A MOTHER'S WOES
By Lawna Elayn Tapper
Wednesday, September 17, 2008.
"My baby boy standing in the dock! Memories of him wobbling and stumbling over his first steps flashed before me. Charged - swearing under oath. I recalled the innocent questions and ideas of the three-year-old, the five-year-old and the seven-year-old. The judge examined the knife: that butcher’s knife that had been sold to him. The one the 15-year-old had bought and slipped in his inside pocket. The judge examined it again and again – periodically. My heart sunk, again and again, constantly – constant like the knots inside myself. Guilty! Possession in a public place, with no good reason. As my lids fell shut, the tears came too, and flicking through my mind came scenes of his tears, his laughter, his entire, but mere, 16 years."
How many mothers and fathers are experiencing this in 2008? The outside world may forget that this is more than just another brow-raising, head-shaking news story. With the perpetrator or the victim of that ‘just another knife-crime’ comes many victims, besides those dead and locked up. Think about the perpetrator. We forget to remember his family until we talk about who’s to blame.
But we don’t need to blame them – they already blame themselves as they try to cope with their own sense of failure and shame. As they’re consoled by family and friends, it’s often a shared pain of what’s been experienced in generations before.
See how many young people are now entering adulthood with the burden of the criminal justice system on their backs! It’s every parent’s nightmare – or is it? Maybe, every inner-city parent’s nightmare. No, maybe, every black inner-city parent’s nightmare. There must be a reason why as soon as a knife-crime story is aired the nation envisages boys.
And, if you’re honest enough, bold enough, or perhaps racist enough, you’ll even admit that you envisage black boys. This in itself speaks volumes about what the world sees as a black boy’s fate. And such low expectations seem prophetic!
How do parents protect their children from such doom? What are the factors that contribute? Are there particular odds that are stacked against our youth? Are these odds a fallacy? When do they begin to pile up? Now that our young people are in such a crisis, these are questions that may well need conscious exploration by today’s parents.
My son went through primary school bright-eyed, with his head held high. And that’s how he started high school. By the time he was in his last year, his head was down, his shoulders slumped, and instead of talking he was grunting…I was working so hard, I don’t even know when the change came. This is when he started getting stopped by the police too. He was never a ‘street boy’! I was always so protective over him, maybe too much – he wasn’t even allowed a mobile phone ‘til he was 16 because I never wanted to give muggers an excuse to bother him…I just wish I’d taken him out of that bloody school when things started going wrong!’ Words of regret, from the mother of the boy in the dock.
When you talk to parents of young offenders about their ideas on what went wrong, that sense of failure about not having intervened at the right time is typical. But as they try and work it through, their child’s schooling invariably comes up, as do the police and their inclination to ‘hunt’ their boys. Prod them further, and they’ll agree that there is a general hostility towards young people, and that these pressures are fuelled by the media hyping the fearlessness of today’s youth, instead of their naivety and their inability to reason as adults do.
The odds of inner-city youth getting caught up in the criminal justice system now seem so high that even Professor Rob Morgan, former head of the Youth Justice Board, is concerned. Just recently he warned that heightened powers of the police to deal directly with young people will be detrimental all around, and lessen the community’s confidence in the law.
Laura Richards, one time head of the London Metropolitan Police’s Murder Prevention Unit, has also spoken out against stop and search laws, stating that they further marginalize isolated young men and make gangs stronger. She accuses the police of ignoring recommendations, and reminds them that young men committing knife-crimes are often in the ‘system’ long before they do so.
When our children reach a particular age, it can be difficult to know exactly who and what their influences are. Like it or not, they will make their own choices. We love them so much, we sometimes get caught up in trying to protect them with every part of ourselves.
But we must guard against over-protection. This can leave young people feeling disempowered, which can in turn lead to poor decision-making and a need to carry out acts that make them feel they can command respect. After all, for our youth today, respect is their big issue! As adults, we must acknowledge that their reasoning skills during their young adult years are still wanting, and the way we deal with them when they make mistakes must reflect this.
Our youth are in crisis and everyone needs to be concerned. If anyone out there is so self-assured in the knowledge that this does not affect their child, then now’s the time to highlight this reminder; even if your teenager kills no one, he, she or even you may be the victim of one that does!
So we are now in a time when we have to learn and teach our children new mechanisms to handle situations that seem increasingly difficult to escape. Whenever we’re in a predicament, we so naturally slip into ‘victim mode’ and blame someone else.
Anyone that doesn’t do this is considered exceptional. Well, it’s time the exception became the rule! It’s time for a new consciousness – one that teaches us the power of acceptance, and a willingness to reflect upon the series of choices that create the situations we find ourselves in.
Once we master this concept ourselves, we can teach it to our children and watch its positive impact on their ability to reason. When they understand that their life situation is the result of a series of their actions and their reactions, they will learn to take responsibility for the choices they make.
In addition, they will begin to see their that circumstances come with lessons that help us to develop who we are and who we want to become. They will learn that there is no power in being a victim, because to be a victim is to hand over all control of your destiny. This is the wisdom our children must grow with from the off, so they are competent when exploring and evaluating their experiences.
A last word for our government: Parents, not governments, are endowed with the right to guide their children. Yes, it’s the business of governments to create laws and ensure they are upheld. But it is not for them to render parents powerless and give children the authority to make choices that they cannot make wisely because of their inexperience and their limited reasoning skills. Recent governments, with their nanny state mentality, have been instrumental in creating this fearless generation.
They must therefore play a major role in remedying this mess! They must also be mindful, and realize that all young people are our future. Like the youth themselves, their families, the schools, the police and the wider community, governments must exercise the art of reflection. Whilst warring with words and vying for power, they must honestly question their true motives.
The Conservatives recently accused Labour of being too soft on the perpetrators of knife-crime. Question: are young offenders more likely to change their behaviour if made to clean graffiti off walls or if you lock them up and throw away the key? Both measures are punitive. So if your aim is to merely punish, either will meet your end.
When you decide to make an example of offenders, remember how fearless they are – we’ve never had a breed like them! They’ll take it on the chin, and not necessarily learn a thing. If, on the other hand, your objective is to minimize social ills and change behaviour, you will advance more positive options like putting these young people on programmes that help them to address their personal and social inadequacies.
Once we see these kinds of measures in action, on a wide scale, we will know that our government genuinely wants to invest in its future. In the meantime, parents, embrace your predicaments. After you’ve done your crying, rise, stand tall, and do something positive with your pain – take away the power of pain – it’s the best way of teaching your children to do the same!
Lawna Elayn Tapper is with Rice 'n' Peas magazine, where this piece first appeared.
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