How should adults communicate with young people?

I spotted a post by Councillor Kerri Prince, one of the youngest town councillors in the country at the age of 19. She posted a piece titled “Talk to them, not at them” on her blog.

She has given me permission to re-post that article in its entirety here. It’s worth reading.

“Something that has been very prominent in the media over the last few days are the riots that initially started in London and then spread to other cities around England. Young people, as young as 11, made up most of the rioters, although it should not be ignored that there were adults who took part in the violence and looting. 

This has led to the discussion about why young people are rioting, looting and being violent. Are the parents to blame? Should the government have done more? Are they violent thugs who should be punished? Opportunism? Which is the best route to take with the offenders: punishment or rehabilitation? Or even both? I personally think everything played a factor and offenders should both be punished and rehabilitated. 

Something that has particularly annoyed me recently is how some adults believe they should be telling children what to do. Adults shouldn’t tell children what to do – it will only lead to rebellion, not obedience. I am not a parent, but I am 19 and I know how I respond to my parent and I’m more part of youth culture than parents are. I know what children will listen to and how to engage them. Talk to them, not at them. 

Help them understand why things are the way they are. Teach them about the law, the rules of society, why things are done a certain way. Most importantly, you need them to respect you and only by respecting them will you get that. Teenagers are rebellious, their respect will not come from just from adults demanding it.

I’m not generalising all children, some are very well behaved members of the community but not everyone is the same. Teach them to have independent minds and help them – don’t tell them what to do. If my parents told me what to do I’d only do the opposite. 

Another thing – people my age cannot win! If we are out looting and causing havoc, then adults argue that we should get involved in our community so that we respect it. But if we try to get involved, adults tell us that we’re too young to have an opinion and treat us as if our opinions don’t count. 

I am a very well behaved teenager. Yet I’m always being told that my opinion doesn’t count because of my age. I try to get involved and speak up but I get slammed straight back down. Would you rather I went out and rioted? Adults don’t try to engage me so it’s on my own shoulders to feel part of society.

“As well as working out how we teach children to listen, how do we get adults to listen? It’s becoming quite a problem…” “

[End of article]

As I’ve mentioned earlier, our criminal justice system will deal with those who have broken the laws of the land. But then what? Eventually those hit with prison sentences will be released. Reoffending statistics make for grim reading (See The Guardian here & the original source from the Ministry of Justice)  We have already seen from recent convictions and from the magistrates courts’ reports that those appearing before them that the picture of those involved is far more complex than first thought – certainly far more than I first thought anyway.

This is one of the reasons why I have gone on about a public inquiry into the underlying causes. The reason being that we need to know what to do in order to prevent these acts of violence from happening again. That inquiry I think needs to engage with young people & go out and about to those communities that were both affected and at risk. Holding hearings in the glass towers of Whitehall won’t be nearly enough. Those in power need to hear from the affected communities on their own turf. Not everyone can get to Central London, and for those who’ve never been to London, attending an inquiry there can be incredibly intimidating.

If people are saying that young people are part of the problem, then young people have to be part of the solution.


Interestingly, Peter Oborne wrote this article in the Telegraph saying that the moral decay isn’t just at the bottom, it’s at the top of society also. He finishes the article with the following words:

“Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain. If we are ever to confront the problems which have been exposed in the past week, it is essential to bear in mind that they do not only exist in inner-city housing estates.

The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.”


2 thoughts on “How should adults communicate with young people?

  1. I agree that young people should be part of the solution, but I think that their responsibility for the problem is exaggerated. There were claims of children involved in the rioting and there were certainly some. But most of those I saw on the footage were not very young teenagers whose whereabouts you would expect their parents to know of, but young adults who it is reasonable to expect would come and go independently. Those now being charged with offences seem to be old enough to have jobs, or to be described as unemployed.

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