The government wants to tackle teenage delinquency
A youth club in every neighbourhood to tackle teenage delinquency is the latest government pledge. But do they really stop young people getting into trouble?
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Youths in Britain are more likely to drink, take drugs, have sex, join gangs and get into fights than almost anywhere else in Europe, new figures show.
Published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), they come just as the government announces its new 10-year youth strategy to tackle teenage delinquency which calls for a youth club in every neighbourhood.
The lack of "somewhere to go in the evening" is a stock grievance among many teenagers and often cited as a reason for them going off the rails. But research shows simply giving them a base to meet and socialise can do more harm than good.
Just hanging out at a club can have a detrimental impact on young people's lives, making them more likely to smoke, drink and become teenage parents, according to recent study, also by the IPPR.
However, youth clubs can be improving when structured activities such as sport, art or drama are laid on. Youth activities that take place regularly, in a group setting, with a clear hierarchy and well defined aims help children to develop better social and emotional skills, the study says. They can also offer structure to children who lack it at home.
Children's minister Beverley Hughes says she would seek to encourage "positive activities that are attractive" to young folk.
'Asking for trouble'
"Every child should be expected to do at least an hour a week of constructive after-school activities," says Julia Margo, Senior Research Fellow with the IPPR.
Other research supports the theory that a youth club which is little more than a hut with a pool table and darts board can be corrupting. A study by the University of London's Institute of Education for the Department for Education and Skills tracked a group of people born in 1970 to examine the impact of youth activities over time.
It concluded giving young people a place to hang out without organised activities, or effective supervision, is damaging. Young people not only need places to go but things to do, the report said.
One well-respected youth worker who agrees that children need more than just a building in which to meet is Mick Jelley. He has run Bury Amateur Boxing Club for over 40 years on a voluntary basis.
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He nurtured Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan from the age of eight. Khan has now turned professional and won the Commonwealth lightweight title last week.
"Just providing a physical structure for kids to meet in is not enough. You need to add structure to their lives. If you just put a pool table in a room you are asking for trouble.
"You have to get them doing something, which they have to commit to and attend regularly. Through that you build a friendship with them, then you teach them about discipline and respect - for themselves and others.
A youth worker from south London says the relationship you build with the youngsters is even more important than the activities on offer.
"You can have a brand new computer suite but if the youth workers don't build a relationship with the kids they will not come and use it.
"I've worked in clubs that have had little more than a pool table and they've been really successful because the staff get to know the kids and are their friends. At the end of the day, that's what will make the difference in these youngster's lives."
Below is a selection of your comments.
Youth clubs are a great idea. Unless your parents could afford to pay for activities, you were left with nothing to do. I was lucky enough to be involved with sports for most of my teens although there was a period I didn't particpate and hung about with friends on the streets with nothing to do. Even now the teens in my area hang about the local shops bored, or kicking a football at the shops because they have nowhere to go, no facilities to use. If there were youth centres offering structured appealing activities, I'm sure our teens would be more than willing to take advantage of them rather than drinking alcohol, making babies and anti social behaviour. Underage drinking also leads to binge drinking which is a major problem now. The reason behind it, is boredam.. it is programmed into their heads that getting drunk means having fun and entertainment, which of course leads on to trouble... and lots of it.
Whether the relationship is parent/child or youthworker/child it is clear that it is the quality and respect in that relationship that determines whether it has a positive impact on the child. This article suggests (and I concur) that respect comes from structure and purpose in the relationship - we need to stop treating 0 - 18 years olds as adults and provide safe environments where they can enjoy their childhood whilst moving progressively to adulthood: legislation should reflect this too.
Tim Fox, Beckenham
Every day I have to cycle past groups of teenagers who deliberately stand in my way and call out abuse. Just a few metres past them stands a youth club in which they appear to spend the rest of their time. If this is an example of youth clubs doing good for an area, I'd hate to go to one without such a venue.
Matt, London, UK
i Think that more Youth Clubs will be more beneficial to youngsters.
I remember when my friends and i were teenagers and there was absolutely nothing to do but hang around the streets, we all decided to give the local youth club a go to ease the boredom.
We were glad that we did - it was fun, it kept us out of trouble and best of all we all made new friends in there.
Anything has got to be better than gangs of kids sitting outside a scared little old lady's house in the evenings, hasn't it??
I remember going to the local swimming pool on Friday nights - once that was closed we would hide around the back and drink White Lightning - and dare each other to 'pull' boys.... I was 13. I agree Mick - they need youth workers that have no hidden agenda - ones that are just there to hang out and listen if need be.
Yes, these clubs are called Scouts, Guides, Boys Brigade etc.
These schemes already exist, with no government support, and achieve plenty.
Amanda Lawrence, South Wales
The challenge is to actually challenge and engage with the more distant youths, the ones who cause the trouble. They have to have a feeling of ownership/belonging as well as discipline, but it is a hard balance to achieve. Too much either way and problems appear. A community I lived in built a sports centre for the local youths at great cost - within a few years it was burnt down. The youths who perpetrate such acts are so far removed from society that it is well nigh impossible to include them, and youth centres wont work.
Maybe it's old age creeping up on me, but I truly believe the balance of ownership and belonging and discipline would best be served by enforced national service for youth. Drastic? Perhaps, but the reality is little else would work for the extreme youths who, whilst in the minority, cause the greatest problems.
My son goes to a youth club and all sorts of opportunities have opened up for him. He's involved in the youth bank and parliment. Also he's now doing youth leader course.
The strange thing is that it's opened Tuesday and Thursday evenings but as soon as the school holidays start it isn't open! Surely it's much more important for it to be open more during the holidays!? So instead of wasting money on buying t-shirts and pens which the kids don't actually want, spend it on actually keeping the clubs open.
MIH, Colchester UK