Let's show that every teenage life matters


The Oscars takes place this Sunday.  At the 1991 awards John Singleton was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for his film “Boyz n the Hood”, making him the first African-American to be nominated for the award - in contrast to this year’s all white awards.

The film tells the story of a black teenager growing up in LA surrounded by gang activity and serious violence. Though different and perhaps not quite as extreme, the reality of life for some of our young people is not at all dissimilar.

Serious youth violence and the proliferation of gang activity hit the UK headlines in 2007, starting with the shooting of Andre Smartt-Ford in broad daylight. What followed was a catalogue of tragedy on the streets of London with 29 teenagers losing their lives in 2008. 

The number of fatalities abated, but the problem never went away.  Serious youth violence offences has increased by 13.4% and the number of offences the Met associates with within gang activity has increased by 25% in the last three years.

Why? Yes, some of the young perpetrators of these acts come from dysfunctional chaotic families, often with a history of domestic violence.  However, many come from stable families where you have two parents sometimes holding down two jobs each just to make ends meet, with the result that they don’t have enough time to spend with their children.

There’s a lack of things for young people to do – youth provision outside of school hours is lacking.  We have a popular culture which glamorises the lifestyle that goes with gang culture with insufficient education at school to spell out the realities of what it brings. 

And then, for those who leave school, a disproportionate number of perpetrators of these acts are out of work.  There are other factors too. 

Urgent action is needed. Labour in government introduced the notion of “Every Child Matters”, where the aim was to provide wrap around care for children before school started until after long after school finished. I think it is high time we adopted an “Every Teenager Matters” approach – a more targeted version of that initiative to address this.

We need to elevate the standing of youth work and properly fund it.  The Government should reverse their decision to disband its very important “ending gang violence” network.  We must ensure our young are properly taught in schools about the consequences of what they do.  And there should be a complete zero tolerance police by the police towards in respect of anything gang leaders do.  There is more that can be done beyond this too.

Only when we properly focus and show a will to get to grips with this issue, will we be able to stop this violence which tragically continues to blight the lives of the next generation.