Young people and violence

23 January 2013

When we think back to our childhoods, what do we remember? Endless summer days; the excitements and embarrassments of young love; hobbies and enthusiasms; double maths and school holidays?

What we seldom remember is violence and fear of violence. As an adult it can be hard to put ourselves back into the place of our younger selves and recollect just how much violence and fear of violence formed part of our daily lives, of how the walk home from school presented the possibility of getting jumped by kids from a rival school or hanging out with friends in a local park presented the possibility of being robbed by other kids. Or the way that the violence of others affected how we saw the world and our place in it, and how it influenced our own choices and behaviours.

Such violence is sadly a fact of young life, the effects of which are often glossed over as part of 'growing up'. Add to this the realities of living in an inner city and you have a potent and under-examined force which shapes the everyday lives of young people.

A mind full

In January 2012, Right Here Newham put on an event at Stratford Circus called 'Mindfull' where over 130 young people from the borough came together to explore the issues faced by young people in the borough and to explore how these affected their mental health and wellbeing.

While we have come a long way in understanding the impact of bullying on the lives of young people, we haven't as yet reached the same level of understanding of how violence between young people makes young people feel. The experience of violence, whether premeditated or random, erodes our sense of safety and undermines our sense of personal security. It creates a climate of fear which robs life of possibility: if someone is afraid to go out or to risk attracting violence through their actions or behaviors, their quality of life is negatively affected.

'They think it is normal'

The report of the Mindfull event makes clear that violence is a huge issue for young people in Newham.

In preparation for the event, Right Here Newham wellbeing champions – young volunteers – interviewed their peers about their experiences of violence. These interviews formed the basis for drama pieces, including examples of young people perpetrating and becoming victims of violence and knife crime that featured at the event alongside discussions, performances from musicians and other activities.

These dramas helped young people to discuss the issues. Some young women at the event expressed different concerns:

“Whilst young men primarily raised the issue of street violence (although it is apparent that young women of all ethnicities are also affected and involved) it was young women who highlighted the impact of domestic violence on their mental health and wellbeing. Again in some instances there was a worrying level of acceptance of violence within the home or from older male siblings.”

It's saddening that any people should accept violence as commonplace and everyday, but the event concluded that they were given little choice but to 'get on with things'. Young people knew the issues that they faced took a toll on their mental health and wellbeing. They had doubts about accessing help, whether the existing help was accessible to them and if sources of help would be confidential.

Some young people don’t even realise that they have a problem – they just think it is normal’.”

This 'they think it is normal' refers as much to those who must deal with violence as it does those who perpetrate it. The young people of Newham painted a picture of stress and anxiety with no ready source of support, a situation which will not be unique in the UK.

Recommendations

The event made a number of recommendations for ways in which young people's mental health and wellbeing might be better supported in Newham. One prominent one was that mental health and wellbeing support should be offered in non-traditional settings which young people already use, such as youth clubs or other activities. Right Here Newham has already commissioned a boxing project with a mental health spin which is proving successful in reaching young people who might not seek other forms of support.

As a result of the event Right Here Newham, and the young people who are part of it, have been working with agencies in the borough throughout 2012 to make some of their recommendations happen, including helping young people to develop peer-led support activities and investigate options for developing a rapid response trauma service.

One of the early interventions commissioned by young people, the Boxing and Mental Health project, was filmed as part of the ‘“Meaningful Endings” section of What's Up? for Pick TV, which explores how boxing can help mental and physical health, anger and confidence. Catch it on Freeview channel 11 on 26 January at 16:30 and 2 February at 21:30.

Find out more about Right Here Newham and Right Here's national programme.