Keeping youth in sight

2537 street kids 5

 

By RAINER CHLANDA

 

I welcome with excitement the Town Council’s recently proposed “family bike and skate facility” as we desperately need more spaces for youth that are free to access and non-prescriptive, meaning when and how they choose to use the space is up to them. But I see major pitfalls in the proposed location and consultation process. 

 

I work in a Youth Support Service in the CBD where hordes of kids flock into our office space every day, teeming with energy and clutching at straws for things to do. 

 

They have a small chance of using our tiny “youth room” (intended as a quiet space for us to use with our clients) or of going for a “cruise” (a quick detour from whatever task is at hand when we drive through town and let the kids play music). 

 

They come to our office despite the skate park being next to the town pool, the Gap Youth Centre being an odd three kms from the CBD, or even when ASYASS Drop in Centre was a five minute walk from the CBD and infinitely better equipped. 

 

Predominantly, the kids who come to us are “youth at risk” who experience many unmet needs including that of inadequate adult attention. 

 

These kids will always resist being pushed to the fringe no matter how well designed a facility is, as their stubborn presence in the CBD stems from a strong yearning to be seen, heard and to receive acknowledgment from the adult community. 

 

It is, in part, due to the absence of platforms for positive self-expression that the kids seek attention and stimulation with antisocial behaviour. 

 

For instance, a popular game is to “take coppers for a run” which is usually achieved by suddenly breaking into a run when seeing police officers, despite having done nothing illegal. Naturally a chase ensues. 

 

A recent anecdote from a colleague has kids tearing out the beepers from books at the library, simply to set the alarm off and prompt a confrontation. 

 

Other behaviours are of course more serious and impact our social fabric by breeding an adversarial culture between the under-stimulated youth and frustrated and bewildered adults. 

 

If the new facility is at Newland Park (Gillen) it will fail to capture many of the disengaged youth who need it most, whilst also missing the opportunity to experience and celebrate our young people excelling at something. 

 

We need a new facility to be in full view of the general public, in the heart of town where the kids will be keen to exhibit their talents. 

 

It would breathe life and excitement into the CBD whilst sending a message to the youth that they are welcome and valued.

 

Imagine adults cheering as the kids perform incredible manoeuvres instead of shouting at them after they tip over tables in a food court. 

 

If we celebrate instead of castigate these troubled youths, the impact on their sense of self would be profound whilst social cohesion would increase as we would all come to see each other in a different light. 

 

I propose sites such as the council lawns, the courthouse lawns or the grass area around the Uniting Church and the Meeting Place – an existing youth drop-in space owned by the Uniting Church that struggles to stay open on a regular basis as it is run solely by volunteers. 

 

Could there be potential for incorporating this facility with the new one? Maybe the building could store skateboards and bikes to loan to kids who don’t have one? 

 

The pitfall in the consultation process, where elected members and council staff will meet with members of the community, is a simple one – how will the kids, whose facility it will be, have their say? 

 

I have often thought that to simply ask the youth what it is they want is an incredibly obvious step that is nearly always neglected when devising ways to engage them. 

 

There is a constant flow of new programs and workshops that are too often based on assumptions made on behalf of the youth and about what they want, or worse, on personal ideals of what it is the organisers think the youth should be doing. 

 

These initiatives are often misaligned with the interests of the youth and don’t allow enough room for free association and expression. 

 

 

To capture the youth’s ideas people employed in Youth Services could survey the kids they work with and schools could consult their students. 

 

Whilst thinking about this piece, I began talking with some of the kids I work with about the proposed hub, asking them what they would have there if they had a say. 

 

Amongst many creative ideas, standouts were large in-the-ground trampolines (an absolute hit when they were at the town pool) and play equipment on sand for doing parkour (running, jumping, climbing obstacles). 

 

I noted that these are both activities that don’t require the kids having any equipment. 

 

Let’s open up the consultation to all young people in Alice Springs with a particular focus on encouraging the disadvantaged and disenfranchised to help create something of their own. 

 

The result will be a facility much more attuned to young people’s interests, whilst instilling in them a sense of pride and empowerment, from which the whole town stands to benefit. 

 

 

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7 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Mel
    Posted May 22, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    I have three sons ranging from 14 to 30 years old and I am an avid believer in National Service.
    The issues are significant that young people all over this country have, not just our young people in Central Australia and the NT.
    Youth crime is through the roof, youth on the streets and homelessness is out of control, and no one really has the power to do anything including police, teachers, medical practitioners and of course families.
    This is not going to get better and I dread to think about the future lives these young people will be living as I strongly believe they are the forgotten ones.
    Governments want to spend money on early intervention and then at the other end of the scale on families to make them stronger.
    What about genuine outcomes for these kids and young people? A lot of kids don’t listen and don’t have respect for anything or anyone and its mainly due to lack of strong people in their lives who can appropriately role model for them.
    If we brought in National Service that was mandatory for all young school leavers who are not engaged n employment, gave them skills, structure, routine with the outlook being that they come out of it with some real life skills we would significantly reduce the number of young people in detention and on the street and who are homeless which costs a fortune to put assistance around.
    We have become a very soft nation and our youth are the ones paying the price for it.
    I would also like to throw it out there that another Art Gallery is ridiculous – what a massive waste of money when everyone is winging over youth and the problems communities are facing.
    They should have a new skate park and some modern infrastructure here that can be used for all the kids in town.
    They should also have a safe place where kids can sleep and eat at night so they don’t have to feel unsafe walking the streets because they don’t want watch what is happening at home or be abused themselves.
    I also was thinking about the huge waste of money that is being considered to widen The Gap. What a joke that is for our two traffic jams a year that last for 15 minutes. Spend that money on kids.

