We all did and do things we regret. And the last word is key: regret! And when we regret something, there’s a good chance we won’t repeat it. I remember as an 18 year old, my mother (for the first time ever) said if I went out that door, don’t come back! I knew she didn’t mean it, but I hurt her terribly when I closed the door after me. You see she knew that ‘boy’ wasn’t good for me. I was bowled over by his new found fame and of course the sports car was the cherry. And yes, she was right, he hurt me again and again. Decades later, I still regret that day. I regret hurting her. We had a huge argument. But my regret also reminds me about how much I love her.
Everyone is talking about the video of the cars driving wrecklessly, the kids screaming with excitement when the Garda car gets rammed. Adults on the sideline cheer and film a potential car crash. No respect for health, safety, authority, no regret the Guards were probably shook, and the biggest issue: no respect for themselves. And yes, there was a poor horse in this setting of chaos culture.
Yes, I believe these scenes are replicated in lots of places and the causes/reasons are multi-layered and I’m not speaking from ‘what I think’ – I’m speaking about what I was privileged to hear from some very troubled teenagers both in group and one-to-one settings. I’ve listened to the disadvantaged and advantaged: boys and girls all causing both themselves and others great harm.
I heard earlier on the radio a professional saying it’s lack of amenities… is it lack of amenities that has young people pushing women onto rail tracks (one of these culprits doing very well with his soccer club!) and throwing any passerby into the canal: it’s not. Of course, amenities are great and necessary, but they are a deflection: a tiny bandaid on a critical wound. We need to go deeper than this. We need to heal the wound.
I worked as Guidance Counsellor with the HSE’s teen parent programme; I worked as a GC in a DEIS school and a very privileged school. Monday mornings were always the busiest especially in the latter settings. Weekends usually resulted in a lot of drink/drug taking, there were fights, families upset and yes, it often spilled into the yard, the classroom and straight to my office.
And initial meetings would usually go something like this, ‘you can’t tell Miss…. you’ll make her shut her mouth, just because she asked you to be quiet! Can you please, can you refrain, can you….’ The reply was usually an initial ‘No…’ ‘I don’t care’ or other ways to say this! And then you’d eventually hear about the weekend if you hadn’t heard it from the other kids or the staff room. I worked with some very violent young teenagers and aside from one or two…. It was the ‘didn’t care’ part that permitted them to jump up and down on someone’s head (meetings with juvenile liaison officers always left you wondering how more young people aren’t murdered on the streets), it was the ‘don’t care’ part that made them swallow a load of ‘yokes’ that made them violently ill but driving with them was ‘great crack, Miss!’ It was the ‘don’t care’ that allowed one of them to hold his family to hostage for money to go out.
Yes, they don’t care, no one cares-this narrative is poison to a young mind and dictates the rest of their life story if not intervened with. The general sense of ‘not caring’ explains the videos of complete feral behaviour on our screens. These young people actually don’t care about themselves enough to not put their lives at risk. And if they don’t care about themselves and their own behaviour, you can bet, they don’t really care about anyone else. It’s all about the hit, that adrenaline rush, that high level of violent porn, that extra pill needed to try push them from ‘not feeling’ to ‘buzzing’. Because the nice simple ordinary life ‘base line’ has been eroded….the foundation to build life’s scaffolding on is non-existent: caring. So shift the gear, foot down hard, another swig of the bottle…. Caring is for losers, all about the rush, now shut you mouth! And they feel really good ramming a Garda car.
