First Steps For Change Begin at Home

Today Keir Starmer published his First Steps for Change. One of those steps is to crack down on antisocial behaviour. This has caused a bit of buzz on X as some feel it should not be cited as a major concern, and in sharing these opinions they have exposed a severe lack of understanding around the act of antisocial behaviour itself and its true causes.

It is a commonly held misbelief that anti-social behaviour is the product of poverty or coming from a disadvantaged background. Placing the blame on government regimes for cutting Council funding has led to the closure of community centres or the cutting back of Youth Services. It’s such a simplified notion that these children engage in anti-social behaviour because they were raised in poverty. For context I was raised in poverty and did not have access to Youth Services however I did not engage in anti-social behaviour. The behaviour is not caused by poverty or economic deprivation. As many will know, antisocial behaviour is often displayed by children from more well-off backgrounds too. 

So what is the cause? How do we fix it?

The first thing to unpack here is the idea that poverty leads to antisocial behaviour. Whilst environments do influence people’s behaviour it is more nuanced. This plays on the generalisation that deprived homes are more likely to be single-parent households, have parents with substance abuse problems or have parents who aren’t home a lot because they are out working trying to make ends meet. It paints a bleak picture of parents who do not spend much time with their children. The kids are mostly left to their own devices and to meet their own care needs. These environments provide the breeding ground for antisocial behaviour to occur.

So how does this explain the occurrence in children from more well-off or affluent backgrounds? The same circumstances; their parents aren’t around. Their parents are working long hours and even when they are home they’re mostly working from home too. Again the children are left to their own devices, lacking parental supervision or guidance.

So we can let go of the idea that this is an economic problem.

As with our young children; behaviour is communication. At home, these teens are treated like they are in the way. In the homes of impoverished areas, the parents are stressed and may not have the mental capacity to provide the attention their growing child needs. Some are just cases of outright neglect. But in affluent households, the problem only varies slightly. The parents are so caught up in creating a life for their children that they aren’t living it with them. Giving their children the latest and greatest is wonderful, but they also need you.

When toddlers feel they aren’t being heard they’ll cry and scream and have a meltdown, break things. A teenager is going through a similar change in worldview but on a much larger scale. These kids behave in such an undisciplined and disrespectful way because they lack the nurturing and parenting to ground and regulate them. Yes, they are seeking attention and acceptance. If we, as parents, don’t provide that for them they will seek it where they can.

Youth Services and establishing Community Centres is one way to tackle these issues on a surface level. But, many would agree, there isn’t the funding for it. This would lead to reliance on charity organisations or paid entry establishments. The former usually work alongside social services to provide support for those most vulnerable, utilising their limited spaces and resources. The latter creates a class divide; those who can afford the subscription and those, with restricted incomes, who can’t.

Ultimately, whilst it is wonderful to have these services provided by the government or local authorities for those who need them most, it should not fall to the government to become a replacement for parenting. The only true solution to reduce the scale of this problem is to start at home. Parents need to acknowledge their shortcomings and access resources, that are widely available, to learn the skills they need to connect with their children.

It is our job, as parents, to instil confidence in our children and ensure they feel secure. By making time for them, taking an interest in their lives and making an effort to include them, we can strengthen our bond. This will take time to see a change, but this stronger connection will make them less likely to exhibit attention-seeking behaviours.

Please check with your local authority for integrated family services and the resources many already provide free for the community. Alternatively, there are many books on this aspect of parenting available to read at your leisure (many from your local library service).

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