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  2. Hal Duell
    Posted May 17, 2018 at 5:38 am

    Isn’t Saint Joseph’s College doing its good work from the old Anzac High School? The same one Darwin wants to demolish to make way for an art gallery?
    Easy digs aside, the idea of an extended, you-beaut skate park along the Todd between the bridge and tavern might be one of the best ideas I have recently heard for development in the CBD. I hope council and the community gets behind this. It really is a good idea.

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  3. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted May 16, 2018 at 9:50 am

    I agree with Local 1.
    As a group, teenagers strive for individuality yet crave peer acceptance. Each group/gang has a leader, therefore we should focus on the leaders.
    But I also agree with Rainer that many difficult teenagers behave as they do because they don’t believe adults really listen.
    We have to find the right balance.

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  4. Careful with that axe, Eugene
    Posted May 15, 2018 at 11:13 pm

    Rainer, I agree with your point about consultation with the effected youth, and the easy, commonsense way to do it: “To capture the youth’s ideas people employed in Youth Services could survey the kids they work with and schools could consult their students.”
    As you observe, that would be likely to produce far better results than “elected members and council staff [meeting] with members of the community”.

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  5. Local 1
    Posted May 15, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Hi Rainer, I was going to jump straight in and have a go about the comment of youth yearning to be “heard, seen and acknowledged by adults”. I heard this on the radio and was pretty amused, so I jumped on the site and actually read your article first before flying off the handle. Also my respect for your dad and your youth means I will try and keep things toned down.
    Most adults over the age of 40 were probably raised at the tail end of the era where the mantra of kids being seen and not heard was true. Basically that meant that people with life experience made the decisions, and until you lived a little you need to listen and learn before having the right to have an opinion. This was true in all civilisations and cultures, where kids sat at tribal meetings, and listened to the elders, and did not have any input.
    We have come a long way since then and kids really do have a chance to be heard, but like most things in an ordered society, there are ways and means of doing these things. They will not have the respect of adults until they earn it it. They cannot change the natural order of things just because they want it changed.
    They want respect? Get them to school, get them working part time jobs at Maccas or IGA or KFC. The biggest problem is not that the employer will not give them a chance, but family and peers who accuse them of being coconuts and trying to be like a white fella, that’s what we need to change.
    They will get respect from adults when you can drive down Gap Road without them pretending to jump out in front of a car and trying to intimidate people. They will get respect when they go to school instead of calling into your office with energy to burn. They cannot and will not get any respect by essentially saying we do what we do because we just want you to respect us, that’s like a rapist saying he just wanted to be loved.
    All the while our nightlife is dying because Alice residents live in fear of going out at night in case their car is rocked, or their house broken into by these kids when they are out. The same kids you speak to are the same ones that cause these issues, and the resentment towards them is justified because while they expect us to listen to them, they never listen to us. They steal our kids’ bikes that we work hard for, they egg our houses because we work hard for the nice things we have, they terrify the tourists who are the lifeblood of this town.
    Your idea of a skate park near the CBD is great, and would be ideal along the banks of the Todd river, which is an under-utilised asset we have. The area between the Todd Tavern and the bridge would be ideal, and if it flooded, a skate park would just need to be hosed out after the water levels dropped. It could be floodlit and landscaped and yes, it would be a beautiful area for workers in the town to rest whilst enjoying their lunch break.
    But these kids think it is fun to intimidate people. Unless that changes, it is hard to see the full potential and funding to achieve that vision ever being realised.
    When these kids come streaming into your office, do you offer to assist them into getting into and staying in school? Could there be funding for homework centres for these kids to go to? Could your office be relocated to the entrance to the new skatepark where kids could be fed at night and a cafe set up where these bored kids could be taught how to run a canteen and have pride in their own place?
    This could all be done in return for respecting the community, after all the money that is spent on any new skatepark will come from the adults who pay council rates. Respect is a two way street. Unfortunately this is unlikely as the sorts of kids we are dealing with do not like a presciptve form of entertainment. Anything that is too organised they rebel against, hence the game of getting chased by coppers is more valued by them than any sort of skatepark. Keep up the good writing.

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  6. Rainer Chlanda
    Posted May 14, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks for your comment James.
    I guess the educational places are schools. St Joseph’s College are doing a good job of engaging many youth who have struggled in mainstream.
    What the project will hopefully achieve is a platform for free expression after school hours and during holidays.

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  7. James T Smerk
    Posted May 14, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Why is it always we need more places for kids to burn off energy and play? What I think they really need is somewhere educational to help them become responsible adults and members of society, maybe a compulsory night school for those who play or maybe a beautification program where kids can learn to show some pride in their abilities or work.
    On a side note – I think it would be nice to see the Government support the creation of (very) small construction businesses in each Aboriginal camp where adults and kids can learn to build or fix up their homes. Then maybe there will be less damage as they would have pride in their efforts. They would gain skills which they could use outside their communities in modern Australia.

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