A few weeks back we held a set of assemblies linked with anti-weapons and knife crime. These assemblies were part of a city wide initiative aimed at keeping children safe. At the assemblies I made reference to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to article 6 – the right to life. As well as speaking of the dangers of knives/weapons I also referred to other risk taking behaviours which young people can engage in and which have in my working life lead to fatalities amongst young people. These include:
- Road related – youngsters not taking care crossing roads or when cycling, youngsters getting into cars with dangerous or drunk drivers, newly qualified drivers not taking enough care
- Drugs related – youngsters who take substances or who are put under pressure to smoke, drink or try drugs
- Behaviour related – playing in derelict sites, unsafe actions (eg prodding things into electric sockets), daring someone to do something dangerous
- Emotion related – slagging people off, bullying, on-line humiliation or abuse
All of the above we have had to deal with over the last few weeks. We all need to recognise that some risks are not worth taking and the consequences of some behaviours can be life changing or even fatal.
We need to urge our youngsters that sometimes it is right to let others know if someone is putting themselves and others at risk. This is not “grassing” on a friend, it is helping to protect that friend or others from serious harm.
We need to educate ourselves around what is acceptable risk taking and what crosses the line. When, for example, does “banter” or “mucking about” become “bullying”.
It is really difficult for a young person to make that judgement and it is also difficult for adults to know when, and how, to give our youngsters more freedom and trust. We simply have to keep thinking about the risks and recognising the impact of the behaviour or choices we take has on other people.
We need to keep encouraging youngsters to take risks and to learn from their mistakes. Alongside this we need to keep educating around when a risk is too great and empowering them to walk away from some situations or to report their concerns.
The UN Convention on the rights of the Child sets out a lot of ideas around children being allowed to play (article 31) or to hang around with their friends (article 15) and to do all of the things which make it fun to be young and carefree. But it is also about protecting children from dangers and empowering children to take action when they are being put at risk.