Nearly every news item contains headlines of frightful teenage atrocities and our immediate reaction is to have them put away for life.  There is absolutely no excuse for their behaviour, but there are a number of reasons that may well be the cause.  In our high school, in south Liverpool, roughly 70% of the pupils have only one parent – usually a mother on her own, or with a partner – many of these children are “keyhole kids” because, when they get home from school, their parent is at work and there is nobody home to welcome them.  The lucky ones have a “Nan” who will look after them until someone comes home; consequently their Nan and Granddad are the people they know and love most.  

Family life at home is a rare or unknown experience.  They seldom – if ever – eat together as a family, but have their tea on a tray in front of the TV, often watching unsuitable and violent programmes until well into the night.  In a word, they lack any real experience of discipline.

The ‘Mission Statement’ of the College is as follows:

“That we provide a safe, secure and happy environment.

We provide opportunities for all pupils to develop their talents,

recognising and celebrating their achievements and success.

We believe that God loves each person and we encourage

respect for people and treat them equally.

We encourage a spirit of cooperation,

responsibility and self-discipline.

We affirm the Christian values of faith, hope and

love – love being the greatest of these.”

That, I think, is why the School is the centre of their lives,

though they would be unlikely to admit it!

What about the rest of the young people, we hear so much about, because of their totally unacceptable behaviour?  Judging by the number of pupils who are sent to our Support Centre from other schools where, if they have a ‘Mission Statement’, it would seem to fail to deal successfully with the pupils’ problems; as a consequence, on some occasions, the pupils express a wish to change schools, and after a six weeks trial period, they begin to show some signs of stability, self-discipline and punctuality. The Managers of the Centre may well recommend them to be accepted, provided their previous school is willing to give them a transfer – which they usually give – only too happily!

Most of their problems are anger management, attention seeking, truanting and considerable insecurity.  So they easily get themselves mixed up with even more unsuitable companions, who are already ‘fixed’ on alcohol and drugs.  One of the glaring problems is the lack of discipline in their lives and we would do well to listen to one of St. Paul’s letters: he says: “The Lord disciplines him who he loves.  It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons, for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which, all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” – tough words, but badly needed advice, we would do well to heed.

One of the problems is the lack of safe, well run, places for young people in which to recreate, such as youth clubs – well organised, with plenty of things to do – and rules which they must keep or be asked to leave.  Some time ago, I came across an article in the paper about a family who are running a youth club from their home, making a place where they know they are loved and respected – but run also with strict discipline.  The point of the article was to say how successful it is, and that they are overcrowded with applications, and in great need of somewhere in which to expand.

The other day, there was a programme on the TV about a gang intent upon doing violence and damaging property.  A young lad of about 11 years was anxious to join them.  The gang leader gave him a brick and said: “If you want to join us, throw this through the old woman’s window.”  The lad dropped the brick and said: “If that’s your game, frightening old women, you can get lost.”  The leader stabbed him with a knife and left him bleeding on the ground.  He was taken to hospital and eventually recovered, having nearly paid the price of his life for doing what he knew to be right.

What can we do, as individuals, to help young people feel secure in themselves, and not want to get involved in all that they see on the streets, hear what is going on in other young peoples’ homes and what their friends tell them?  If it is possible to give a welcome in your home, to your teenager’s friends and get to know them, they will feel loved and accepted, and hopefully want to change their lifestyle – should it need to be changed – and feel at home with your family.  In my experience, when they are shown respect, love, and are willing to accept the rules, they usually react in a positive way, and want to respond in order that they may continue to be accepted.

It is easy for me to make these statements, when I am not immediately subjected to teenagers constantly knocking at my door, or taking advantage of the family’s generosity, but, for them, it might be the beginnings of a change of pattern of behaviour; it may just help them to cope with the many disadvantages most of them face.