Adeela Shafi: Supporting the family is essential if we are to rid this country of the burgeoning knife and gun culture
The statistics say that knife and gun crime is no more prevalent than at any other time. But go behind the statistics to the people: we have on average one person a day in the UK being killed by knife crime. Now I don’t know about you, but to me that is a lot in so called civilised society.
Much of this knife and gun crime is being committed by young people on other young people. So what is going on? Why are young people so intent on carrying knives, guns, doing drugs, binge drinking and being part of a gang? Why is "gang culture" now an official term used by politicians and sociologists alike?
No doubt one of the biggest fears facing many parents is that their son, or even daughter, may get embroiled in such a gang. Drink, drugs, knives, guns, gangs… all these terms make me coil in horror and I am already worried about my 7-year-old son.
So what is it that is making our young boys and indeed some girls feel that a gang is the only way to earn respect. Respect is a word used all too loosely and too often people find it difficult to define, but we all know what we mean by it. Interviews with young people have cited it as a reason for carrying a knife, a reason to be involved in drugs, a justification for a criminal act. Binge drinking… to drown reality, lose any inhibitions that might limit what they do. High on drugs… because to have a good time you must be "out of it".
Ironically what these kids are seeking with the aid of these ills is respect and self worth. But why is it that they are seeking this amongst their peers, using knives, guns, drink, drugs as a means of getting it? Why aren’t they getting this sense of worth at home from their families, from their parents. Much psychological research exploring the issues which contribute towards mental ill health has been explained by early relationships with other people in particular their parents and immediate families.
While the work of some of these researchers such as John Bowlby may seem outdated in today’s society, one thing that does remain is that as young children we do need to have significant others in our lives that nurture this part of our development - to mould us into functional, rounded individuals. Humans are social beings, we like to be in a group, we thrive in communities: social isolation has been used as a means of punishment throughout history. Therefore, it should be no surprise that we feel a strong desire to belong to a group. This first group is the family.
Social breakdown in Britain has resulted in a breakdown in the family. Over half of marriages conducted end in divorce. Single parenthood is at an all-time high. The role of fathers is undermined. We are encouraged to send our children into nurseries and pursue careers for self-fulfilment and material pursuits.
The result is that as a society, that natural grouping of the family is no longer there as the strong network of support, protection and nurturing, that children need to become functioning members of society with a sense of moral values: to acquire the ability to judge right from wrong, to take a sense of responsibility for one’s actions, to be confident enough in themselves and buffer them against the pressures of the outside world.
Is it no wonder then that when a child reaches that rather turbulent time labelled "teenage" where hormones are raging, they try to establish a distinct identity, they seek for belonging and acceptance within a group. A group which is also going through the same thing – their peers. So much so that they will go to any lengths to gain that respect, that acceptance that they are not getting from anywhere else.
We are seeing the results of this in this new youth culture. Now it would be naïve to assume that youth culture and rebellion is a new phenomenon. It is not, what is new is that our youth seems to know no boundaries. And perhaps more to the point are actually given none.
Boundaries govern the level to which we will go. If we are never given these then as fallible humans we will just go on pushing them out out out… until there are none, and that is where we now see ourselves heading.
Consequently, or cyclically - whichever way you choose to look at it - parents have so little authority over their children. They are not able to provide the boundaries that children need. An example, when exasperated with my own kids because they are always trying to push the boat out, I can be found to say: ‘Right that’s it. I am not going to tell you what to do anymore… you do whatever you think is right. Go to bed whenever you want!’
That will be familiar to some parents I think. Anyway, you’d think this would result in whoops of delight that they can do whatever they want. Wrong. In fact, I am then faced with a fresh round of protest. This time it's: ‘No Mum, you tell us what to do, pleeease’. Children need boundaries, it’s their comfort zone. A lack of authority in the early days means we are not able to properly establish our vital role in building that respect for the child nor are we there to give them the value they need. So like anything they go elsewhere to get it.
The Labour Government has created a broken society where nobody is prepared to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. The top-down politics have meant that people are now used to blaming others for their failings. Children blame the parents, the parents blame the state, the state blames the parents… and society picks up the bill.
The Labour Government now proposes that "problem families" will be dealt with, but what they have failed to realise that it is they who created these "problem families" in the first place! Families that are dependent on the welfare state, where couples living separately are better off; families that are not given support financially nor practically when setting up a home; families that are not able to spend time together to build those vital connections that will stand the children in good stead well after leaving the family nest; families that risk becoming broken.
The next Conservative government intends to create a responsible society where families come first. Mending Britain’s broken society is at the top of the agenda. It is the root cause of many of society’s ills. Marriage will be promoted through the tax system, parents will be given more flexibility to be a part of their family. Mothers choosing to stay at home and invest in their children’s upbringing will be given the value it deserves.
When crimes are committed, they will be punished appropriately forcing criminals to see that there are consequences to their actions. If that means prison for everyone carrying a knife, then so be it. David Cameron has pledged 5,000 new prison places to ensure that punishment fits the crime not the punishment fits the prison space.
Bring back respect for - and within - the family and see how kids stop relying on it from within their peers and at whatever cost. Respect, self worth and value are basic human needs for a functional individual. See all the work by Humanists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Let’s bring back the culture of the family. Most species have sort of a family system no matter how primitive. It is the best structure for a successful society. Maybe then we might be some way towards ridding ourselves of this knife and gun culture – another symptom of our broken society.
It seems simplistic but to solve a problem as big as this we do need to start right back from the beginning. Back to basics takes on a very serious meaning here.