Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hopscotch Off

It’s been the silly season. A Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) intervened recently to stop two girls playing hopscotch. Frogmarched off, and made to wash the pavement down with a bucket of water, the girls were told they had committed a low-level crime. This wasn’t Uzbekistan. It was Halesowen. The police were tipped off by a local resident about this ‘anti-social behaviour’.

We are fast becoming a zero-tolerant society, stamping out traditional street games that used to be played by the girls’ grandparents when they were young. Anti-social behaviour is the target of the Government’s Respect Agenda. And we need more respect. But respect should be two-way. Young people like those girls deserve it as well. And the police are often just doing their job – when anti-social behaviour is reported, they investigate, though the PCSO may have been over-zealous in this case. Police officers often feel uncomfortable about this kind of work. After all, we’re using ASBO’s today to tackle incidents that used to be resolved in communities. There was more respect in the past because it used to be two-way. We’ve lost respect and become intolerant. We’ve lost respect by becoming intolerant.

Actually I have a theory that older people are more tolerant. Grandparents do remember those values of respect and tolerance in communities. After all, they played hopscotch. I suspect it’s those of us in the middle generation who by and large lack the social skills to interact with young people (or don’t have the time or the inclination). And when being a bother becomes low-level crime, young people will draw their own conclusions.

There’s an African proverb: ‘It takes a whole village to grow a child.’ Now that’s an agenda of respect

‘We played but you would not dance,’ the children complained (Mat 11:17). It seems that even in the Bible, children and young people were ignored. But that complaint is also an invitation suggesting a different response – to join the dance and hop to it as well.


Fr Andrew