Learning Advisor in Philosophy
UPT School
New Zealand


Short speech given at the release of the Youth Conference Report

I'm Brent Silby and I'm here wearing two hats. One, as a teacher. I teach Philosophy at Unlimited, UPT. Its a cool school, and I invite everyone here to come and visit at some stage. And two, as an organizer of events for young people. I work with White Elephant to put on safe events to give young people some options on a Saturday night. So, I spend a great deal of time working with teenagers, and I love every minute of it.

I'd like to congratulate White Elephant and the 150 young people who were involved in the production of this report. I would also like t acknowledge Matt Glanville and Anthony Rohan, who really are the glue that hold White Elephant together.

There are many synergies between White Elephant and UPT, and that's why we work so well together. UPT's primary philosophy revolves around student choice. We listen to what students want and work to make it happen. Now, the easy way to run a school is to tell the students exactly what they need to learn, and then force them to do it. But, the easy way comes with some negative side-effects. You get bullying, bad relationships between teachers and students, and generally a less than positive environment.

The hard way to run a school is to ask students what they want and then work together to help them reach their individual goals. It is hard work, but the benefits make it worth-while. We have no bullying at UPT. We have great relationships between students and teachers, and this filters through to the parents and home life.

Last year, after the Edgeware road accident, I went to two meeting. One at Unlimited, run by White Elephant and UPT. There were a lot of young people there and a few adults. The other meeting was at the Town hall, run by the City Council. There were a lot of adults and parents there, but not so many young people. Now, I think this is very telling. It shows us that there are two demographics interested in working on the same problem, but they are skewing away from each-other. One of the recommendations in the report suggests that we bring the generations together into sync and open the lines of communication to work on these problems together.

The meeting in the Town hall was interesting. There were parents wanting to know how to keep their children safe. The key-note speaker was a prison warden. It seemed bizarre that they would invite a prison warden to give advise on bringing up children. You can imagine what the advise was.

* Learn how to say "no"
* Be firm with your children
* Don't let them go out
* Take their car-keys away.

Now, these are easy solutions, but they come at a cost. They bring negative consequences. They bring conflict. Anyone who knows anything about teenagers will know that the most important thing in their world is independence. Adolescents will do anything to demonstrate their independence. In fact, they are biologically disposed to move away from their parents and be independent. They are experimenting with their adulthood and learning. A hard solution would be to listen to the needs of the teenager and then work to meet those needs. Find a way that they can be independent safely. Its not as easy as locking them up, but it has long term benefits.

There are lots of easy solutions to problems. You hear them all the time. A few weeks ago I went to another meeting in the Town hall about youth crime in the city. The same sorts of people got up and gave us a range of easy solutions.

* Harsher sentencing
* More prisons
* Let's show them we mean business

These easy solutions have negative connotations. A harder solution would be to work to identify to cause of crime and then try to fix things at that end. Perhaps if that worked we would need fewer prisons.

The speakers at the meeting even talked about our new anti-smacking law. They called for a reversal of that law, stating that being allowed to discipline children with smacking will help reduce the crime-rate. There is a subtle implication in what they were saying. The implication is that there is a correlation between the anti-smacking law and increased crime rates. This is, of course, a faulty implication. The people who are committing crimes now grew up at a time where it was permissible to smack children. Today's criminals were smacked. A rational course would be to keep the anti-smacking law in place for at least 10-15 years and then view the crime rate. When today's 5 year olds are 15-20 years old we can look at crime rates and make a comparison. Perhaps when people grow up with no physical force in their lives crime rates will be different. They may well drop. We need to run the experiment to know for sure.

But smacking is an easy solution. It ensures that parents get their own way quickly. The problem is that it has negative side-effects. For one thing, its effectiveness wears off, so parents need to "up the dose".

A harder solution is to use positive reinforcement strategies until the child is old enough, and then engage in conversations with the child and reason with them. Its difficult, but it has larger payoffs. Especially if it means a reduction in crime rates.

The meeting at UPT last year was positive and yielded positive recommendations. Young people worked together to address the issues and work out how to make things work for them. The recommendations are not easy solutions. They are hard solutions but will come with big benefits. Some of the recommendations involve:

* Improving the image of youth in the media
* Working with other generations towards common goals
* Setting up a youth venue

Maybe we need several youth venues. Perhaps a nightclub and a range of cafes which are marketed towards the 15-23 year age bracket. We know that young people seek independence. Now, if they can't be independent at home, and there is no-where for them to go to be independent, then they will be independent on the streets. So we need venues for young people.

This report is good reading and we need to take it seriously. I call on all young people to read the report and act on the recommendations. I call on adults, educators, and parents to read the report and act on the recommendations. I call on politicians to read the report and put its recommendations into place. This is an election year, and this is in the news, so it is bound to be an election issue.

If we work together on these recommendations, then we will be able to make this city a safe place for all of us. Young and old alike.

Copyright Brent Silby 2008