back, as we usually do, on the default
position of blaming all our societal problems on
being a hangover from the Troubles. Things are every
bit as bad, and in some instances worse, in the
rest of Ireland and in Britain.
all of this was going on while I was growing up
and, with relatively few media outlets then, we
just weren't made aware of it.
if that is the case, then everyone I know must have
been raised in similar splendid isolation from the
rest of the world.
listened to a radio discussion recently, where a
professor of something-or-other, a schoolteacher,
a community worker and a conservative-type debated
enough statistics and research findings to choke
a donkey, the professor argued, somewhat amazingly,
that in many respects children and young people
are actually better behaved now than in the past.
community worker and teacher immediately agreed
with him and weighed in with a few suggestions and
comments of their own: lack of recreation facilities,
media exaggeration, adults not treating young people
with enough respect, and so on.
fourth panellist disagreed with them all, and, considering
he was on the wrong side of a three-against-one
debate, for a while was doing quite well. That is
until he mentioned a steady decline in the traditional
two-parent family unit as possibly contributing
to a fall in behavioural standards.
that point the main focus of the discussion was
irretrievably lost as he came under sustained attack
from the others for daring to "criticise single
mothers who are doing their best". In fact
he had criticised no one, though if he had been
allowed to develop his point, he might well have
gone on to denounce the absent, almost invariably
he had done was raise one of the great taboo subjects:
single-parenting and the possible impact it has
on wider society. Unpalatable or not, the man on
the radio might just have had a point.
all their quoting of facts, figures and research,
seldom, if ever, have I heard any of our experts
refer to the findings of separate research projects
carried out by members of the West Indian community
in London, and by African-Americans in New York
all of these they concluded that the single most
destabilising factor within their communities was
the high number of children, particularly young
males, being raised in the absence of positive,
male role-models at home.
high time a similar process of critical self-appraisal
was applied to wider society, irrespective of what
the "experts" think, or what we might
find. Until we are willing to acknowledge that a
problem exists and are prepared to consider all
the reasons possible for it, it is guaranteed that
things can only get progressively worse.
with permission from the author.