Thursday, February 15, 2007

Suffer the children

I have a box of Lego in the corner of my consulting room. Kids from age three to eight can’t resist tipping it all out all over the floor and engaging in some serious construction whenever they can. The little girls build great long walls of neatly aligned bricks or soaring towers one brick wide. The boys, almost without exception, build great big guns and stomp about the room going “dakka dakka dakka” or making similar martial noises.

(When the last Star Wars movie was on they did, briefly, nick the towers off the girls and use them as Light Sabres instead, but only briefly, then we were back to the guns.)

So why mention this now.

Well this week sees the third shooting of a teenager in London in 10 days. Two of the victims were just 15 and both were shot in their own homes (one whilst still apparently asleep in bed). The implication in all the current news coverage is that the shootings have been carried out by a person or persons of a similar age, and that this has something to do with gang culture. I’m not sure what evidence they have for this, but for Blighty three seemingly gang style assassinations in so short a time is unusual, and with such young victims, is, so far as I am aware, unprecedented.

Boys have an enduring fascination with guns. This has been the case, I suspect, ever since the first evolutions of black powder ballistics. That fascination carries forward into so much of our popular entertainment from Kelly’s Heroes to Private Ryan, The Magnificent Seven to James Bond, pretty much anything by Jerry Bruckheimer… the list goes on and on.

Furthermore it appears Britons are the worst parents in the developed world and their teens are the drunkest, most doped up, most promiscuous teens anywhere. (Or so say the OECD and the WHO). With such apparent lack of parental control why wouldn't they also gan up to commit mayhem?

When we witnessed the collapse of the Cold War and the wholesale demolition of the Iron Curtain we lost a shared “enemy” and gained an unrestricted market for firearms, and now those same firearms are so available and so cheap they are finding their way into the hands of kids little older that the miscreants making WMDs from the Lego in the corner of my room.

No teenager of my experience, not even the most heavily eye-linered Goth-boy, has any true concept of mortality. At that age we all feel immortal, as indeed we ought. PCs, Playstations, and the plethora of other consoles and platforms teach them that if you hit the right sequence of squares, triangles and circles your on screen persona becomes impervious to all harm.

As a lad of fourteen I spent many a cheery afternoon at the range firing my twenty rounds from a trusty old Lee-Enfield as a cadet at school. I got to see first hand and up close what a bullet could do to a half inch thick sheet of plywood, and it didn’t take much imagination to work out what it might do to squishy stuff instead. You can’t get that from a console. Without that experience it’s easy to see how gun “play” turns in to “Gun-play”.

Right now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to lock the Lego away.


Shinga said...

Frank Lloyd Wright famously started his attraction to architecture by playing with wooden block toys. Almost every engineer I know speaks with affection of Lego and Meccano. I accept your point but please don't lock the Lego away.

If it is any consolation to you, a good economist has done a de-bunk on the UN report.

"Although the UK is ranked worse than average on most of the 40 measures, in almost all cases, the differences are statistically insignificant. Specifically, on only 10 of the measures is the UK even outside of one standard deviation (see here for a serious formula headache).

And the only measures where we see Big Jump-Off-The-Page (two standard deviation) Differences are:

*the percentage of 15 year olds who claim to have had sex- at 38% we're off the scale

*the percentage of 11, 13, and 15 year olds who claim to have been drunk two or more times- again, at 31% we're off the scale

*the percentage of 11, 13, and 15 year olds who rate their health as only "fair or poor"- at 23% the highest in the OECD

Just three- and as you will have spotted, all three are opinion poll answers rather than cold hard stats. And on all the stuff you can measure- like childhood obesity- statistically, we're more or less in the OECD pack."

I feel somewhat better. No room for complacency but it makes the problem less overwhelming miserable to the point where it sounds like one has to throw up one's hands in despair.

Regards - Shinga

sooz said...

As you know, Dr J - children make 'guns' out of everything. If materials aren't provided then they make guns from their fingers.

You were able to learn in an environment where guns were treated with 'respect' but there's something more to it isn't there?
Something about right and wrong. Respect and consequence. All 'missing' in these children's lives.

Children can be cruel - yet can be shown how 'cruel' isn't fair and isn't acceptable and how it feels to be on the receiving end of cruel behaviour. If they're not shown this by example and by a trusted caring adult then it becomes the 'norm'. (here I go stating the obvious again lololol!)

I've no idea how to stop it though!
(I made houses out of lego!)

Doctor Jest said...

Shiga-- "Frank Lloyd Wright famously started his attraction to architecture by playing with wooden block toys." That was after he'd finished making a model .50 cal right?

Seriously though, thanks for the debunk of the OECD/WHO thing. So what they really did was sit a load of teenagers down and say "Are you a virgin?" then. No wonder the results are screwy... made good copy for the media though.

Still I'll keep the Lego out for now.

sooz-- "Something about right and wrong. Respect and consequence. All 'missing' in these children's lives." That pretty much covers it. There was a 17yo lad on the Today programme this morning telling Mr Humphris exactly that. "Repec' don't mean what it used to y'know." He sounded like a fantastic kid and a brilliant role model to his younger cousins. As his mum pointed out, even in Sarf London where they live, he is in the majority. It's the tiny minority that spoil it for everyone. The problem seems to be that tiny minority is now "tooled up".

Nostrumdammit said...

Ah! Playtime!
I fondly remember the day my Grandpa gave me a Bayko Betta Builda set.

This was wonderful. Lots of intricately engineered pre-cast bakelite panels which you could assemble into frames made with metal rods. Then the most amazing roof sections which completed a very sturdy construction indeed.

Too many bits for the modern generation I suppose.

Mind you, Mummy took mine off me the day I nearly blinded the cat by firing the small rods out of my Sekkoden gun which was designed to fire small plastic pellets and had a magazine which held about 50 such. It also fired five or six rods at a time a good twelve feet.

Does anyone remember how much a spud gun could really hurt when loaded with swede or turnip and triple capped?

The Angry Medic said...

Sigh. What a world we live in. Debunked though the UN report may be, Britain still isn't doing too well with the parenting, as the juvenile crime rates continue to show.

Recently we had a talk by a combat surgeon who served in Afghanistan. He showed us what a landmine does to your leg (in glorious slow motion!) and bullet flow patterns as well. Then he sent around some actual bullets fired during the war. Did wonders for my sense of mortality, I must say.

Great blog! I'm adding you to my blogroll...I hope you don't mind the heading I've given you ;) I'd be honoured if we could exchange links. Keep on blogging...I'll be back.