Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 17 Apr 2008

Why should we fund public youth projects that teach youngsters things like how to record violent rap songs?

Hillary's Advice

This reader has been made angry by a recent court case reported in the press. Doesn’t doing this sort of thing, he asks, simply encourage bad behaviour?

I think it does. Or at least condones it so that the young people involved aren’t made to face up to questions of morality and consequences. Taking part in community youth projects certainly doesn’t seem to have done anything to steer some youngsters away from either violence or extremism.

But it’s a difficult balancing act. Open up a youth project with a programme of ‘dig our allotment’ or ‘tuba classes for beginners’ and no-one will to come. You have to start from where kids are, which means offering things like music, football, fashion and beauty.

The difficult part comes once you’ve enticed them through the doors. Any worthwhile youth project presumably aims to give its young people solid help as they navigate the choppy waters of adolescence, particularly if they are street kids who lack tethering at home.

In such cases youth workers can be crucial be-frienders, encouraging youngsters to build their skills and confidence.

But you need so many skills to do this work. If you are going to challenge the behaviour of chippy youngsters and confront them with big questions of right and wrong, then you are going to need to be a counsellor, tutor, social worker and friend, all rolled into one. Not all poorly-paid and often poorly-trained youth workers are such paragons, which is why muddled thinking can bedevil the best-intentioned public-funded youth projects and clubs.