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YOBBOS IN THE PINK

05-12-2006

Lynn Hawthorn was thrown across a car bonnet the other day for daring to questionthe parent of misbehaving youngsters. After that, she wonderswhether plans for pink street lighting really will makethe streets safer- or if those responsible are just looking through rose-tinted glasses.

When I heard that Preston Council has announced the introduction of pink street lighting in a bid to curb anti-social behaviour, I had to smile to myself.

On the face of it, if you'll pardon the pun, it sounds ridiculous, but the purpose of it is deadly serious. The pink glow, apparently, shows up acne, so the thinking is that gangs of youths will not want to congregate on street corners and town centres if their spots are on display for all the world to see.

The concept has been trialled on the continent to good effect, it is reported. It seems a natural progression from the blue-ish purple lighting we sadly find in many public toilets to discourage drug users.

Anti-social behaviour, particularly that fuelled by drinks and drugs, is on the increase and even when a group of young people is gathered together in a harmless gaggle, it is easy to interpret their presence as intimidating.

When they're asked why they're on the streets, the common response is that they're bored and have nothing to do. Really? If I think back to the 1970s when I was a teenager, I don't remember there being a fat to do then, either.

The school hosted a dodgy disco once a week and youth clubs, run either by school or the local church,had nothing more exciting than ping pong (as we called it then) fuelled by lukewarm orange squash. And we'd never even heard of tartrazine.

Now, with our child- and youth-centred society, there seems to be a wealth of projects aimed at these very people, from street dance and graffiti art, to DJ workshops and CD production.

In the home, it seems that every young person HAS to own an array of electrical equipment that you'd find impressive in Curry's: TV's, DVD players, MP3's, iPod's, PC's, mobile ‘phones and more satellite channels than you can shake a stick at. And they're still bored?

And if we are plagued by large numbers of youths on the streets, where is the parental control? Do parents no longer effectively operate ‘curfews' that we once laboured under? And what sanctions do they put in place if these are ignored or broken?

Choice, personal responsibility and freedom of expression are all very well, but children need boundaries and they need to know them from an early age.

My local library was struggling the other day with a child running amok, whose parent had absolutely no control over him. He was two. If he is out of control by that tender age (and yes, we know about the ‘terrible two's' and all that), what on earth is he going to be like as a teenager?

Staff at thelibrary werein a cleft stick, because they obviously had a duty of care to other users, but feared abuse from the parent if they attempted to chastise the child. And I suspect that is where the root of the problem lies: a lack of respect.

Ten years in a primary school showed me on a daily basis about a lack of respect and it didn't always come from the direction of the kids.

I was walking home from town the other evening just as the shops were shutting, and it was already dark by then, when I spotted two youths behaving in an odd way.

On closer inspection, I saw that they had got hold of a supermarket stock trolley, the sort that's a six feet high cage, which had been dumped in our street and the eldest was trying to encourage the youngest to get inside it to be pushed down the street.

Now you need to understand thatI live on a steep hill, with a blind bend at the bottom. Parked cars line both sides of the road, creating a single carriageway. There's a car park at the top and it's a short cut from the town centre for locals, with cars achieving an alarming speed at times.

Drivers have virtually no chance of spotting kids - especially in dark clothing at night - darting out from in between parked cars. I spoke to the lads, reasoned with them and managed to persuade them that it wasn't a sensible thing to do, so they placed the trolley back horizontally on the ground and walked away.

But it didn't end there. A few days later, as my husband and I were returning from a Remembrance Day service, we saw these two lads again. This time, they were riding one of those battery-powered mini motorbikes up and down the middle of the road.

Again, I spoke to them and tried to reason with them. I told them about an accident I'd once witnessed in the street and I even explained about a chap I'd once seen in hospital with head injuries who, two years on from his accident, still didn't know who he was and couldn't do a thing for himself.

I suggested that they use our local park, which is much, much safer. All I got was ‘lip'. Then their mother arrived and started shouting the odds. I then recognised the sound of the bike as the sound I'd heard the night before, during a cacophony of fireworks, up and down the street. I mentioned it to her.

“Yes, I know. I was watching them from the window,” she said. I presume she meant her sons. She carried on shouting, so I raised my voice for the first time. The next thing I knew, I was over the bonnet of someone's car!

I suppose you could argue that I should have ignored what the boys were doing and walked away, but years of education training means that I am programmed to sort out conflict, assess risk and to protect children at all times. I was trying to be a good citizen and, I have to admit, trying to avoid damage to the rows of cars owned by my good neighbours and myself.

One brand new car has already been dented within a fortnight of ownership, so why should our hard-earned possessions be damaged by out-of-control offspring?

If we are truly to curb anti-social behaviour, it's almost too late to start with the perpetrators. We've got to go back a step and look at parents. And before you start, I'm not suggesting a Big Brother trying to tell you how to raise your kids or a nanny state. In fact, just the opposite.

Personal responsibility, common sense and respect all need to be restored within the bounds of society if we are to claw ourselves back from the edge of a social meltdown. It's a huge problem and needs sensitive handling, but until we restore respect and control in the home, we've got no chance out on the streets.

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