Sunday, November 05, 2006

What French Youths need..

Given the developments in France with regard to gangs of youths rioting last year or attacking buses last month, one might easily conclude that France has a problem with its youths. In fact, that has been what everybody’s been talking about in France since last year – the lack of parenting, the lack of discipline, a school system that is not adapted to the need of today’s society, etc… All that may be true, for some youths, but when it comes to bad behavior, a new report conducted by the Institute for Public Policy in Britain suggests that the youths in the UK are much worse than their counterparts in the rest of Europe, including France.
By bad behaviour, the report means, among other things, drugs, drinking
, violence and promiscuity.

Recent studies investigated by the IPPR show British 15-year-olds are drunk more often, involved in more fights and are more likely to have had sex compared with their counterparts in Germany, France and Italy. (The Guardian)

It is worth noting that the study was carried out by a “ left-of-centre think-tank.” Yet, they claim that at the core of the problem is “a serious breakdown in the relationship between children and adults in Britain (..) a rift not witnessed in comparable European countries.”.

Many teenagers in Britain spend almost all their free time hanging round with friends learning from their peers, rather than from adults, how to behave.
Only two thirds of British teenagers eat any meals sitting at a table with their parents compared with 93 per cent in
Italy and 89% in France. Instead, 59% of boys in Scotland and 45% in England spend four or more evenings with their friends.
Almost half (44%) of 15-year-olds have been in a physical fight in the past year compared with just 28% in
Germany.
British teenagers are now ranked as the third worst binge drinkers in
Europe behind Denmark and Ireland, with almost one third of 15-year-olds drunk 20 times or more in a year. (Times)

This debunks some myths about French youths long held by the media and the French people. This is also interesting on two accounts when you think of the situation in France:

  • First, the problems of violence in the impoverished suburbs of France do not reflect the French youths as a whole – not even those who live there. It has been said over and over again that those violent actions are committed by a minority and that's true.
  • The second point is that one of the solutions to all problems with youths is for the adults to be there and to be in charge. One of the reasons why there are more problems in the French “impoverished suburbs” can be found in this very study. For too many teenagers, their role models are their peers who seem to be give them what their families can’t or won’t provide. Those youths think THEY are in charge and see no limits - simply because adults have not given them any.

This may sound terribly rightist but the only way for things to improve is for the adults to be in charge and regain a sense of authority. However, this is not just the role of families but of society as a whole, including schools of course.

In many French schools, there is a shift to a more strict approach of discipline. It seems that even teachers of the baby-boomer generation are learning their lesson. Now, the relax attitude of the post-60s needs not be replaced by a return to the kind of discipline in place before the 60s. There is the need for a balance between dialogue, explanation and enforcement of the rules. Teenagers and children need to be taught that they do have some rights but not all the rights of adults and they’re not on an equal footing. They are not adults and must be reminded of that every so often.

Precisely Angela Phillips writes on the Guardian blog that the problem is societal too and she makes some harsh judgment on British society:

However if you think that the family is merely a reflection of social mores that are produced and diffused via social policy, education, the media and every one of us, in a never-ending chain of action and response, then we need a rather more holistic response.
What is it about the UK as a whole that contributes to this culture of short-term hedonism? Could it be nearly 30 years of public policy built on the idea that the individual is more important than society? Our education system, from the earliest years, is devoted to grooming the best at the expense of the rest. Visiting Scandinavian, French and Italian nursery schools it is striking just how much thought is put into encouraging children to act in solidarity rather than as individuals.

In other words, the problems of social behavior in Britain is the reflexion of too much emphasis on the individual to the detriment of society. This proves (if needed) Margaret Thatcher was wrong when she said, "there is no such thing as society - only families". This is also where I think French schools do a better job than their British counterparts. The values transmitted by the French schools reflect (more or less sucessfuly, one must admit) those of the "French republic" rather than those a particular individual in a given community.

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