A Current Affair recently ran a story on how teenagers are terrorising our shopping centres. I am the mother of a teenager and have successfully raised two others. Over the years I have met my sons’ friends and come to love many of them as my own. They have been Skateboarders, Musos, Punks, Goths, Emos and Nerds. The whole kit and caboodle. Some of them, including my own, have sometimes resembled aliens with their way-out hairdos and fashion sense. To be honest, the kids of today do have a post-apocalyptic air of menace about them, but I don’t exaggerate when I say I have rarely, if ever, run into serious problems with my teenage children or their friends. There have been the odd dramas. Boundaries pushed. But nothing that I didn’t consider ‘growing pains.’
The ACA story aggravated me because I am one of the parents of a sixteen year old who ‘hangs around’ the local Westfield shopping centre. It’s a monolithic wonderland in the middle of an average suburb in Brisbane. My son and his friends, meet up, go shopping for clothes and hair products, eat in the food hall and take in a movie, sometimes two. This is an average Thursday night. Most of these kids also hold down part-time jobs at the same shopping centre, contributing their labour and their taxes to the smooth running of our society while still attending high-school.
There are rotten eggs, for sure. Troubled teens. But I haven’t heard of teen violence at the mall on the six o’clock news since…..well…ever. I am devastated whenever I hear of a gate-crashing that ends in violence with young lives irrevocably altered by injury or death or a random king-hitting outside a nightclub. These episodes of violence are escalating but aren’t just contained to the teen years.
In twelve years of hosting teen parties and ‘gatherings’, I may have had to hose off frisky couples on the trampoline occasionally but I’ve never needed to call the police or break up a physical fight. I have never felt threatened by the youth in my local shopping centre either. Ever.
I have however heard of shopping centres being mentioned on the News quite often. Two shootings occurred in the Robina shopping complex, on the Gold Coast, within weeks of each other. The culprits were grown men. I have read of two cases of a geriatric driver causing death and serious injury in the car park of shopping centres. Kids in shopping centres are rarely causing serious trouble.
I am going to bat for the good teens because there is a serious trend these days to lump them all into the ‘juvenile delinquent’ category. This is a moral panic and the media and soap box dramatists are fashioning our youth into the new folk devils. Stupid hairdos and piercings and Carny clothes do not make a walking, talking criminal intent on wreaking havoc. The folk of old used to say the same about those scruffy-looking Beatles!
I have seen this teen discrimination at work up close. After moving house one hot Summer’s day, I stopped at the local fish and chipo, ordered up a feast and then hit the bottle shop next door to purchase a nice cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I took my then fifteen year old son with me to be my pack-horse and carry the hot food. I was refused service in the bottle shop because the young bloke behind the counter thought I might be buying the wine for my son. My son couldn’t even spell or pronounce ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ and certainly had no interest in drinking it. No matter what I said, the man would not renege. I was unable to buy myself a bottle of wine because I had an evil teenager lurking suspiciously by my side. I’ve caught public transport with my son and seen older people, growl and push past him so roughly that he loses his footing. The truth is, many people treat teenagers appallingly. They’re more regularly short-changed at the counter, made to wait longer in queues and always guilty before proving their innocence. And most of the time it is undeserved.
The shopping centre management of the Westfield that was the target of the ACA show, was refreshingly positive about the youth presence, understanding that these kids contribute cash and labour, colour and laughter to the glitzy merchandise paradise.
Young teens are just learning about society at large and we used to celebrate that. In tribal societies young people are initiated and mentored as they transition to adulthood. Adolescence is a trying time for youngsters and adults sometimes make it even more difficult for them to find their feet. Sure, they’ll make some mistakes but that’s normal. We should be there to dust them off and encourage them to reassess and try again.
We live in a culture that has become guilty of ‘puppy parenting’. We fawn over our gorgeous toddlers and dress them in funky clothes, worry about their development, search websites and join playgroups to keep abreast of the latest breakthroughs in power-parenting. We hover like helicopters and proudly plaster their finger-paintings all over the refrigerator. But as soon as they start sprouting pimples and hickies, we shake our heads and tut-tut. Most parents spend more time reprimanding their teenagers than laughing with them.
Hey, I don’t like the orange lopsided fringe or the lip piercing but both were done without my knowledge or consent for lots of money at the local shopping complex. There’s little point carrying on about it because underneath the costume I have a teenager with a beautiful heart, a great wit and so much future, it’s wonderful. He’s not Mad Max. He’s just Max from ‘Where the Wild Things Are...’ a bit grumpy and masquerading as a monster!