So, let me tell you I got it wrong and I got it right when it came to young people sent my way. For every ‘I don’t care’ – I matched it with a ‘I do!’ I do care about you putting your life at risk and everyone else that crosses your path. Some of them just didn’t care enough about themselves to change behaviour and some of them are dead today. Some worked hard at change, attending CAMS, limiting drug/alcohol use, and are doing really well today. Two cases in particular stay with me: one boy that tried to stab another boy with a pencil after peer group work. After he was pulled off the boy, I took him for some time-out. I asked him what was going on for him at that moment that he paired a pencil with a sharp point to take the boy’s eye out. He replied, ‘I hate the prick!’ I told him I was listening but there are lots of pricks in life that will annoy us and irritate us, but we don’t stab them.’ I reminded him, that boy did nothing to him. But you see, in his head he did, the other staff member facilitating had asked a simple question, ‘What are ye doing for the weekend, lads?’ The boy that was jumped on, said he hated Sundays as it was family day, and they did ‘stuff together’. I know, not many would get triggered by this but he did. You see it touched a part of him he had tried to suppress. The part that wanted a family who cared, a family that wanted him home on time, a family to do ‘stuff’ with. He never got that family in life. Today he lives on the streets. The second is a girl, and I was lucky to work with one principal who believed in getting around a table with all concerned parties. One meeting involved a social worker, a student and her mum. The mother was asked, ‘how she was and it must be so hard being called into the school again and again!’ She stayed silent. And then she cried and cried. It turned out that she didn’t care sometimes about her daughter. In fact she was jealous of her because so many people were trying to get her help whilst in the words of her mum, ‘no one ever cared about her!’ It just takes one person to care enough sometimes to bring about change in another’s life.
Yes, there’s also no fear anymore, and a proportion of fear is a deterrent to certain negative behaviours. A lot of young people do not fear authorities. They don’t fear the adults in their life when they don’t come home on time, they don’t fear them when they get another call from the Guards. A little bit of fear actually does go a long way in guiding us when on those teenage motorways of slow, fast, safe lanes.
We really do have to pull out the magnifying glass and let it hover over all the factors: societal, environmental, familial etc to try find out ‘what’s really going on?’ And there’s a heap of stuff to dissect. Like why are some adults afraid to say ‘no’ & why saying ‘no’ could actually put them at risk? The latter answering the former. We have to acknowledge that it’s easier to say ‘no’ to a 3 year old as if they hit you, the chances of harm are less. Learn to say ‘NO’ from an early age and that ‘big bad word’ will be more digestible to your teen. Choose words like ‘not today’ ‘we’ll talk about it later’ (when away from a sweet counter) or ‘you know how sometimes you say ‘no’ to me, well I too can say, no, too!’ But you can’t beat ‘pulling out the thorn’ in one fell swoop….No!!!!
Yes, social media has led to this unparalleled parallel universe – where young people tend to suffer in comparison. The pressure to be seen to party, in a certain outfit, with certain makeup, with certain people. Phew! It’s exhausting even thinking about it. That’s hard work. And then you’re a parent acting as producer, director, wardrobe assistant, financier of this really hard to maintain lifestyle. I know of a woman who goes without because her teenage daughter won’t wear Penneys and it’s Mac or ‘Whack’. Yes, she lashes out if the goods aren’t produced.
I’m here typing with a rescue pony over my shoulder, thinking about how that horse copes with the noise, the terror of cars driving at speed and people screaming and roaring. Which brings me to choice, some people actually purposely, and continually choose not to care, and that’s when legislation is needed to protect the part of society that does care from those who don’t. We need law enforcement.
What I would tell my younger self today….
‘Have some fear…it might save you…
Love boundaries, they will guide you
Care for you but care for the world outside of you equally
Regret…regret means you might not make the same mistake…
Pray to the universe or whatever God you believe in.
Purpose…always have a purpose…you will always be needed…
Try not think of ‘Me’ all the time. That word multiplies very quickly and will tangle you…
The world around you is one big amenity….
Play, always play, but don’t play someone…never play anybody… play fairly and squarely…
Love…if there’s no one to love or love you…love yourself… keep loving yourself… keep loving yourself. You are telling the world, I Am Loveable….and you are, yes, you are!
Finally, adopt, foster, volunteer…. Animals teach us all we need to know about living…. x