I'm sitting at my kitchen table about to start writing my speech for today, I look out the window and see the sun slowly burning away the mist that’s hanging above the trees, making a single strand from a spiders web glisten like silver. It sways gently, nothing else is moving, it looks like a still from an old film set. A gentle and settled day looks promising, nothing dramatic or unpredictable from this snapshot. I breathe out and am amazed by how peaceful I feel.

What will today hold for me? Will my nerves hold up or will I cry at the words I hear myself say – wishing it wasn’t true? Every morning is full of hope, always, morning looks at us all and says ‘fill yourself up with the poise of the morning, let it settle within you and anchor you into your day’.

Many teenagers seem as though they’re floating in a choppy sea and dry land never appears on the horizon, so they can’t feel anchored or steady. It is the responsibility of everyone here to help guide and anchor our young people, we need to give them a voice and ensure they feel that we’re REALLY listening to them. Modern society is more isolated than ever before, modern technology enables us to live very solitary existences and in time this will lead to a detached and self-obsessed society.

Teenagers contain a wealth of untapped talent and when you spend time talking to them, their incredible insights into the world can really open our eyes – we can learn a lot from teenagers, but we also have a responsibility to them to safeguard and nurture them.

I then read excerpts from a paper written by Kay Pranis who is a National Leader in restorative justice based in the US:

We live in fear of our children.  Any society that fears its children will not long thrive.  We have allowed enormous distance to develop between ourselves and the children of others.  We have not come to know them sufficiently and we have not invested emotionally, materially and spiritually in their well being.  We have not taught them by example to understand the interconnectedness of all things and the need to always understand the impact of our actions on others.

View through the youth lens

"How many of you experienced having adults other than your parents tell you what to do or how to behave in your neighborhoods when you were children?"  Big grins spread across faces and everyone nods, remembering the times they were held accountable, disciplined or brought into line by someone other than family.  "My parents didn't have to do anything - by the time I got home I had been thoroughly chastised." or "By the time I got home my parents already knew all about the incident."  For people over 25 years of age the response is consistent - they remember non-family members involved in holding them to community standards.

This change in adult behavior has two very important implications for our communities.  First, this may well be the first time since humans first formed communities that parents alone were expected to socialize their children to community norms without the reinforcement of every adult in the community, twenty four hours a day, wherever the child went.  Parents can't do that alone.  It is an impossible job.  The overwhelming nature of such an assignment contributes to the enormous stress experienced by families.

Secondly, the world experienced by kids has these characteristics:  1) " The expectations of my parents are not community norms, because other adults see me do these things and don't say anything," and2)  "The only people besides immediate family who bother with my life are people who are paid - police, teachers, youth workers, probation officers."  Setting limits on behavior generally sends a message of caring as well as accountability.  When adults remember those experiences of being disciplined by others, they usually also remember some sense of belonging, of being looked after by those adults.  They didn't necessarily like the consequences, but recognize that it also represented some kind of commitment to their wellbeing.

The implicit message to kids today, that the only ones who will bother with their lives are immediate family and people who are paid, is an extremely corrosive message and creates a very different world view.  This is a world which does not encourage empathy or a sense of common good larger than individual interest.

(To download the full article by Kay Pranis, click here.)

So, engaging with young people in our communities to start a positive dialogue and help them feel that they are an important and respected part of their community is necessary. This in turn will lay the foundations in place for all our futures – every one of us represents a piece of the jigsaw of modern life, if there’s a piece missing, we are all affected by it.

I felt helpless when I found out that Martha was starting to dabble with drugs. I went into her school and did what I could to help her to see sense, but young people these days aren’t scared like we were. We have a generation on our hands who have witnessed terrible atrocities on the 24 hour rolling media machine that exists and feeds into their sub consciousness.

Drugs are laughed about on sitcoms, joked about on panel shows, and emblazoned on t-shirts as well as given a glossy allure on a plethora of teenage cult shows. They are in fact a normal part of modern society and much as I hate to admit that – it’s the truth.

I still feel helpless now as I go into schools and see that the current measures in place to do with the dangers of drugs are highly inadequate and limited and this will remain the case until adequate drug policy catches up with common sense and this worries me greatly.

I have spent many hours painstakingly deliberating about drug policy since Martha died. It was important to me that when I felt ready to disclose my views, they were well constructed and more informed, rather than knee-jerk. Being a bereaved single parent is the worst job in the world, but the skills I obtained as a single parent ironically also gave me the immense strength I now need in order to be part of the sensible dialogue for change.

Strict and responsible regulation of recreational drugs is vital, this is crystal clear to me now. Free drug testing facilities should be widely available in order to fully educate young people and by putting some safeguarding measures in place, levels of harm are significantly reduced. Had Martha been able to access drugs that had been legally produced and labelled accordingly, she would have been able to make a more informed decision – in fact, I’d go as far as to say that she might still be alive. 

We must take some control in order to establish a safer society which will benefit all of us.

Martha wanted to get high, she didn’t want to die. No parent wants either, but there’s one of those options that’s preferable to the other.

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