Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kinsella Murder: Boys need male role models

The relevant link from the Telegraph:

Ben Kinsella murder: why gang members choose loyalty to each other over family

Allow me to highlight a few extracts. The emphases are mine:

''Members are usually from dysfunctional families and broken homes,'' he says. They are failures at school who end up playing truant at an early age and joining groups. From around 11 they join gangs and these become alternative families. But they are ruled by brutal discipline that spills over into extreme violence.''

''The majority, like Michael Alleyne, come from wildly fractured families - often they are the offspring of single mothers - for whom the gang becomes a surrogate family,'' believes Peter Andrews, author of ''Britain's Gang Culture.'' Often membership, he explains, grants status. ''But it's more than that. It offers an extended family with all the fierce, loyal protection that exists within blood families - something few of these young people know anything about.

''There are rules, and strict hierarchies,'' he says moodily as he toys with a can of Sprite in a cafe near the shabby estate where he still lives with his mother. ''We ain't feral and we're bright,'' he snaps. ''I'm respected on my road [community]. Even the Boyden [police] respect me.''

Nicco was sucked into the gang culture at 10. ''I was bullied, the gangs looked after me, my old lady wasn't gonna. At first you run messages, then you get promoted. That means you hide the knives and guns. Kids ain't searched much.'' Most ''generals'' and their ''lieutenants'' enforce discipline with a mixture of ''code of conduct'' loyalty and brutality.

These are government policies that ignore this 'street gang culture':

(1) Young girls and women having babies indiscriminately. They are left to care for these babies with very few resources. The fortunate few have an extended 'real' family. But many would learn, soon enough, that more babies = more benefits and the downward spiral begins. See previous post here. Children need families. Let's try to ensure that they are first born into one.

(2)If this government is indeed keen to reduce child poverty, they might do well to start by persuading young people to avoid having babies indiscriminately. But who would have the guts to say this?

(3) Boys at 10 and 11 are at their most vulnerable. Yet the school system transfer them into secondary schools at his age. Let me explain.

Boys at 10 and 11 are at their most vulnerable in terms of their physical, social and mental development. Their voices have not even broken. They are smaller physically than many girls their own age who have started on puberty. They are more likely to be bullied when they become bottom of the pile at a secondary school.

My work in the PTA which brings me into contact with boys of all ages show that boys aged 9 to 11 are in their 'silly boy stage'. The 12+ and 13+ take on leadership roles in school. They are top of the pile. Their voices break. They begin to behave like young men, wearing size 8 shoes.

They transfer to senior school at 13+. They become the bottom of the pile again. But they have already developed so much confidence they are able to fend for themselves, think for themselves, decide for themselves. In fact transfer to senior school is like a 'rite of passage', at a point where they are ready for it.

When our folk in the Ministry of Education make boys (and girls) transfer to secondary schools at 10/11 (apparently to align teaching to the SATs tests), have they considered the impact of this transfer on vulnerable young boys?

(4)What's the point of SATs tests in any case when the results do not actually get you into a better school situation? This nation has dumbed down because there is an inordinate fear of elitism and cleverness and academic success. If parents and children believe that doing well in SATS would get them into a good secondary school, their attitude would be different.

For now, we have the worst of both worlds: SATs results not making a difference to children's lives in terms of their secondary school placement, as well as teachers priming them to do SATs and only SATs well, thus narrowing their scope of learning.

Why bother to aspire when it is a postcode lottery any way? Calling a school an 'academy' by itself is not going to make the school better.

(5)Boys thrive on discipline and structure, being 'promoted'. It may not look that way when they are younger, but boys need a strong male role model or two (not necessarily the father) to tell them what to do, how to do, when to do. Maybe this is wired into their genes. Think of the rites of initiation in some tribal societies. The being separated from female community, one's mother and sisters, being taken into the male community, the strict rules that follow prior to initiation, and the sense of responsibility that comes after the event.

Where father does not play a major role in a boy's life, mother's brother does. He becomes the 'sponsor'. We will do well to find surrogate 'fathers' to these young boys. In a uniformed activity not unlike the Scouts?

(6)Teach boys discipline from a young age. To be fair, most mothers, single or otherwise try to do so. But how do you discipline a boy who is bigger than you? Usually at this point, the father (usually physically bigger than mum) steps in. For families with no fathers, who would discipline the boys?

This is not to say that girls do not need discipline. When I researched adolescent girls in Singapore, their unexpected plea was: "Mums and Dads, it's OK to give us a curfew. That way we have an excuse to go home." It is when mums and dads allow too much freedom that these young adults flounder. Who would have thought that?

(7)Going back to single mums, do note that it is well nigh impossible to come up with research that would affirm that single motherhood is not welcome by the mothers themselves. This is because motherhood touches on 'affective' dimensions. No matter how much you try to design a questionnaire survey, say, that removes all interfering variables, it will be very difficult for you to find mums who'd say, "I regret having this child [so early] [with this partner] [before I finished my education], etc. etc.

The nature of parenthood (and more so motherhood) is such that no matter how tough the going gets, the mother's love for the child and the joys she derives from the child would supersede these difficulties, disappointments and struggles they face.

(8)At our last consultation with our son's teacher, we were shown his tray of work. On top was the current comprehension topic: "Mum's New Boyfriend". It appears that the school curriculum requires schools to teach children about the different types of families. Mum has a new boyfriend? Nothing unusual there.

Father's Day is coming up. While my son makes Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Christmas Day, Easter cards, etc for us, there has never been a Father's Day card.

I think it's because the school has to be sensitive to those boys who do not have a father.

Update: Interesting to read Prince William's contribution to this concern here. It suggests that the discipline and structure of the military, where young people learn and EARN respect, and where there are clear grounds for promotion, could make a difference to them. Bring back the draft?? Or national service in a different guise?

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Laura Brown said...

That's so sad about the Father's Day cards.

LSP said...

I stand corrected. For the first time in five years my son came back with a Father's Day card which was duly presented to Dad this morning. Also interesting to read Prince William's contribution on this issue (see update in main blog).