Dear Dave

Monday 27 April 2009

Grumpy old housedad

Dear Dave,

It's not easy being the youth of today. Stay inside and you get bad press as a couch potato addicted to computer games and low quality television. Go outside and hang around with friends and everyone thinks you're in a gang and about to mug an old lady. Unless you can find somewhere to play football all day or you occupy yourself doing an underpaid menial job, the result is nothing but grief from whinging adults.

I have some sympathy. During the holidays there aren't many places where kids can afford to go with their friends. They loiter around swing-parks and shopping centres because there's nowhere else for them to be. Maybe it's true that in the old days bus shelters weren't full of bored teenagers when it rained but the poor kids aren't allowed to work down a mine or play on building sites anymore. They have to be somewhere and it's nice they're getting fresh air. It would be good if people got off their backs a little.

Then again, some of them could really do with being sent down a mine...:

I was at the swing-park with my three children the other day when I asked a kid (who was perhaps twelve) to stop cycling in the play area. I was reasonably polite but I did have to raise my voice to make sure he heard me. He immediately started yelling back that he was there first, I didn't have any right to tell him what to do, it was a free country and he'd have the police on me.

I tried to explain that it's not a totally free country - if you run over a two-year-old, you get locked up.

The kid merely declared that he'd been riding bikes for years and never hit anyone yet. Then he mumbled a correction about only ever having hit one person and adamantly argued that the little kids would get out of his way.

I tried explaining some more but he wasn't having any of it and I gave up. He was too old to have parents around to petition and I had no power over him. I concentrated on keeping my children out of his path. Unfortunately, the lad and his mates followed me about, wanting to know why I was hassling them. They accused Fraser of having ridden his bike in the play area on some previous and entirely fictional occasion. They pointed to a three-year-old being helped along on a bike with stabilisers by his mum and demanded I go tell him to stop too. I mostly shrugged them off but I had to shout at them properly when one of them took the ball Fraser was playing catch with and another kicked the swing Marie was on and made her cry.

There were maybe seven kids, most of them were eight to ten years old, it was broad daylight, other people were about and the place was overlooked by hundreds of windows. It wasn't a scary experience. I was just confused at how determined they were to be idiots. The oldest two went off to find another bike so they could show how hard they were by racing each other round the play area. One of them made fun of me for wearing glasses as he went. Since he was wearing some truly ugly thick-rimmed spectacles himself, I began to appreciate the level of thoughtless stupidity I was dealing with.

The oddest thing, however, was that all of the kids kept threatening to call the police and have me arrested and they actually seemed to believe that this would scare me. In fact the most tenacious pair only lost interest when I burst out in genuine laughter at the suggestion I'd be 'quaking in my pants' at the thought of the cops showing up. I had to explain to them in some detail that I'd be very happy if the police arrived and that it certainly wouldn't be me who got into trouble. It was wacky.

Gratifyingly, those two returned five minutes later to apologise for their behaviour. I'm not sure what led them to this change of heart because there still didn't seem to be any related adults about but it's possible that they went and made their case to some teenagers in the main body of the park and were told not to be such twits. No matter the reasons, they did seem sorry and I apologised for unwittingly saying whatever it was that made them so irate. Hopefully we can co-exist in future without the need for a SWAT team.

The incident does make me worry about the issues I'm going to face when my kids are older, though. One way or the other, I'm only going to have to deal with more of these stroppy pre-teens. Some of them may live in my house. I need to understand them better.

I suppose calling the police is the ultimate threat adults use on them (and possibly each other). Using it on me was a reflection of that. The genius in the glasses was also probably throwing back taunts someone had aimed at him without applying any thought.

But why did a simple and reasonably polite request turn into such a confrontation? I don't know. Perhaps they were defending the one spot they'd found to hang out where they believed they were free from being bothered by old fogeys...

Or maybe they needed a good clip round the ear. The youth of today... Bah, humbug...

Yours in a woman's world,


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