According to a recent survey, over half of British people believe that children are behaving more like animals, by which they do not mean that they sit happily on the couch washing themselves, or barking madly if they hear an intruder outside.
For years, sections of the media across the water have been full of stories about the feral, violent nature of today’s kids, and the message seems to be getting through. As far as half of Britain is concerned, their children are thugs.
In case we missed the point, The Kids Are Alright on ITV1 last night kicked off with a series of cctv images from cities and towns around Britain of young people engaged in random acts of violence. Unfortunately for a documentary dedicated to showing us that children are capable of much more than this, those images were the most memorable part of the programme.
The problem was that though the children and teenagers featured were all lovely individuals in themselves, their lives and deeds weren’t really exceptional enough to justify the documentary’s noble premise. Eleven-year-old Daniel misses his dad, a soldier serving in Afghanistan. Segen (12) left war-torn Eritrea for England when she was two – ten years later she has the potential to be a professional ice-skater. Disabled Michael hopes one day to ride in the Paralympics.
Only the story of fifteen-year-old Sarah Schiff really came close to hinting at what young people might be capable of in extremis. Sarah is a carer for her mother, who has cerebral palsy. She lifts her, carries her, feeds her and attends to toilet duties, while staying full time in school, and dreaming of going to university.
Sarah is one of an estimated 700,000 young carers in Britian, one eighth of all children there. This is an extraordinary statistic, which you’d imagine would produce a compelling documentary if any production company were ever to try and put names and faces on the figures. Strangely flat and inspiring given its subject matter, The Kids Are Alright was a long way from being that programme.
On their own, the children featured were kind, brave, optimistic, thoughtful and well-spoken. What happens to young people when their individuality is subsumed into a group was partly the subject of Phoebe Prince: The Final Verdict on TV3.
A rehash of a previous documentary but slightly updated to take into account recent court proceedings, it’s a sad story which doesn’t get any less grim in the retelling. This is particularly true now that the teenagers involved in bullying 15-year-old Phoebe to the point where she hung herself have escaped without serious punishment for their actions.
Left to their own devices, these individuals might well come across as pleasant company, full of potential, but together they were a lethal weapon. For the mistake of briefly dating two of the most popular boys in South Hadley High School in Massachusetts Phoebe, an immigrant from Clare, was effectively hunted down and destroyed. Inside and outside school, she couldn’t escape the relentless campaign of intimidation from her classmates. In the end, she took what she thought was the only way out.
The depressing thing about last night’s television viewing was that you went to bed thinking that the South Hadley teenagers were more representative of their age group than those featured on The Kids Are Alright