What happens when youth advisers who are teenagers get caught in a media firestorm?


On the various responses to offensive tweets by Kent’s Youth Police and Crime Commissioner Paris Brown

The story is here, and thus far, Paris Brown has been backed by Kent’s Police Commissioner that appointed her. Of course it goes without saying what she tweeted is definitely not OK – and I’ve pulled other people (Twitter friends) up on posting similar things.

Some have said that because Ms Brown is a teenager under the age of 18, she shouldn’t be judged as an adult. Others say that because she’s on a taxpayer funded salary the like of which many other unemployed young people would jump at, she deserves everything that she’s getting and more. Yet there are a number of issues that arise here that haven’t really been looked at in the clamour to condemn Ms Brown and demand her sacking from her job. This blogpost looks at them.

The playground extending to social media world

In social media world, there are no fences. The playground that was once the bubble that school children of days gone by once occupied is no longer that bubble. Conversations, disputes, comments and insults that may have once only been thrown across the playground, the neighbourhood street or the local park are now things that can be heard – and recorded for the rest of the world to see and hear. Think back to your time at school and college. Were there things that you said and did that make you cringe? There certainly were with me. The way young people are using social media (remember there are a fair few teenagers that follow Puffles) use language in a way that will horrify people. You only have to look at the hashtags of various popular TV shows watched by children and teenagers to get a feel for both how they are using social media and also some of the culture that exists within their schools and colleges. And it’s not always pleasant.

If social media is demonstrating – even amplifying the problems of the playground, how do we as adults respond in a manner that supports children and teenagers?

Bullying – that’s what some of the language in social media posts reflect. There were a couple of interesting insights from Jodie Marsh’s programme on bullying very recently. One that interested me was encouraging the more popular children in schools to become anti-bullying ambassadors, and giving them the proper training and support in order to carry out those roles.

Yet in a social media context, few of us adults know how to deal with bullying – and we’re not the greatest of examples ourselves either. Every day on Twitter I see examples of people being insulted and abused by others. If we can’t behave ourselves, are we really in any position to be judging others to a standard that we cannot maintain ourselves? If those calling for Ms Brown’s resignation applied that same standard to adults in positions of responsibility work-wise, you’d be seeing resignations across the country.

In one sense, having someone like Ms Brown on board is probably not a bad thing. Here is someone who is familiar with the culture of social media and who has been both user and abuser of it, using foul and abusive language in a manner that at the time was just the normal thing for her and teenagers (not every single one of them by any means) across over the country. As a police and crime commissioner I would want to get round the reasons and the psyche of what makes some young people behave and use social media in that manner. That way, as far as crime and policing goes I’d have a far better understanding of the interrelationship between say youth crime and social media.

So actually what we have here is an example of a wider societal problem that happens to have hit the headlines because of the role one individual teenager happens to be in. Yet as soon as she hit the headlines, the bullying of her started. This disturbed me.

Another day, another young female having her appearance torn to shreds.

Criticising her for what she tweeted is one thing, setting the media hounds onto her over her appearance is something else. Her pictures have been splashed all over the media, inviting not-so-pleasant comment about her appearance. ‘Never mind what she tweeted, those eyebrows are criminal!!!’ and the like. Earlier this week someone tried to convince me that I needed to get my eyebrows plucked. Why should I, why should she?

Things were also made worse by having her plonked in front of the broadcast media to explain herself. This really did disturb me – and reflects badly on Kent’s Police Commissioner, the independent Ann Barnes. To be fair to Ms Brown, she more than held her own in that interview – irrespective of her age. Other adults would have been found wanting under such circumstances. No. Really. They would. What should Commissioner Barnes have done instead? I think it should have been Barnes taking to the broadcast media doing the interviews, not Ms Brown. For a start, the latter simply isn’t paid enough to deal with the national media. Barnes, on £85,000 a year is.

Is having a single youth crime commissioner the right model for a county-wide role?

You could say Commissioner Barnes has a mandate – her manifesto said she would have a youth crime commissioner. Actually, I don’t think any of them have mandates – and said so here. I can see why Barnes went for the single post system. You’ve got an individual that you can train up and become skilled before they go onto the next stage in their career – in Ms Brown’s case, A-levels. (I’m guessing that Barnes’ system is to appoint a new youth crime commissioner each year to succeed the previous one). Would it have been better to have had a panel of young people drawn from across the county, to meet with her at regular points in the year – monthly for example – to discuss what the issues are?

Schools and social media

As a school governor, I’m particularly interested in this for obvious reasons, even though at a primary school, the challenges may not be as stark as those at secondary schools. Part of the problem is that schools don’t really know how to deal with social media – as LissyNumber explains here. What hope do the children have if the adults around them are showing uncertainty and inconsistency in their decision-making? It’s one of the reasons why I encourage those of you that are social media savvy to volunteer as school governors. There are many out there that could do with your expertise and input.

And the wider media?

One of the things that struck me about one of Ms Brown’s tweets was her use of language regarding immigration. The use of language was reflective of some of the tabloid reporting of the issue. This brings in another thing about those that blame schools for bad stuff all of the time: Not all learning children do is inside school. Now, this has good and bad points. From a positive perspective, it means that more able children have the ability to bypass the disadvantages of weak teachers, and learn about things that may not even be on the curriculum, or one that the school simply does not have the expertise or the resources to teach. On the other hand, children can learn some bad stuff from wider society.

“Yeah, whatever Pooffles, When are you gonna call for her to be sacked in disgrace?”

I’m not.

Paris Brown has learnt the hard way about accountability and scrutiny in a social media world. She’s been pulled up for it by her boss – and rightly so, and I’m sure she will learn from it. You look at any other youth panel or youth representatives working with other public bodies and charities and I’m sure you’ll find many others who have posted inappropriate or offensive things on social media.

For the rest of us, there are clearly issues around bullying of all types (and in particular the use of language that sets the background music to it) that we all need to respond to. How we do so effectively…that’s the hard bit.

[Updated to add]

@PrincesofVP confirmed that Ms Brown stated on Radio 4’s Today Programme that she chose to do the media interviews.


4 thoughts on “What happens when youth advisers who are teenagers get caught in a media firestorm?

  1. The blame is entirely with Ann Barnes for not vetting the candidate properly and it is she who should resign. It is a difficult situation – Brown’s position may well be untenable but I agree the media storm is not something a 16 year old with no media savvy is equipped to handle.

    The irony is that media like the Sun and Daily Mail are sticking the boot in, when this girl has so obviously been raised on the diet of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance that they themselves peddle to the masses and is in effect a product of theirs.

  2. Children and their prejudices are products of their upbringing and, as one matures, they develop their own opinions and values based on how they choose to process what they learn and experience. Paris Brown is no different and from what I’ve seen and has great potential – if she is given a chance.
    Whilst I’ve got great respect for Ann Barnes for supporting Paris and admitting their ignorance when it came to Twitter, what would have happened if she had done the proper cyber checks and discovered Paris’ profile? Would she has been given the role in the first place?
    Paris has been taken on because she’s young and we want to engage with the young. Let’s not bin her because she’s young and we can’t handle it.

  3. Given the way adults can suffer these twitter firestorms god knows what it feels like for a child experiencing that. There was a bit of a scandal with one of the teachers at my old school in Essex who posted a few indiscreet tweets. Sadly anyone can be a victim of some third rate local journalist these days which is a shame given that in my view technology and blogging has a positive role to play in education.

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