Don’t demonise the kids

I have complete sympathy for any shop, business or private house plagued by gangs of unruly young people.

It is a total stressfest to be confronted with a bunch of teenagers transformed from their usual self-absorption to a hungry pack intent on entertaining themselves with their own bravado at the expense of the hapless local or passer-by.

So the arrival of the new ‘Mosquito’ device will no doubt tempt a lot of people who suffer these gangs. In case you haven’t heard about it, the Mosquito is a device that emits a high pitched noise that can only be heard by people under the age of 25 or so. After around ten or fifteen minutes the noise becomes so annoying that the young people move away.

It’s a brilliant technical triumph. It also represents complete social failure.

The reason that kids gather around shops is because they have nowhere else to go in order to hang out. After being at school all day, a venue provided by the state, there is nowhere they can gather for free. The only places open are restaurants and pubs. 

So although the local parade of shops can solve their own problems by installing the Mosquito device, the community is still left with the problem of bored youngsters. 

We have been down this road before. In the 1970s and 1980s many shops and businesses put up shutters in order to protect themselves from anti-social behaviour. Commercial areas became like war zones as the downward spiral encouraged graffiti and vandalism, and drove people away.

So when local authorities, residents groups and business associations sat down to improve their areas they realised that the shutters would have to go. The lesson was, and is, that you can’t run away from problems and that if you allow the environment to be created by anti-social behaviour, then everyone suffers.

I’ve no doubt that the solution to some of the nastier gangs has to a law and order response. Rather in the way that some people who are interested in photography or jam making, say, will find each other out – delinquents can be similarly sociable. You can end up with a gang whose common interest is in creating as much misery as they can. 

But they are unlikely to be reformed by high pitched beeping sounds. And in most cases what we have are boisterous local kids who are growing up and being loud and annoying about it. Which is pretty much like we all were.

I run some young hurling teams from the ages of around ten to sixteen. Yes, the kids would drive you to distraction sometimes. But mostly they respond positively when provided with stimulation, combined with respect and some discipline. Generally, they are great kids well worth while engaging with.

It annoys me that these children would be targeted by universal crowd control devices such as the Mosquito. But, more than that, the whole philosophy is all wrong and is a sticking plaster for the failure of our communities to operate as communities.

We need to know our local neighbours and their kids so that we can have leverage with them. So that we can have expectations of them and responsibly for them.

If we don’t, a little beeping device isn’t going to cure the problem.