Despite the recession, visitors continue to flock to Bath, my hometown. “You are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place,” said the Japanese lady at the end of an exhausting day of sightseeing. She was right; Bath is a wonderful, civilised place in which to live, at least until about 9 o’clock on a Friday or Saturday evening.
As the tourists retreat, the streets through which the 18th century dandy, Beau Nash, once strode to ensure that every gentleman’s cravat was properly worn, and that women’s bows were correctly tied, today’s young people –dressed according to a very different code – descend on the town centre in their thousands. For half a dozen hours the town is apparently taken over by hoards of young people, their pockets full of cash and mostly the worse for drink, as they spill out of the bars and clubs and capable of reckless behaviour. Windows do get broken, and rubbish bins do get set on fire. As the noise diminishes between two and three o’clock in the morning so, in the back streets and on isolated corners of the parks, the sound of sobs and tears replace the shouts; now it is the anguish of the jilted, and the recriminations of those who have learnt the hard way how thin is the line between false happiness, and real misery.
The OECD Report, “Doing Better for Children”, paints a confusing picture of British youngsters. The British are doing better in school it seems but in terms of risky behaviour our young people are virtually the worst in Europe. They are certainly the most frequently drunk. We have the fourth highest level of teenage pregnancy (only Italy, Turkey and Mexico have more). Quite simply our youngsters just don’t seem to treat each other very well; one-third of all young teenage girls report feeling abused by their boyfriends and nine-tenths admit to experiencing sexual intimacy before the age of 16. We have more youngsters who are neither in education, employment or training than almost any other country.
While so emphasising the importance of school it seems that the British are forgetting how to help children become emotionally and socially mature. The OECD Report offers one explanation that comes very close to what is said in the Briefing Paper… if more funds were spent on educating children when they are very young, when their behaviours are more malleable, it would be a far better investment than putting the money into the teenage years.
If you are still confused by the statistics then go out on a Saturday night and, in groups of two or three, walk around some of those back streets of our cities, and then you will get the picture. Better still, when you next meet teenagers, greet them and don’t ignore them.
See Parts Nine and Ten of the Briefing Paper